||This article may require copy editing for grammar, style, cohesion, tone, or spelling. (December 2013)|
|Directed by||J. Mahendran|
|Produced by||Venu Chettiyar
|Screenplay by||J. Mahendran|
|Based on||Mullum Malarum
|Editing by||D. Vasu|
|Release dates||15 August 1978|
|Running time||135 minutes|
Mullum Malarum (English: Thorn and Flower [or] Thorns also Blossom)[a] is a 1978 Indian Tamil romantic drama film produced by Venu Chettiar and V. Mohan, and directed by J. Mahendran for Ananthi Films. The film features Rajinikanth, Sarath Babu, Fatafat Jayalaxmi and Shoba in the lead roles. The film's cinematography was handled by Balu Mahendra, while the soundtrack and background score were composed by Ilaiyaraaja. Mullum Malarum is based on the 1966 award-winning novel of the same name by writer Umachandran. It tells the story of Kali (Rajinikanth), a winch operator who is over-protective of his younger sister Valli (Shoba), and develops a disliking for the newly appointed Divisional Engineer Kumaran (Sarath Babu), after the latter suspends him from duty, which eventually leads to the loss of Kali's arm, as well as his job.
Shooting for Mullum Malarum took place in Sringeri, Ooty, Glenmorgan and Kundha. The film was released on 15 August 1978, and despite its initially poor commercial performance, it eventually became a massive commercial success after positive critical reviews and favourable word of mouth. The film was a major breakthrough for Rajinikanth, whose performance as Kali received unanimous praise, and is widely considered his best performance in his career. Mullum Malarum also established that cinema is a visual medium and can be made without melodrama, fights, duet songs or excessive dialogues, and with realism integrated into it. The film was later remade in Malayalam as Venalil Oru Mazha, and in Hindi as Pyari Behna.
Kali (Rajinikanth) is a winch operator at a power plant in a hilly village. He has a bit of a reputation as a local hell raiser, what with his regular escapades and self-aggrandising ways. But he also does good deeds for the local community from time to time. He dotes on his younger sister Valli (Shoba). They have no family and are orphans. They take in poor itinerant Manga (Fatafat Jayalaxmi) and her aged mother, and house them in a neighbouring hut. Manga takes a shine to Kali but he is disgusted with her gluttonous ways as her main focus in life is food.
Into this scenario steps the power plant’s divisional engineer Kumaran (Sarath Babu), a strict but fair boss. Kali and Kumaran start off the wrong foot and this continues over a series of incidents where Kumaran manages to see only Kali’s negative side and not his good one. Kali eventually succumbs to Manga’s ample charms. But to his bad luck, on the one day that he frolics in the river with Manga, away from his post, there is an emergency and he is absent without leave. Kumaran suspends Kali temporarily for dereliction of duty. Kali’s protests and threats fall on deaf ears.
He goes off to drink his rage away and collapses drunk in the middle of the road; a truck then runs over his left arm. Kumaran takes charge of his hospital expenses, but the damage is done and Kali's injured arm has to be amputated. Since he is unfit to perform his job one-armed, the power plant has to let him go, and the engineer is the unhappy bearer of bad tidings. Kali is now unemployed and a deeply frustrated man with misdirected anger towards Kumaran. Manga feels guilty as she is the root cause of the crisis and happily agrees to marry him when Valli proposes it.
Kumaran who has had several interactions with Valli, asks Kali for her hand in marriage, but Kali spurns the proposal because he dislikes Kumaran. He then makes arrangements to get Valli married to Murugesa (Venniradai Moorthy), the local grocer who is also a philanderer. Manga challenges this decision, as does the entire village that rallies around Valli. Manga decides to get Valli married to Kumaran, without Kali’s concurrence. On the day of the wedding, the marriage procession wends its way towards the temple, passing Kali. Valli however, has a change of heart, leaves the wedding party and returns to her brother. Unexpectedly, Kali approaches Kumaran and tells him that though he still dislikes him, he and Valli have his permission to marry.
- Rajinikanth as Kali, a winch operator
- Sarath Babu as Kumaran, the newly appointed Divisional Engineer
- Fatafat Jayalaxmi as Manga, Kali's love interest
- Shoba as Valli, Kali's younger sister and Kumaran's love interest
- Venniradai Moorthy as Murugesa, a grocer and philanderer
Based on Umachandran's award winning novel of the same name, Mullum Malarum was the directorial debut of J. Mahendran, who was already a successful screenplay and dialogue writer. The novel won the first prize in the Tamil magazine Kalki's Novel Short Story Competition held in connection with the celebration of the Silver Jubilee of Kalki in 1966.
