Moondram Pirai

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Moondram Pirai
Moondram Pirai Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Balu Mahendra
Produced by G. Thyagarajan
G. Saravanan
Written by Balu Mahendra
Starring Kamal Haasan
Sridevi
Music by Ilaiyaraaja
Cinematography Balu Mahendra
Edited by D. Vasu
Production
company
Sathya Jyothi Films
Distributed by Sathya Jyothi Films
Release dates
  • 19 February 1982 (1982-02-19)
Running time
134 minutes
Country India
Language Tamil

Moondram Pirai (English: The crescent seen on the third day following new moon day) is a 1982 Indian Tamil drama film written, directed and filmed by Balu Mahendra. The film features Kamal Haasan and Sridevi in the lead roles, while Silk Smitha, Poornam Vishwanathan and Y. G. Mahendra play supporting roles. The music for the film was composed by Ilaiyaraaja, with lyrics written by Kannadasan, Vairamuthu and Gangai Amaran. This was the last film that Kannadasan worked on before his death in 1981; he died when the film was under production.

Moondram Pirai is about a school teacher, R. Srinivas, who rescues a woman, Bhagyalakshmi, who is suffering from retrograde amnesia, from a brothel, and looks after her in his house located in Ketti. The rest of the film shows how Bhagyalakshmi recovers her memory with Srinivas' help. Moondram Pirai is based on Balu Mahendra's brief relationship with actress Shoba, who died in 1980, shortly after their marriage. It was shot in Ketti, a small town situated close to Ooty, with further shooting also taking place in Bangalore. A total of 30 days was taken to complete the filming, using 36,000 feet of film negative. The final length of the film was 3,918 metres (12,854 ft).

Moondram Pirai was released on 19 February 1982 to positive critical reception. It was a box office success and had a theatrical run of 379 days at the Sathyam Theatre, and 200 days in other multiplexes. Kamal Haasan won the National Film Award for Best Actor for his role, while Mahendra won the National Film Award for Best Cinematography. The film also won the Best Director Award for Mahendra at the Filmfare Awards, and also won five Tamil Nadu State Film Awards. The film was dubbed in Telugu under the title Vasantha Kokila and was released on the same day as the original version. The film was remade the following year in Hindi as Sadma, with most of the cast and crew members from the original version reprising their roles.

Plot[edit]

Bhagyalakshmi (Sridevi) has a car accident while returning from a party and is hospitalised with severe head injuries. When she recovers, she is diagnosed with retrograde amnesia and she fails to recognise her own parents. She mentally regresses to the state of a child. While she is undergoing treatment, she is kidnapped and sold to the madam (Ganthimathi) of a brothel. Srinivas, also known as Cheenu, (Kamal Haasan) comes to Chennai to meet his old friend (Y. G. Mahendra). Together, they visit the brothel to relax. The madam sends Bhagyalakshmi, renamed Vijaya, to his room. Cheenu realises that she is mentally still a child and pities her. He finds out that she is from a cultured family, and that she was kidnapped and forced into prostitution.

He returns the next day and, after paying a huge sum to the madam, takes her out, supposedly on a pleasure trip. He takes her away to Ketti, where he is working as a school teacher. He takes her to his residence, where he protects her and also pampers her like a child. Viji, as she is called by Cheenu, has completely forgotten her past and becomes very close to him. When Viji accidentally spills ink over Cheenu's documents, angering him, their relationship is threatened, but they reconcile. Later, a local woodcutter (Nataraj) lusts for Viji and nearly assaults her, but she manages to save herself. When she tells Cheenu about it, he becomes livid with rage and almost kills Nataraj, but is stopped by his neighbours who were informed of the incident by Viji. The wife (Silk Smitha) of Cheenu's boss is attracted to Cheenu, though he does not reciprocate her feelings.

