Mahanadi (film)

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Directed bySanthana Bharathi
Produced byS. A. Rajkannu
Written by
Screenplay byKamal Haasan
Story byKamal Haasan
Music byIlaiyaraaja
CinematographyM. S. Prabhu
Edited byN. P. Satish
Sree Amman Creations
Distributed byG. V. Films
Release date
14 January 1994
Budget3.7 million (equivalent to 18 million or US$260,000 in 2018)
Box office5.7 million (equivalent to 28 million or US$400,000 in 2018)

Mahanadhi (English : The Great River) is a 1994 Tamil-language Indian drama film directed by Santhana Bharathi featuring Kamal Haasan, Sukanya and Cochin Haneefa.[1] It portrays the grief of a humble villager who sees his family and property being ruined. The film deals with several issues such as corruption and child trafficking.[2] It was dubbed in Telugu with the same title. It was critically acclaimed, was a super hit at the box office.[3][4][5] The film won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Tamil.[6]


Krishnaswamy (Kamal Haasan) is a widower living happily along with his mother-in-law Saraswathi (S. N. Lakshmi), daughter Kaveri (Mahanadi Shobana) and son Bharani (Mahanadhi Dinesh) in a village near Trichy. Dhanush (Cochin Haneefa), a con from the city, has an eye on Krishna's prosperity and asks him to join his chit fund business. At first, Krishna is reluctant; however, when a rich friend from a foreign country visits his house, he too wants to be rich like them. Hence he agrees to Dhanush's proposal and arrives at the city. However, he is unaware of Dhanush's tricks and when Dhanush swindles away the chit fund money, the blame is put on Krishna, and he lands up in jail. He finds that even his future father-in-law Panjapakesan (Poornam Viswanathan) is also in jail for the same reason, whose daughter is Yamuna (Sukanya), working as a nurse. He advises Krishna not to be angry if the jailor is cruel, as he might be released sooner if he is submissive in the jail. During Krishna's tenure in jail, Yamuna takes care of his family. Due to unavoidable situations, his mother-in-law dies and his children go missing. Krishna learns this after coming out from jail suffering unnecessary hardships.

Krishna finds his son with street-artists and gets him back. He later finds from Dhanush that his daughter is in Kolkata, at a red light area called Sonagachi. When Krishna was arrested, Kaveri had attained puberty, and three months later, Saraswathi became sick. Kaveri and Bharani go to Dhanush asking for financial help. Dhanush takes them to his higher boss, so that the virgin Kaveri could sleep with him to get money. Though the boss provides money to Dhanush for treatment of the old lady, he chases out Bharani with his dog and keeps the money for himself. Kaveri is brutally raped by the boss and is then raped by many till she ends up as a prostitute in Sonagachi.

Krishna goes to Kolkata with his father-in-law and tracks down his daughter. Unable to bear the grief, he grabs her and tries to escape, while the pimps there beat him black and blue. The elder sex-workers/madam make a truce and insist that Krishna take Kaveri, while they would work extra hours to pay the pimps for the loss of Kaveri.

After coming back from Kolkata, Krishna wants to start a new life with Yamuna, but his friend in the police, Muthusamy (Rajesh) tells him that Dhanush has planned to jail Krishna further by plotting a murder case against him, he would be arrested the next day. Also, Krishna overhears his daughter blabbering in her sleep not to rape her. He is heartbroken due to the state of his kids, and decides to curb the root of all sin and grief against Dhanush, and goes to seek revenge. He comes to know that Dhanush is just a pawn in the big game of cheating. He not only kills Dhanush, but also the main person who was behind this game; but at the cost of losing his arm.

Krishna is sentenced to 14 years life-imprisonment and comes out a contented man, to see his daughter married to Muthusamy's son and has a child, and his son being a grown-up man. The whole family moves back to their native village, and the movie ends with Bharani swimming in the river, reminding his father of his own antics.



The music was composed by Ilaiyaraaja and lyrics were written by Vaali. Telugu lyrics were written by Vennelakanti. Shobana, who acted as Kamal Haasan's daughter in the film, also sang the song "Sri Ranga Ranganathanin".[7] After recording the song, Ilaiyaraaja and Uma Ramanan appreciated her for singing the song.[8] The song was composed in Hamsadhwani Raga.[9]

Song Singer(s)
"Anbana Thayai" S P Balasubrahmanyam
"Engeyo Thikkudesai" Kamal Hassan
"Peigala Bhoodhama" Kamal Hassan, Shanmugasundari
"Pongalo Pongal" K S Chithra
"Solladha Raagangal" S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, S. Janaki
"Sri Ranga Ranganathanin" S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, Uma Ramanan, Shobana
"Thanmanam Ulla Nenjum" Kamal Hassan
"Pirar Vaada" (Poem) Kamal Hassan, Poem by Bharathiyar


Kamal Haasan wrote the story, screenplay and co-wrote the dialogues with Ra. Ki. Rangarajan.[10] Kamal Haasan's then-wife Sarika designed the costumes and was also an uncredited audiographer for the film.[11] Director Cheran worked as an associate director on the film.[12] The film marked the debut of singer Shobana,[13] who did not act in any other film since then, Dinesh and Shankar,[14] who all got the film's title, "Mahanadhi", added to their names as a prefix. Mahanadhi was the first film in India to make use of Avid technology,[15] becoming one of the first digitally edited films outside of US.[8][16]

Kamal Haasan later said that Mahanadhi was a very important film for him.[4] He also said that the film was influenced by Les Misérables.[17]