Mahendran did not read Umachandran’s novel fully; he just read part of the novel and was impressed with the winch operator Kali, his affection towards his sister and the way he loses his arm. From then onwards, the screenplay was developed by him, deviating from the novel's plot. He decided to make the film without melodrama, overacting, excessive dialogues, duets or regular climax, and developed the screenplay accordingly. One notable difference is that while the Kali in Umachandran's novel loses his arm to a tiger, the Kali in Mahendran's film loses his arm in an accident.
Mahendran told the producer Venu Chettiar that he wanted Rajinikanth to act in the lead role, but he objected saying that he was dark complexioned and had mostly been doing villain roles then, although 1978's Bairavi (his first film as a main hero) was an exception. However, Mahendran stuck to his decision and refused to direct the film if the producer was not willing to cast Rajinikanth in the lead role. Thus Mahendran and Rajinikanth began working together. Rajinikanth was paid 13,000 (about 1579.59$ in 1978)[b] for acting in this ﬁlm. Shoba was recruited to play Kali's sister Valli and Fatafat Jayalaxmi was recruited to play his love interest Manga, while Sarath Babu was selected to play Kumaran, the Divisional Engineer and rival of Kali. Ramasamy was recruited as the film's art director, and D. Vasu as the editor.
It was Kamal Haasan who recommended Balu Mahendra as the cinematographer to Mahendran for this ﬁlm. The film was shot using a 35mm film, and was colourised using Orwo colour. Venu Chettiar decided to freeze this ﬁlm's budget and did not provide ﬁnance when Mahendran wanted to shoot an important lead scene before the song Senthazham Poovil with Sarath Babu and Shoba. However, Haasan provided funds to ensure that the scene was shot and included in the ﬁlm, giving it the necessary depth. Mullum Malarum was shot in Sringeri, Ooty, Kundha and Chennai in about 30 days. The winch operating scenes were taken at Glenmorgan near Ooty. After Mullum Malarum was complete, the producer was upset that the film had very little dialogue.
Mullum Malarum explores the concept that beautiful flowers need sharp thorns to protect them. Umachandran’s novel and Mahendran’s film transposes this into a sibling scenario. Much like in Bairavi, Rajinikanth and his sister have abusive parents in childhood and it is up to the brother to provide for his sister. Unlike in Bairavi, the siblings here are not separated and this leads to a very protective attitude on Kali’s part for his sister Valli, bordering on obsessive love. In one scene, after lashing out at her in a foul temper during the day, he applies henna to her feet at night when she is fast asleep.
Going beyond the central theme, the film is all about the extent of ego that can be sustained. Kali is clearly the community’s alpha male and he does not hesitate to inform the world about this fact. His hangers-on constantly massage his ego and he gets to play god when he gives villagers a free ride—saving them miles of walking—on the power plant’s trolley of which he is the suzerain. Thus, it is a bit of a shock to his system when a presentable and educated male arrives in the shape of the divisional engineer. Being a subordinate, Kali cannot really oppose him in any way and his frustration threatens to bubble over several times; it finally does when he is suspended. His feelings manifest themselves in a song where the lyrics go, ‘It doesn't matter whether Rama or Ravana are reigning, I am the king of my own conscience,’ a clear reference to the engineer's authoritarian yoke to which he is bound.
When Kali’s arm gets amputated, he feels helpless and emasculated. Which is why the engineer, his bête noire as it were, becomes an easy target. Kali refuses to see the benefits of his sister marrying above her station into wealth and education, even when his wife Manga explains it in so many words to him, or when his sister expresses her desire for the union. Kali’s words when Valli abandons her wedding proceedings to be with her brother are revealing: ‘My sister has shown all of you that I am the most important person in her life. I need only that happiness for the rest of my life. And it is with that pride and arrogance that I give my permission for my sister to marry.’
The film depicts how two siblings of opposite characters can co-exist, like how a thorn and a flower can co-exist in the same plant. Its title Mullum Malarum can also be seen as a depiction of an over-possessive brother (the thorn) being over-protective of his younger sister (the flower).
|Soundtrack album by Ilaiyaraaja|
The film's soundtrack was composed by Ilaiyaraaja, who also composed the background score. The lyrics for the songs were written by Panchu Arunachalam, Gangai Amaran and Kannadasan. While the film features 5 songs, the soundtrack features only 4 songs; the song not included in the soundtrack is the introduction song Maan Iname. The film has no duet songs—a notable rarity for Tamil cinema. The soundtrack cover shows the film's four protagonists, arranged clockwise from top left: Valli (Shoba), Manga (Jayalaxmi) and Kali (Rajinikanth) sharing the same frame, Kumaran (Sarath Babu) and Valli again. It also implies that while Kali and Manga are in love as she is seen joyfully hugging him from behind, Kumaran loves Valli as he looks wondrously at her.