Viji's father Vedachalam (S. R. Veeraraghavan), who was searching her through the police, releases a newspaper advertisement about his lost daughter. A co-passenger who had travelled with Cheenu and Viji from Chennai to Ooty by train gives them a lead. Cheenu takes Viji to an Ayurvedic medical practitioner (Ramanamurthy) and leaves her there for treatment for a day. In his absence, the police come to his house searching for Viji. Finally, the police learn that Viji is getting treated at the doctor's place and reach there. Cheenu is unable to come as he is afraid of police action. The treatment goes through successfully. Viji regains her memory and completely forgets about the period between her accident and recovery. Vedachalam and his wife are happy and decide to leave. From the doctor, Vedachalam learns that the person who had brought her there had been taking good care of their daughter; he withdraws his police complaint and they begin their journey to Chennai with Viji.

After the police leave, Cheenu comes running after the car in which Viji is travelling. He follows them to the railway station and tries to gain the attention of Viji, but she is unable to recognise him. Cheenu acts like a dancing monkey that Viji developed a liking for, but Viji, unable to comprehend, thinks that he is insane and begging for food. Cheenu continues his futile attempts to gain her attention, and the train eventually leaves with Viji not recognising him. Cheenu, who was hurt while chasing her car and trying to get her attention, is left alone, heartbroken.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

"Do you know that Moondram Pirai got an 'A' certificate? But its Hindi remake Sadma was rated 'U'. So, even if I make a very simple film, chances are I might end up with an 'A' certificate. These 'A's and 'U's mean a damn to me. I make a film and that is it. I cannot talk about other filmmakers, but this rule doesn't stop me. If I want to make a film on a subject I have thought of, I will do it. Whether it gets an 'A' or a 'U', I'm least bothered. I'm not interested in its rating. I have my own code of conduct and I stick to that."

 – Balu Mahendra on the certification of his film, in an interview with M. Suganth of The Times of India in January 2014.[1]

Development[edit]

Moondram Pirai was produced by G. Thyagarajan and G. Saravanan under their production banner, Sathya Jyothi Films.[2] A. Ramaswamy and D. Vasu were in charge of art direction and editing respectively.[3]

In an interview with Anu Haasan in the talk show Koffee with Anu, Balu Mahendra stated that Moondram Pirai's theme – a temporary relationship between a childlike woman and a mature man, with their relationship ending abruptly and tragically – was based on his relationship with actress Shoba who died in 1980, shortly after their marriage;[4] Shoba was 17 years old at the time of her death.[5] According to S. Shiva Kumar of The Hindu, the climax of the film was a clear allusion to how Shobha left Mahendra without warning.[6] A Kannada film, Maanasa Sarovara, with a similar theme was also made by director Puttanna Kanagal the same year.[7]

In C. B. Rao's review of the film's Hindi version, Sadma (1983), the English translation of the film's title, Moondram Pirai is given as "The Third Generation." The title Moondram Pirai literally means "the crescent seen on the third day following new moon day."[8] According to Kamal Haasan, when Mahendra narrated the story of Moondram Pirai to him, Haasan listened to Mahendra for about twenty minutes before accepting the role of Cheenu.[9] The role of Bhagyalakshmi was initially offered to Sripriya, who could not accept the role due to her prior commitments, before Sridevi was chosen for it.[10] Silk Smitha, who had done around 20 films by then and was considered only for performing item numbers, was cast as the sexually excited wife of Srinivas' school principal.[11]

Filming[edit]

Moondram Pirai was shot in Ketti, a small town situated close to Ooty. Shooting also took place in Bangalore.[7] A total of 30 days was taken to complete the filming on 36,000 feet of film negative.[7] Mahendra did not find hiring a train expensive at that time; as a result, he hired a train for the film's scene where Haasan and Sridevi depart for Ketti, and another train for the film's climax which was shot at the Ketti railway station. Although it was raining on the day the climax was shot, Mahendra decided to continue shooting the climax even though the rain was not part of the film's script.[12] Silk Smitha's voice in the film was dubbed by Anuradha. Mahendra supervised Anuradha's dubbing session and taught her the methods to emote the dialogues for Smitha in the film.[13]