Baradwaj Rangan said: "Mahanadhi is one of the saddest films ever made, grim north to Singin' in the Rain's blithe south, but it has an extraordinary musical moment in "Peygala Nambaadhey", which Kamal Haasan's character sings, during a power cut, to his children who are scared of the dark. This multifunctional song is (a) a father's moral instruction to his children ("face your fears"), (b) a bit of levity, (c) a sweet stretch showcasing this family's dynamics, and (d) a hint that bad things can come at you from everywhere, whether from the television set (featuring terrifyingly distorted musical performers) or even a doting grandmother (who, jokingly, fashions herself into a demon goddess). That's where the film is headed, into a zone where nothing and no one can be trusted, and this song shapes these themes in a casually understated manner".[18]

Poet Puviarasu stated: "Don't go after the mystic deer, was Kamal's message in the movie Mahanadhi". In the film, Krishna relocates to the city to earn more money, own a Benz and educate his daughter at Church Park Convent. And he faces the consequences of his actions. The important characters in the film are named after the various rivers in India. The Cauvery water problem is dealt with in a symbolic way. The daughter of Krishna is named Cauvery. Later a prostitute in Kolkata, where the Ganga flows as the Hooghly, rescues her. Here, Kamal brings about the importance of the "linking of rivers".[19]

Mahanadhi is a major river in India and translates to "Great River", and the names of the characters played by Kamal Haasan, Suganya, Shobana/Sangita and Dinesh are Krishna, Yamuna, Kaveri, Bharani, all names of major Indian rivers, too.


Mahanadi was released in theatres on 14 January 1994.[20] gave 3.5 out of 5 and wrote: "This emotionally-draining movie has an impact that lasts for long after the movie has ended. This is powerful drama but is surprisingly free of the manipulation or sentimentality that most movies of this sort resort to".[21] Another reviewer wrote: "Probably the most depressing movie ever made, "Mahanadhi" is a motion picture that is nearly impossible to watch and yet, almost paradoxically, is not a film to be missed by anyone who appreciates sensible, gut wrenching cinema."[22] wrote: "this movie is a masterpiece. It's a haunting human tragedy which is completely unforgettable and features what can only be called one of the most powerful performances in Indian Cinema."[23] New Indian express wrote: "Mahanadhi is a melancholic film with scenes that linger long...".[24] Tamil magazine Ananda Vikatan wrote: "It is surprising to see such a soft, intense and different film in Tamil" and also praised Kamal's acting stating: "We forget Kamal and see only the character Krishnasamy and empathise with him".[8]

The film was screened at the International Film Festival Rotterdam six years after its release.[4]

Mahanadhi has been often cited as one of the saddest and most depressing films from Tamil cinema.[22][25][26][27]

On the centenary of Indian cinema in April 2013, Forbes included Kamal Hassan's performance in the film on its list, "25 Greatest Acting Performances of Indian Cinema".[8][28]


The film won two awards at the 41st National Film Awards. It received the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Tamil and H. Sridhar and K. M. Surya Narayan received the National Film Award for Best Audiography.[29] It also won Tamil Nadu State Film Award Special Prize for Best Film.


  1. ^ "Filmography of mahanadhi". 14 January 1993. Archived from the original on 23 April 2013. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
  2. ^ "Bollywood Express". 28 November 2013. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
  3. ^ "Metro Plus Madurai / Personality : No stopping him". The Hindu. 27 Septemb. Retrieved 2 December 2013. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  4. ^ a b c ", Movies: 'The future? I may not act at all!'". 15 March 2001. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
  5. ^ Swaminathan, Roopa. Kamalahasan, the consummate actor. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
  6. ^ Bibekananda Ray; Naveen Joshi (2005). Conscience of the race: India's offbeat cinema. India: Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Publications Division. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
  7. ^ "Education Plus Chennai : Music to your ears". The Hindu. 27 September 2004. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
  8. ^ a b c d Dhananjayan 2014, p. 330.
  9. ^ Mani, Charulatha (1 March 2013). "A bright start". The Hindu.
  10. ^ B. Kolappan (19 August 2012). "Ra.Ki. Rangarajan passes away". The Hindu. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
  11. ^ "Star maker does it again". The Hindu. 21 July 2000. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
  12. ^ "Best of 1997". Retrieved 2 December 2013.
  13. ^ "Mahanadhi Shobana - Chennaiyil Thiruvaiyaru". Retrieved 2 December 2013.
  14. ^ "Mahanadhi Shankar turns a hero - Tamil Movie News". 17 May 2010. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
  15. ^ "Digitizing Films - Times Of India". The Times of India. 10 April 2013. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
  16. ^ "Cinema Plus / Events : A first for Sathyam". The Hindu. 7 August 2009. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
  17. ^ "Writing for celluloid". The Hindu. 28 May 2009. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
  18. ^ "What a glorious feeling". The Hindu. 14 July 2012. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
  19. ^ "The fine art of cinema". The Hindu. 21 August 2006. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
  20. ^ "The Indian Express - Google News Archive Search". Google News.
  21. ^ "Mahanadhi,Tamil Movies Cinema". Archived from the original on 5 March 2012. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
  22. ^ a b "Mahanadhi". Retrieved 2 December 2013.
  23. ^ "My piece on MAHANADHI (Tamil, 1994)". Archived from the original on 5 December 2013. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
  24. ^ "The Indian Express - Google News Archive Search". Google News.
  25. ^ "Cinema Plus / Columns : Why I hate... Mahanadhi". The Hindu. 24 October 2008. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
  26. ^ malathi rangarajan (12 February 2012). "Admirable line and length". The Hindu. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
  27. ^ "Claps & Boos". 1 June 2010. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
  28. ^ Prasad, Shishir; Ramnath, N. S.; Mitter, Sohini (27 April 2013). "25 Greatest Acting Performances of Indian Cinema". Forbes. Retrieved 27 January 2015.
  29. ^ "Directorate of Film Festival" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 January 2018. Retrieved 2 December 2013.

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