Subtlety thy name is Mahendran. When Tamil cinema was reeling under overrated emotions, a few directors tried to break the norms of Tamil cinema. As I already explained in previous posts, I would consider this as the golden period of Tamil cinema. Mahendran played a very important role in shaping up this period of directorial excellence
Mullum Malarum (1978)
Mullum Malarum is a movie that depicts the love between a ruffian brother and innocent sister. The movie had Rajinikanth, Sarath Babu, Shoba and Fatafat Jayalakshmi in lead roles with Balu Mahendra wielding the camera and Ilayaraja composing the score. It was produced by V.Mohan (Anandhi Films) and directed by Mahendran.
Set in a rural backdrop near Annamalai Hills in Tamil Nadu, it paints the story of Kali (Rajinikanth) and his sister Valli (Shoba). Kali is a winch operator in the hills and enters Kumaran (Sarath Babu), an officer and the boss of Kali. Interesting encounters between Valli and Kumaran blossoms in to a tender love between them. Kali doesn’t approve this love while he falls for Manga (Fatafat Jayalakshmi), a bratty village girl. In a freak incident, Kali loses one of his hands. Valli is torn between the love for her brother and Kumaran. The whole village tries to arrange for the marriage between Kumaran and Valli with the help of Manga. The climax tells you who Valli chooses to be with.
Why is it so special?
1. Although brother-sister relationships have been portrayed a lot of times in the past (Paasa Malar, Pachai Vilakku), they were always filled with an overdose of melodrama. Mullum Malarum deliberately broke the rules to give more subtle, natural version of a brother – sister relationship. It broke the stereotypes and gave a honest portrayal of the relationship
2. The acting of the ‘actor’ Rajinikanth rather than the superstar. You would not believe that it was only the 3rd year in his film career. The anti-heroish act of the first half and the disabled man in the second half was simply brilliant. He was challenged in every quarters by the young Shoba (was just 16) with her portrayal of innocent sister. Her eyes showed more emotions than her face when she is torn between the love of her brother and lover.
3. The able supporting cast of Fatafat Jayalakshmi and Sarath Babu (some feel he is a miscast, but there couldn’t have been a better person given the choices for the director).
4. The brilliance of the man by the name Ilayaraja. If Senthazham Poovil is an evergreen classic, Raman Aandalum is still one of the most favourites of Rajini fans. Adi Penne is a uncelebrated classic and Nitham Nitham nellu choru provided a prelude to interesting rural orchestrations that Ilayaraja would do later in various movies.
5. The rusticity in the movie is the main reason for the honest portrayals. Balu Mahendra (Cinematography) and Mahendran have worked hard to preserve it. A deft screenplay, some wonderful writing and brilliant portrayals made the movie an instant classic
Why is it in the list?
1. It broke the stereotypical portrayals of brother and sister relationships sans the melodrama
2. For the ‘actor’ Rajinikanth – one of his best
3. The subtlety of Mahendran
1. Mullum Malarum is based on a short story by Uma Chandran that won the Kalki Silver Jubilee Issue award.
2.Mahendran had scrapped the “Senthazham Poovil” song in the original cut due to the budget constraints and producer couldn’t provide the money. Hearing this, Panchu Arunachalam gave some money to shoot the song as he thought it was too brilliant to be left out. We would have lost a classically shot song, if not for Panju Arunachalam.
3.The movie has two actresses who died of suicides, Fatafat Jayalakshmi and Shoba both committed suicide after a few years. Tamil industry lost two great actresses. Shoba won a national award for Pasi, a year later at the age of 17.
4.Mahendran was originally born as Alexander.It’s said that he changed the name in honour of a school senior, who was a famous athlete.
5.Mullum Malarum is the only movie where the 3 greats came together to work – Mahendran, Balu Mahendra and Ilayaraja. Incidentally, Kamal introduced Balu Mahendra to Mahendran.
If you think Mullum Malarum was a classic, the next movie that I am going to write about equals any international classic. A movie that I am proud that it was made in Tamil.