The soundtrack and score received positive response. In 1978, leading Tamil magazine Ananda Vikatan stated that though there were only four tracks, Ilaiyaraaja had composed them with strands of sweetness. In his 2011 book The Best of Tamil Cinema: 1977 to 2010, G. Dhananjayan stated that with Mullum Malarum, "Ilaiyaraaja proved his deep knowledge in background score", while praising every single song of the soundtrack. Upperstall.com named Senthazham Poovil as one of Ilaiyaraaja's "most memorable songs". In an interview with film critic Baradwaj Rangan, director Mani Ratnam stated that there was "something really special" about the film's music, because of which the film "really stood out".
Elements of the song Raman Aandaalum were later used in the song Thambikku Indha Ooru, composed by Dharan for the 2010 film of the same name, and also in the song Machi Open the Bottle, composed by Ilaiyaraaja's son Yuvan Shankar Raja for the 2011 film Mankatha.
|1.||"Senthazham Poovil"||Kannadasan||K. J. Yesudas||4:35|
|2.||"Adi Penney"||Panchu Arunachalam||Jency Anthony||4:30|
|1.||"Raman Aandaalum"||Gangai Amaran||S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, L. R. Anjali and Chorus||5:44|
|2.||"Niththam Niththam"||Gangai Amaran||Vani Jairam||2:54|
Release and reception
After being censored with a "U" Certificate from the Central Board of Film Certification on 4 August 1978, Mullum Malarum was released on 15 August 1978, during India's Independence day. The film performed poorly commercially for the first three weeks. The producer stated that it was all over and gave up hope on the film's success. Both Mahendran and Rajinikanth pleaded with the producer to improve publicity for the film. However, he stated that there is no need for publicity for a film which is not running, and a film which is running does not require any publicity, and did not raise additional funds. In the fourth week however, massive crowds came to theatres and after excellent reviews in magazines and word of mouth appreciation spread, the film became a huge commercial success and ran for 100 days in theatres. It's success established Rajinikanth as a permanent lead hero actor.
Rajinikanth's mentor director K. Balachander, after watching the film wrote a letter to Rajinikanth saying "I'm proud to have introduced you as an actor"; this letter is the only one that Rajinikanth ever preserved. Though not entered for any awards by the producer, Mullum Malarum won the Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Film, the Filmfare Award for Best Tamil Film, and Rajinikanth won a special prize for Best Actor at the Tamil Nadu State Film Awards, as well as the Arima Sangam Award for Best Actor. The film was also screened at the Indian Panorama during the Indian International Film Festival in 1979. Owing to its success, Mullum Malarum was later remade in Malayalam by Sreekumaran Thampi as Venalil Oru Mazha (1979) and in Hindi by Bapu as Pyari Behna (1985).
On 3 September 1978, Ananda Vikatan said "Mahendran has demonstrated amazing film making skills in this film... He has told the story in a sharp manner without long dialogues and makes us expect the same quality of films from him in future... The film exhibits Tamil culture throughout. The characters created history in a village atmosphere. We get the satisfaction of travelling to our village after seeing the film. This flower is one of those rarest Kurinchi flowers in Tamil Cinema."
M. G. Ramachandran (then the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu) told Mahendran, "I have no words to express my happiness. With this ﬁlm, you have set a new trend in Tamil Cinema. You have achieved a milestone, which even if l had desired, l could not have achieved. You have demonstrated clearly that Cinema is a visual medium and have succeeded in that also. The ﬁlms which came till now on brother-sister relationships were full of dramatics, including mine. However, this ﬁlm stands apart and stands tall in realism. The last scene is new not only to Tamil Cinema but also to Indian Cinema. l felt like getting up and clapping. Rajni has acted wonderfully and realistically and this ﬁlm will mark a big turnaround in his ﬁlm career."
