Wednesday, 15 August 2018

And, we're at forty years of Mullum Malarum!

From an open jeep cruising through the hairpin bends of a remote hill station originates this humming by KJ Yesudas. Surprisingly, four decades have gone, and still today, this aalap of Senthaazham Poovil, along with the picturisation and the presentation intimidates goosebumps for movie buffs.

On this day, which marks forty years of the blockbuster 'Mullum Malarum'(15 August 1978), I am just revisiting on what has made this Rajini-Mahendran combo flick evergreen and refreshing even after two scores of years.

Mullum Malarum's central idea was nothing new to Tamil cinema, that had already witnessed a brother-sister bonding drama in iconic movies like Paasamalar(1961). But, just imagine a rugged brother (Rajini) who reiterates himself as 'Ketta paiyan sir intha Kaali' is always ready to obey whatever his sister Valli (Shoba) orders.

The usual brotherhood tales of cinema have always explored the devotion between siblings, but it was probably the first time, Mullum Malarum touched upon personal characterisations. The character establishments of Kaali and Valli would set up the manifesto of the storyline.

Even the movie's title name reason has two versions of understanding with respect to these character establishments. One, on the general context Mullum(thorn) representing Kaali and Malarum(flower) representing Valli. But, the subtext of the title reveals the plot - 'Even a thorn would flower'(Mul kooda malarum). So does Kaali, when his lovable sister chooses him over her man Kumaran(Sarath Babu) towards the climax. At that instance, the thorny Kaali flowers to accept the wish of Valli, despite the hatred he has on Kumaran.

Howbeit, there is enough justification for this positive climax. The way Mahendran develops a very fierce antagonism between Kaali and Kumaran paves the way to this deep-driven end. While there are two other tracks affection of Kaali towards Valli and Kumaran's love for Valli - all three emotions put together are equally plated out in the screenplay of Mullum Malarum.

The USP of the plot is that, though there is a difference in opinion between Kaali and Kumaran, both are basically good in their own ways. It is the ruggedness of Kaali that, in a series of incidents keeps away from Kumaran and vice-versa. This balance in writing and filming of the same was one of the first time experiences for the audience of its time.

I cannot stop crediting just with it's writing, in a holistic milieu, Mullum Malarum was backed by brilliant technicalities. One would never have thought of the poetic cinematographer Balu Mahendra capturing a raw folk like 'Raman Aandaalum Raavanan Aandaalum'. Not just that song, but the entire runtime was an experiment for this ace lensman. Every petite muscular dynamics of Valli and Kaali would be visible onscreen. The to and fro reframing by Balu Mahendra in the song Senthazham Poovil simply seizes the unexpressed love of Valli and Kumaran on screen.

And, what else can I say about Ilaiyaraaja's score than the word mind-blowing? The movie's album has four songs in four different genres. Leaving Senthaazham Poovil and Raman Aandalum, the one that is close to my heart is a foodie's special. After a long time since Kalyana Samayal Saadham in Maaya Bazaar(1957), this crazy and delicious number 'Nitham Nitham Nellichoru' followed up the tradition of referring to a whole cuisine in lyrics. This might sound like an irrelevant placement in the movie, but it totally establishes the role of Kaali's love Manga (Fatafat Jayalaxmi) who is an ardent epicure for which Kaali dislikes her initially.

On his original score part, Mullum Malarum is till date ranked on top 10 of Rajaa's works. Ilaiyaraaja's silence as usual rules in most of the places. Especially in the climax when the whole hamlet opposes Kaali, but his Valli alone stands by him, the pause and break of the original score stand out stowing the emotion rightly into the minds of the viewers.

Pulling them all off into a perfectly shaped Mullum Malarum would have been a simpler task for Mahendran than eventuating a resurrection of the actor inside Rajini. He cries, he smiles and does every other seasoned emotion as done by an ace actor. And since then, Mullum Malarum is one of the best-performed movies of the actor who again was cornered into a star value.

For once, Mullum Malarum turned out to be a reference point and a dictionary for movies of its kind. It opened up a new narrative fashion inside cinema halls - a never-seen-before kind. Everywhere Mahendran cuts to the next sequence of a different scene in the plot, this movie delivered a fervent experience. Though Mahendran had been a successful scriptwriter before, this directorial debut of him, Mullum Malarum and the impact he created with that placed him among iconic filmmakers of the industry. And he never got down from there, eventually earning the credit 'Nalla director sir intha Mahendran'.

- Santhosh Mathevan,
Chennai, August 15, 2018.

A part or complete version of this review by Santhosh Mathevan has appeared in This viewer's note is completely based on the perceptions of Santhosh Mathevan alone. This does not reflect the views of two or more people or a community. Queries and criticism shall be addressed to the writer only.