There are only few movies that become a cultural icon for generations. When a movie is slated in that list, the people anticipate it to have a path breaking story or a social message (Mother India is a perfect example). But how a simple love story that talked about post-marriage relationship between a girl who doesn’t want to get in to wedlock due to an unrequited love and a husband who falls in love with her, can become a movie celebrated even after 38 years after its release. It happened and the movie was Mouna Raagam.
Mouna Raagam (1986) – (The Silent Symphony)
The story starts with Divya (Revathy), a happy go lucky girl and the parents inform her that a potential groom, Chandrakumar (Mohan) would be waiting to see her in the evening. In order to avoid the whole process, she arrives late after enjoying the entire evening with her friends. Surprisingly, Chandrakumar waits for her and meets her in private. Despite of her requests, Chandrakumar says he likes her and Divya is emotionally forced by her family to accept the wedding proposal after her father has a heart attack.
Chandrakumar, a loner, takes her to New Delhi after the wedding. From day one, Divya shows her repulsion towards Chandrakumar despite his repeated attempts to impress her. When he asks her what first gift she would like, Divya asks for a divorce and because of Chandrakumar’s insistence, at an emotional moment, she opens up about her unrequited love of the past.
The story gets back in time when Divya met Manohar (Karthik). Divya implicated him in a street brawl and robbery case. After realising his good intentions, Divya bailed him out. Manohar expressed his love towards her at the first instance and although she couldn’t approve of his revolutionary activism, she fell in love with him as he was irresistible. At one point, Divya stopped him from an attack he was planning. Manohar proposed her that he would stop his activism if she accepted to marry him the next day. Police arrested him the next day for the attack he was not part of and to keep his word to Divya, he tried to escape and was shot dead by the police in front of her eyes. Divya could not overcome the loss and that’s the reason she had been putting off her marriage for so long.
Chandrakumar understands her and they meet a lawyer who informs that they have to be together for a year to file for divorce. They start living apart in the same house and one day Chandrakumar gets attacked by his factory workers. Divya saves him and nurses him during the recovery. While nursing, she understands him and gradually falls in love with him. Chandrakumar becomes indifferent and hurts her at every moment. He arranges for her travel back to Chennai and at the railway station, he hands over the divorce papers. Divya tears them apart, breaks down and expresses her love towards Chandrakumar. He chases the train and they both unite to restart their life.
Mouna Raagam had Mohan, Revathy and Karthik in the lead supported by VK Ramasamy, Ra Sankaran, Vani and Kanchana. The movie had a brilliant musical score from Ilaiyaraaja with PC Sriram wielding the camera. It was produced by G.Venkateswaran (in short GV, brother of Mani Ratnam) under Sujatha movies banner and directed by Mani Ratnam.
Why is it so special?
- Honestly, the theme of the movie was nothing new when Mani Ratnam worked on it. Multiple interpretations of love that blossoms after wedlock had been made in Tamil cinema but Mani Ratnam showed his finesse in the way he maturely handled the subject.
- The two love stories in the movie are completely opposite in nature. If the love between Divya and Manohar can be termed as a storm that every girl would expect to sweep off their feet, then the love between Chandrakumar and Divya is a breeze that is mellow and matured.
- The other notable divergence that Mani Ratnam made was that movie was made from the women’s perspective and not the two men. And Revathy carried the role with aplomb. There are two scenes that stand testimony to the brilliance of Revathy – one when she breaks down to express her anguish that she had been keeping in her heart for so long for Manohar. It’s even a surprise for the audience because until then her character is shown as a girl who is happy go lucky, prankish and some might even hate her for not liking Chandrakumar. The other one during the climax when she expresses her love to Chandrakumar.
- Probably, most of the audience, when you utter the movie’s name, they would immediately scream in unison, ‘Karthik!!!’. Karthik as Manohar stole the heart of people with his effervescence and irresistibility. I can bet that women would have wanted a lover like him (if your mom was in 20s or teens when the movie was released, don’t forget to ask this question). Mani Ratnam arguably wrote the best cameo ever in Tamil movie history with Manohar’s character. The total time on the screen for Karthik is around 25 min but the impact he creates is humungous. Mohan’s character had to be played with subtlety and he cake walked it with deftness.
