Ilayaraja’s background score provides the mood for Karthik, who limps by wounded, to look into the eyes of an apologetic Revathy, but in a short second, he winks at her and the music changes, pauses for a bit and then when he breaks into a laugh the music becomes playful and resonates across the corridor… Mouna Raagam (1986), then and now, has the same effect on its viewer. One word sums up that effect— sigh!
Who did girls want for their boyfriend or husband then? The patient-understanding-and-poised-at-all-times Chandrakumar (Mohan) or the dashing, brave and epitome-of-the-word-‘dude’, Manohar (Karthik)? Caught between her past and present is the new age modern Divya (Revathy) who we first see as just another bubbly girl, only to realise later that she hides a deep pain behind all that singing’ in the rain.
A woman like her was invisible on Tamil film screen till then. She had problems with being ‘seen’ like a cow in a village market to be bargained off to a buyer. She voiced her immediate feelings about divorce without restraint (yenakku vivakarathu venum, vaangin kuduppeengala?) and was impulsive to life’s moments (walking off from home after a fight with her father or after a tiff with her husband and not being apologetic about it).
Mani Ratnam made a compact film that was high on technical and aesthetic value. It was bordering on the Balu Mahendra zone then. But its’ impact went deeper — this was perhaps the first ‘relationship movie’ we had seen in colour where the entire film revolved around three main characters only.
Iruvar Ullam (1963) starring Sivaji Ganesan and Saroja Devi was possibly the earliest film in the black & white era that dealt with the idea of winning a woman’s heart in matrimony as its central plot. Based on the novel, Pen Manam (1963), by Lakshmi and directed deftly by L V Prasad, the film highlighted the importance of a woman’s consent for conjugal bliss and her ‘approval’ of her groom. She had the upper hand. Years later, we get a Divya Chandrakumar (as Mohan would spell it in frenzy to Sita Travels prior to booking her ticket back to Chennai in the film).
Divya has well formed equations with everyone in her life. Her bond with her father was a special one. She was not flippant. She needed to ‘connect’. And until that connection happened with this man who had tied that ‘manja saayam poosina verum kayiru’ around her neck, she wouldn’t budge. The film moves into a solid zone when she begins to thaw towards her husband, who had fallen for her already. He didn’t care too much about her past love, not in a callous way but in a rather ‘moving forward with life’ manner. He only wanted to share her future. Mellow and mature, he was the contrast to Divya’s reactionary nature.
Therefore, the climax had to be a heady one. True to her nature, Divya speaks her mind first. Set inside a train, the couple hug tight in their onward journey of life as the director’s name comes up. Though filmed largely in Chennai interiors, the wisps of Delhi winter (the Taj Mahal would keep coming back in Mani Ratnam’s later films as well) and the snatches of Hindi probably set the canvas for his future films that would reach a global audience. P C Sreeram’s camera captured the feelings not just the faces. Much like how Ilayaraja’s songs and his background score catapults the film in a forever mode.
(The writer is a former journalist who has worked in the film industry for several years and is passionate about movies, music and everything related to entertainment. She is also a columnist with ‘The New Indian Express’)