In October 2010, Amrith Lal of The Times of India stated that Mullum Malarum "revealed the potential of Rajini, the character actor." In December 2012, playback singer Suchitra said, "Rajini's role as Kali in Mullum Malarum is my favourite for the following reasons — one, it is the most honest on-screen depiction of the brother-sister relationship; and two, though it was only his third film, he was brilliant — as the rough-hewn, obstinate winch operator and, in the movie's latter half, as a frustrated individual rendered immobile due to an accident, yet trying to retain his dignity." and called Mullum Malarum her "Favourite Rajini movie". In December 2013, The Times of India ranked the film #5 in its list of "Top 12 Rajinikanth movies" and said, "with this film, the talented actor dispelled whatever doubts remained about his acting ability". In May 2013, director Dhanapal Padmanabhan told K. Jeshi of The Hindu that Mullum Malarum "scores on content, craft and extraordinary screenplay." Naman Ramachandran, author of Rajnikant: The Definitive Biography said, "Playing such a complex character [Kali] would have been a challenge for any actor, but Rajinikanth pulls it off."
In December 2012, the Press Trust of India stated that Rajinikanth "proved his acting mettle" in Mullum Malarum. In his 2011 book The Best of Tamil Cinema: 1977 to 2010, G. Dhananjayan said, "If Paasamalar (1961) stood out for brother-sister relationship in a melodramic format, this film stands out for its realistic format for such a fine relationship". In May 2007, K Balamurugan of Rediff included Mullum Malarum in his list of "Rajni's Tamil Top 10" films, giving it the fifth position. In June 2005, writer Sujatha included the film in his list of "ten best Indian films", and stated that "Mahendran's triumph was making superstar Rajnikanth act naturally." In December 2009, D. Karthikeyan of The Hindu stated that Mullum Malarum would "remain etched in every film lover’s memory by showing the best of Rajnikanth’s acting skills." Entertainment website Behindwoods listed Rajinikanth's performance as one of his "Top 12 acting performances". It called Mullum Malarum "a critic’s Rajini movie, the first any critic would remember if you were to ask them about Rajini’s acting skills" while calling Mahendran "the master of realistic depiction of life."
In 2004, Baradwaj Rangan stated that with Mullum Malarum, "Mahendran proved himself a sublime storyteller almost a decade before [Mani] Rathnam." Directors K. Balachander, K. Bhagyaraj and K. S. Ravikumar have named the film as one of their "best ten" films. In December 2012, film journalist Sreedhar Pillai stated that Mullum Malarum was "his [Rajinikanth's] best performance" and the film was among his most "memorable movies". In an interview with Deccan Chronicle, actor Vijay Sethupathi said that Mullum Malarum was among his "favourite picks" alongside Thenmerku Paruvakaatru. Shoba's performance as the hero's sister was deemed "a brilliant performance" by S. R. Ashok Kumar of The Hindu in May 2002. In his interview with Rangan, Ratnam said:
|“||When you watch a film, you know the way the shot was taken or the way the narrative was constructed. [Mahendran's] Mullum Malarum, for instance, was so startlingly different from anything that had come before in Tamil cinema. It really stood out. You need not know exactly what it is that stands out, but it would stand out for you. That is the beginning. There was something really special about the direction, Balu Mahendra's cinematography, the characterizations, the costumes, the compositions, the colours, the light, the way it was cut and, of course, the music. The sheer restraint in it is really remarkable. I think the real starting point is the script—the content and the narrative. The way a scene starts, the way it finishes—most of it gets played out there. And then, it's just a question of being able to translate it well onto film.||”|
In addition to being critically acclaimed and commercially successful, Mullum Malarum established that cinema is a visual medium and can be made without melodrama, fights, duet songs or excessive dialogues, and with realism integrated into it. Tamil cinema later witnessed several visual oriented films from Mahendran, Balu Mahendra and Mani Ratnam. Rajinikanth's portrayal of Kali became immensely popular; director Prabhu Solomon has stated that the character was the inspiration behind the male lead played by Vikram Prabhu in his Kumki (2012). The film's iconic winch also inspired director P. V. Prasad to use a winch in one of the fight sequences in his Kadhalil Vizhundhen (2008).
When asked about what film of his he "personally liked", Rajinikanth told his biographer Gayathri Sreekanth that it was Mullum Malarum. He also considers Mahendran as his favourite director. Similarly, Sarath Babu told S. R. Ashok Kumar in 2006, "My grandchildren can watch all my movies. But I would like them to watch the best among the lot - 'Nool Veli', 'Mullum Malarum', 'Udiripookal', 'Salangai Oli' and 'Amirthavarshini' (Kannada)." An unrelated film of the same title was reported to have been planned as of 2009 with lyricist Vijaysagar as director, and Ananda Kannan and VJ Prajin in the lead roles. On 19 August 2013, a day before Raksha Bandhan, film historian/actor Mohan Raman tweeted, "Happy Pasa Malar /Mullum Malarum Day - honour that brother — sister relationship." referencing both the films which received praise for their depiction of brother-sister affection.
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