- The dialogues of Mani Ratnam. According to him, short, one line dialogues came in to his repertoire with this movie. One of the best scenes in the movie is the one when Divya asks her mom before her first night after marriage, “Thaali kattina mattum ellam sariya aayiduma, rendu nalaiki munnadi enna avarkita ippadi anuppichiruppiya” (Is it enough that he tied a wedding thread? Would you have sent me to him two days before)? Mani Ratnam’s screenplay started with this one thought.
- If you ask any music lover who knows Tamil music, this movie’s songs and score by Ilaiyaraaja will rank in the top 5 of anyone’s list. It’s not an exaggeration and if I start writing about the score, I have to dedicate my entire blog post to that. It’s just awesome.
Mouna Raagam Audio Jukebox
Mouna Raagam Original Score
Why it should be on the list?
- Mouna Raagam announced the arrival of one of the most prolific auteurs that Tamil cinema ever saw (check the trivia why I say so).
- For showing the story of unrequited love and the problems of arranged marriage through the eyes of a woman.
- For producing one of the most loveable characters of Tamil Cinema that is unbeaten till date.
- For Ilaiyaraaja’s music.
- Mouna Raagam was Mani Ratnam’s fifth movie and third TamiIl movie after Pagal Nilavu and Idhaya Kovil. In Baradwaj Rangan’s book “Conversations with Mani Ratnam, he candidly admits that Mouna Raagam was his first hit movie. In fact, he didn’t want to make Idhaya Kovil and he admits that the only thing that was great about that movie was Ilaiyaraaja’s music.
- Mouna Raagam was the second script of Mani Ratnam and was originally titled “Divya”. The original idea was to make a movie about how a timid young girl coping with an arranged marriage. Karthik’s character was an afterthought (yes it is true) and his character was inspired by Anil Kapoor’s character from Pallavi Anu Pallavi (Mani Ratnam’s debut in Kannada). In fact, Mouna Raagam would have been a Kannada movie but it didn’t work out. This is the first script that he wrote in Tamil and was originally written as a short story.
- Mouna Raagam won the Best Regional Film National Award for 1986 and was the official entry for foreign film oscar from India.
- Mouna Raagam has inspired many movies after its release. The recent one I would say is Raja Rani.
- Mani Ratnam comes from a family of movie producers. He completed MBA from Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Sciences (JBIMS) and started his film career with Pallavi Anu Pallavi in Kannada which won a state award. It also served as the debut movie of Anil Kapoor.
- Mouna Raagam was dubbed in Telugu with the same title and was remade in Hindi as Kasak with Rishi Kapoor (playing Mohan’s role), Neelam Kothari and Chunky Pandey (playing Karthik’s role). Needless to say, the movie didn’t do well at the box office.
- The song from Idhaya Kovil “Naan Paadum Mouna Raagam” gave the title for the movie.
- Kanchana did a small one scene role of a lawyer in the movie. Mani Ratnam has used actors in small roles but change the shape of the story. Kanchana’s role makes Divya stay back in Delhi. He has utilized Aruna in Idhayathai Thirudathey (Geethanjali) in the same way.
- It seems one of the ladies in the censor board, argued that Mouna Raagam should be given a “A” certificate as she couldn’t accept a housewife asking for divorce.
- Anjali was originally planned with Revathy and Mohan with the idea of what would happen after 10 years in their marriage (Main Ratnam calls it just a theoretical exercise). Nonetheless, it seems Mohan’s dates couldn’t be worked out.
List of References
- Conversations with Mani Ratnam by Baradwaj Rangan, Penguin, 2013
- The Best of Tamil Cinema – Volume 2 by G. Dhananjayan
- Kasak (1992) – Wikipedia
- Image sourced from archives of Outlook Magazine