While the film was under production the team was scoffed at for making a film about a youth falling in love with an amnesiac, and that the film would not be a box office success.[14] The film uses intense violin music in both its opening and closing credits.[15] In April 2006, Balu Mahendra said that the inclusion of the song "Ponmeni Uruguthey" in his film was "absolutely unneccessary", stating that the sole reason for its inclusion in the film was the presence of Smitha in the song to help promote the film.[16]

Themes and influences[edit]

Moondram Pirai depicts a young woman whose mental state regresses to that of a child following an accident. Sexuality and the repression of desire are dominant motifs, similar to Balu Mahendra's previous film Moodu Pani (1980).[17] The film also explores the possibility of unresolved sexual tension between the protagonists.[18] Critic K. Jeshi compares Moondram Pirai to other films based on physical and mental disabilities like Sethu... (1999), Pithamagan (2003), Perazhagan (2004), Chandramukhi (2005), Anniyan (2005) and Ghajini (2005).[19] When asked about the reason amnesia was chosen for a disability, Mahendra said the disorder is used as a camouflage and as an excuse to portray relationships in the film.[19]

Film critic Baradwaj Rangan finds the sequence where Haasan's character, Cheenu, narrates the story of The Blue Jackal to Sridevi's character, Bhagyalakshmi, to be a distant echo of the arc negotiated by Cheenu: "He is, after all, a nobody (like the fox [jackal]) who, through a salubrious twist of fate, becomes the ruler of a woman's life, until he is restored, at the end, to the nobody he was, a fraudulent claimant to her emotions."[20] In his book Dispatches from the wall corner: A journey through Indian cinema, Rangan says that although Haasan is inspired by Marlon Brando, the scene where Haasan burns himself while cooking and vents his anger on Sridevi, is reminiscent of the acting style of Marcel Marceau.[21] In another book of Rangan, Conversations with Mani Ratnam, he states that in the scene where Cheenu enters Bhagyalakshmi's room in the brothel,[22] there was fumbling and embarrassment, whereas in another Haasan film Nayakan (1987), Haasan's character, Velu Nayakar, behaves as if he has visited a brothel before. Nayakan '​s director Mani Ratnam replied by saying that the two scenes are very different from one another and that it "can't be played the same way".[23]

Hari Narayan of The Hindu compared Moondram Pirai to another Haasan film, Guna (1991). In both narratives, the protagonist’s image of an ideal dreamgirl animate his antics. Cheenu, according to Narayan, "looks like a melange of Keats’ tragedy and Freud’s psychoanalysis." Narayan explains the idea of Cheenu keeping Bhagyalaskhmi with him not only as an act of sympathy and love, but also with the intention to preserve her like a portrait. Narayan also states that the character, Robert Ledgard's (Antonio Banderas) attraction to Vera Cruz (Elena Anaya) in Pedro Almodóvar's Spanish film The Skin I Live In (2011), is similar to Cheenu's attraction to Bhagyalakshmi. When Bhagyalakshmi recovers her memory and forgets him, Cheenu is hesitant to come back to his quiet existence, realising that in reality, dreams feel like its antithesis.[24]

Music[edit]

The music of the film was composed by Ilaiyaraaja. The soundtrack was released through the record label Agi Music.[25][26] The number "Kannae Kalaimane", which is based on the Kaapi raga,[27] was written by Kannadasan in "about two minutes" time, after listening to the film's story and the situation for the song.[28] Kannadasan was present at the recording session of the song, which took place in September 1981.[29] It was the last song which Kannadasan wrote before his death in October 1981,[30] during the making of the film.[7] "Poongatru" was based on the Sindhu Bhairavi raga.[31]

