Saturday, May 18, 2013

Mouna Ragam

Right from the time I got back home from office this evening I'd been wanting to watch a good movie. With the day's chores done, I was browsing channels and I caught a very familiar montage music and visuals of black and white photographs of a little girl growing up to be a lovely young woman. With a determined and satisfied smile. I made myself comfortable in front of the TV and settled down to savour every bit of Mounaragam - once again.
As I watch it, I notice there are so many timeless and unforgettable things about this classic. 1) The music of course. A background score to die for 2) Revathi. 3) Mohan as a complete surprise package that a lot of us still can't believe. 4) Karthik the unforgettable charmer.          5) The set - I must say looks stunning even today after nearly 25 years. That house with the floor seating, pebbled drive way, a little music player in the kitchen is still my dream house.
Well, coming to the theme. I, who have been an ardent Mani Ratnam fan was shocked recently when someoone shared with me an opinion that the women in his movies are shown as rather weak and fragile characters. That's something I cannot make up mind about - Roja is  a strong headed girl who is quite convinced that her sister's been cheated until she comes to know the truth. Developing a change of heart, she comes around to making her husband the most important thing in her life. Shobana in Dalapati is again a practical woman. She is quite clear in her head and has her priorities right. It is the men in MR's movies that are more to be emotional and sentimental! Divya in Mouna Ragam is still not over her first love at the time of marriage. She protests. She throws tantrums. To use a cliche I hate, she eventually 'moves on'. What's a character without progression?
Yes, while watching Mouna Ragam today, I could sense a few 'flaws' if I may call them so. I cringed when the lawyer advices Divya to reconsider the divorce because it is difficult for a woman to live without a man. Why counsel only her when the husband clearly states 'mutual consent' as the reason for divorce? (Perhaps today even Mani Ratnam might rethink that scene and make both of them sit for a counselling session!) And then why does the Sita Travels guy deliver 2 tickets at the end? There are 2 of those oldworlde carboard train tickets  shown quite clearly. (Was one of them a platform ticket for GK?)
One thing missing was the lack of depth in Revathy's portrayal - how does she develop feelings for Mohan? Is it gradual or sudden? Perhaps 30-40 days are good enough a time for a girl to make up her mind about a man! (Well, that's a topic for another discussion!) Another way of looking at it could be that when GK gives in to Divya's tantrums and actually arranges for the divorce, she's caught off guard. So, was it intended to be an overnight change. I only felt the flow of time could have been shown better.
But then there is work to do. We need an important event as a catalyst and we also need to show somewhere that Mohan is a self-respecting man. In fact, surprisingly, I felt the movie was quite short or atleast there wasn't any place that I felt it drag.

Which brings me to point #6 of the timelessness. The handling of the theme. While the theme is all drama, emotion and sentiments, there is negligible melodrama. If I feel that way now, I can imagine what a pathbreaker of an approach it would have been way back then. People were still experiencing over the Vietnam Veedu hangover and dealing with Kamal Hassan's I-can-do-everything persona. No one speaks above a certain decibel ("Poda dei" was perhaps the loudest dialogue in the entire movie). No long dialogues. Eyes do most of the talking with the help of a little trickle of a tear or two. Like I said at the very beginning, the background music is simply exceptional. There is just one basic theme music which has around 4-5 amazing variations depending on the mood of the moment. I don't know if anyone can match Ilayaraja's genius in handling background score.
Everything about the treatment of  Mouna Ragam is subtle. I still smile to myself as I think that this movie that deals with a man-woman relationship does not have a single 'duet song'. All songs are solos - basically dealing with an individual's thoughts and state of mind at a given point in time. Except for Pani Vizhum Nilavu. Kudos Mani Ratnam! Very brave even for today's standards.
Sadly Raj TV, the famous Video guys of the 80s don't own a good copy of the film. I ended up used the brightness option on the TV set for the first time in years! For most part it was just a dark blur.  And there were some cuts like the wonderful scene of Divya re-arranging the house and cooking merrily. But then, such a satisfying watch it was. I hit the sack with a smile pasted on my lips, thinking of the happy ending and the theme music ringng in my ears. Good night!

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