The soundtrack received positive critical reception. The song "Ponmeni Uruguthey" that was picturised on Kamal Haasan and Silk Smitha developed cult status.[32] G. Dhananjayan, in his book The Best of Tamil Cinema called the music "outstanding",[3] further saying that the songs contributed significantly to the success of the film.[7] Hari Narayan of The Hindu said, "The lullaby "Kanne Kalaimane" sees the tranquillity reach a crescendo."[24] Another critic from The Hindu, Shankar, called "Vaanengum Thanga" a "dream song".[33] On the song, "Kanne Kalaimane", Balu Mahendra said that it "stirs you to this day".[28]

Release[edit]

Moondram Pirai was awarded an "A" (adults only) certificate by the Central Board of Film Certification.[34] The film was released on 19 February 1982 with a final cut of 3,918 metres (12,854 ft).[3] The film was a box office success and had a theatrical run of 379 days at Sathyam Theatre, and 200 days in other multiplexes.[7] The film premiered at FILCA, a Film Festival held at Thiruvananthapuram in September 2014.[35]

Moondram Pirai was dubbed into Telugu under the title Vasantha Kokila and was released on the same day as the original version. The Hindi remake Sadma was released in 1983, with most of the cast and crew members from the original version reprising their roles.[7]

Critical reception[edit]

Moondram Pirai received mostly positive reviews, with praise directed at the performances of the lead pair. Ananda Vikatan, in its original review of the film, dated 7 March 1982, said, "The film gives an impression of reading a full novel in one go... The lead actors Kamal and Sridevi have lived their roles and brought in the effect desired by the director and they are the best couple in Tamil Cinema... Ilaiyaraaja's background score and songs and Balu Mahendra's photography have to be applauded" and gave the film 53 marks out of 100.[7]

Writing for The Hindu, Baradwaj Rangan called Moondram Pirai "The apotheosis of his [Balu Mahendra's] art",[36] while also opining that the film was "a superb example of how the presence of a commercially viable plot and the participation of commercially viable actors and technicians can result in art."[37] Another critic from The Hindu, Hari Narayan, wrote, "Throughout the narrative, a sense of uncertainty lurks in the viewer’s mind, the exact kind of uncertainty we get while dreaming. The knowledge that the spell would break any time. That Cheenu would be thrown back into his solitude. And that the fall from this ethereal tranquillity would be brutal, maybe even fatal."[24] Malathi Rangarajan described Haasan's performance in the climax scene at the railway station as "sterling".[38]

Rediff.com considered the film to be a "beautiful and tragic love story".[39] Behindwoods.com called the film "a beautiful and whimsical tale".[40] In December 2012, IndiaGlitz said "How a simple storyline can influence the hearts of millions is the beauty of this movie."[41] In February 2013, the magazine Galatta Cinema said, "Balumahendra’s Moondram Pirai is a tragedy nevertheless, and that too one that had most of us bawling our eyes out." The critic further stated that the scenes featuring the lead pair were "beautifully presented", and concluded that "Sridevi and Kamal just outdid themselves in this one..."[42]

In contrast, the magazine Aside called the film "a neon moon" and said, "There was at one time a brooding, premonitory quality about Balu Mahendra's movies ... but (he) has now gone into the trade of picture postcards and pani puri." And after a brief word of praise for Haasan's performance in the climax ("darkly luminescent, like a rain drenched monsoon night") added, "Kamal makes a very amusing monkey, but should he not rather be playing a human character?"[43]

Accolades[edit]

Moondram Pirai won two National Film Awards, a Filmfare Award and two Tamil Nadu State Film Awards.[7][44]

Award Ceremony Category Nominee(s) Outcome
National Film Awards 30th National Film Awards[45][7] Best Actor Kamal Haasan Won
Best Cinematography Balu Mahendra Won
Filmfare Awards South 28th Filmfare Awards South[44] Best Director – Tamil Balu Mahendra Won
Tamil Nadu State Film Awards Tamil Nadu State film Awards – 1968[7] Best Film (third prize) Balu Mahendra Won
Best Actor Kamal Haasan Won
Best Actress Sridevi Won
Best Male Playback K. J. Yesudas Won
Best Female Playback S, Janaki Won

Legacy[edit]

The climax scene in the film became popular and was referred and parodied many times

Moondram Pirai attained cult status in Tamil cinema and was praised for bringing out human emotions, unconditional love and sacrifice. The film had a significant impact among the audience for its style of filmmaking, performances of the lead cast and for Ilaiyaraaja's music.[3] The climax scene where Haasan's character, Cheenu, runs after Sridevi's character, Bhagyalakshmi, who has recovered her memory but forgets the incidents that occur between her accident and recovery completely, and Cheenu trying desperately in vain to make Bhagyalakshmi remember the time he spend with him, became popular and was parodied many times.[46][47] A. P. Thiruvadi, in his obituary of Balu Mahendra, called him "The Moondram Pirai of Indian cinema".[48] Moondram Pirai is also the name of a drama written by Tamil poet Puviarasu.[49] In an interview with critic S. Shiva Kumar of The Hindu, when Kumar suggested to Balu Mahendra that the way the film ended lacked logic, Mahendra diasgreed, saying, "Believe me there’s no logic in life.”[50]

In March 2005, Sneha, in an interview with Rediff.com, listed Moondram Pirai among her favourite films.[51] In July 2007, S. R. Ashok Kumar of The Hindu asked eight Tamil film directors to list their all-time favourite Tamil films; two of them – Mani Ratnam and Ameer – named Moondram Pirai.[52] In September 2009, singer Harini, in an interview with The Hindu, said that her favourite song is "Kanne Kalaimane".[53] In February 2010, R. Balki, in an interview with Forbes, called Moondram Pirai as his favourite film.[54] In October 2010, Vijay said he prefers to watch films like Moondram Pirai and Mahanadi (1994).[55]

In July 2011, Janani Iyer said she considered a role like Sridevi's character, Bhagyalakshmi, as "really challenging."[56] Behindwoods.com included Moondram Pirai in its list of "Top 20 best love stories in Tamil".[57] In March 2013, S. Shiva Kumar of The Hindu compared the climax of Sethu... (1999) to the climax in Moondram Pirai.[58] In November 2013, S. Saraswathi of Rediff.com included Moondram Pirai in her list of the "10 best Films of Kamal Haasan".[59] In February 2014, Arundhati said she "would love to play a role like Sridevi’s in Moondram Pirai".[60] In September 2014, IndiaGlitz listed "Ponmeni Uruguthey" among Silk Smitha's hit songs.[61]

In popular culture[edit]

Balu Mahendra's Telugu film Nireekshana (1982) was dubbed and released in Tamil as Kanne Kalaimane.[62] In Manadhai Thirudivittai (2001), Valayapathi (Vivek) pretends to have lost both his hands. His lover then promises to take care of him. The song "Kanne Kalaimane" is heard as the background music for the scene.[63] In a comedy scene from Run (2002), Mohan (Vivek) imitates Haasan's mannerisms from the climax scene in Moondram Pirai to make his friend Shiva (Madhavan) recognise him but fails.[64] Behindwoods.com, in its review of the film, Deepavali (2007), said, "Deepavali is especially for those who did not like the sad climax of the Kamal starrer Moondram Pirai."[65] Malathi Rangarajan, in her review of Deiva Thirumagal (2011), says the film "reminds you of Balu Mahendra's inimitable Moondraam Pirai [sic]."[66] Critic Rizwan Rafiudeen, in his review of Barfi! (2012), said that Ranbir Kapoor's character, Murphy "Barfi" Johnson, is deaf and dumb but possesses the same intelligence as that of Haasan's character in Moondram Pirai, Cheenu.[67] Balu Mahendra's defunct blog is also titled Moondram Pirai..., named after the film.[68]

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