|Directed by||Santhana Bharathi|
|Screenplay by||Kamal Haasan|
Ra. Ki. Rangarajan
|Story by||Kamal Haasan|
|Produced by||S. A. Rajkannu|
|Cinematography||M. S. Prabhu|
|Edited by||N. P. Satish|
Sree Amman Creations
Mahanadhi (transl. The Great River) is a 1994 Indian Tamil-language crime drama film directed by Santhana Bharathi and co-written by Kamal Haasan. The film stars himself and Sukanya, with S. N. Lakshmi, Tulasi, Shobana, Dinesh, Poornam Vishwanathan, Rajesh and V. M. C. Haneefa in supporting roles. It revolves around a widower and his family going through many miseries due to the machinations of a con artist.
The idea for Mahanadhi originated when Haasan discovered his domestic help's plan to kidnap his daughters for a ransom. After he completed the story, novelist Ra. Ki. Rangarajan made inputs, and was subsequently credited as the dialogue writer. Cinematography was handled by newcomer M. S. Prabhu, and editing was handled by N. P. Sathish. It was the first film in India to make use of Avid Technology. The film deals with several issues such as corruption and child trafficking.
Mahanadhi was released in theatres on 14 January 1994, Pongal day, and was critically acclaimed, but failed commercially. The film won two National Film Awards: Best Feature Film in Tamil and Best Audiography, and two Tamil Nadu State Film Awards: Special Prize (Best Film) and Best Stunt Coordinator (Vikram Dharma).
Krishnaswamy is a widower living with his mother-in-law Saraswathi Ammal, daughter Kaveri and son Bharani in a village near Kumbakonam. Dhanush, a con artist from Madras, lusts for Krishna's prosperity and asks him to join his chit fund business. Krishna is initially reluctant; however, when a rich friend from abroad visits his house, he too wants to be rich like them. Hence he agrees to Dhanush's proposal and arrives at Madras, unaware of Dhanush's tricks. When Dhanush swindles the chit fund money, Krishna is implicated and wrongfully convicted.
Krishna finds that even his future father-in-law Panjapakesan is also in jail for the same reason, whose daughter is Yamuna, 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 learns that his daughter is in Calcutta, 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 Saraswathi's treatment, he chases out Bharani with his dog and keeps the money for himself. It is implied that Kaveri is raped by the boss and is child trafficked, ending up in Sonagachi.
Krishna goes to Calcutta 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 severely. 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 returning from Calcutta, Krishna wants to start a new life with Yamuna, but his friend in the police, Muthusamy 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 children, so he decides to curb the root of all sin and grief against Dhanush, and goes to seek revenge.
Krishna comes to know that Dhanush is just a pawn in the big game of cheating. He not only kills Dhanush, but also Venkatachalam, the main person who was behind this game; at the cost of his left arm. Krishna is sentenced to 14 years of life imprisonment and comes out a contented man, to see his daughter married to Muthusamy's son and having a child, and his son being a grown-up man. The whole family moves back to their native village.
- Kamal Haasan as Krishnaswamy
- Sukanya as Yamuna
- S. N. Lakshmi as Saraswathi Ammal
- Tulasi as Manju
- Shobana as Kaveri (young)
- Dinesh as Bharani
- Poornam Vishwanathan as Panjabikesan
- Rajesh as Muthusamy
- V. M. C. Haneefa as Dhanush
- Mohan Natarajan as Venkatachalam
- Vijay as Mannangkatti
- Sivasankar as Thulukaanam
- Sangita as Kaveri (older, uncredited)
According to Kamal Haasan, his domestic help plotted to kidnap his daughters for a ransom, but he discovered their plan. This incident laid the foundation for Mahanadhi. Haasan has stated that when he started to write the script, "the script wrote itself ....maybe assisted by my fear, apprehension and paranoia." He avoided publicising this fact for over twenty years. According to director Santhana Bharathi, when Haasan was asked to do a film for S. A. Rajkannu of Sree Amman Creations, he immediately involved Bharathi in the project and told him the story needed to be ready.
Haasan and Bharathi went to Kodaikanal where they completed the story after much toiling. After the duo returned to Madras, novelist Ra. Ki. Rangarajan made further suggestions which were used; he was subsequently credited as the film's dialogue writer. M. S. Prabhu was chosen as the cinematographer at his mentor P. C. Sreeram's suggestion, and the film was his first as an independent cinematographer while the fight sequences were choreographed by Vikram Dharma. Haasan's then-wife Sarika designed the costumes and was also an audiographer, while editing was handled by N. P. Sathish. Cheran worked as an associate director, but left the project midway due to "creative differences" with Haasan.
Casting and filming
The film marked the debut of singer Shobana (who did not act in any other film since then), Dinesh and Sivasankar, who all got the film's title, "Mahanadhi", added to their names as a prefix. Principal photography was to have begun in May 1993, but began only in September due to casting difficulties; Bharathi said the makers "had to reach for three boys belonging to different age groups and son resembling Kamal [Haasan] and three girls likewise to play Kamal's daughters". The prison scenes were shot on a set designed by art director G. K., and some of the vessels used for those scenes were borrowed from real prisons. Mahanadhi was the first film in India to make use of Avid Technology, and was one of the first digitally edited films outside of the United States.
Mahanadhi deals with several issues such as corruption and child trafficking. 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". He described the song as "(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".
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 film also symbolically references the Kaveri River water dispute, and many of the characters are named after major Indian rivers like Krishna (Krishnaswamy), Yamuna, Kaveri, Thamirabarani (Bharani) and Narmada (Krishnaswamy's late wife). Haasan has stated that the central message of Mahanadhi is that "urbanisation is not necessarily development". He also said the film was influenced by Les Misérables, an 1862 novel by Victor Hugo.
|1.||"Anbana Thayai"||Vaali||S. P. Balasubrahmanyam|
|2.||"Engeyo Thikkudesai"||Vaali||Kamal Haasan|
|3.||"Peigala Bhoodhama"||Vaali||Kamal Haasan, Shanmugasundari|
|4.||"Pongalo Pongal"||Vaali||K. S. Chithra|
|5.||"Solladha Raagangal"||Vaali||S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, S. Janaki|
|6.||"Sri Ranga Ranganathanin"||Vaali||S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, Uma Ramanan, Shobana|
|7.||"Thanmanam Ulla Nenjum"||Vaali||Kamal Haasan|
|8.||"Pirar Vaada" (Poem)||Subramania Bharati||Kamal Haasan|
Mahanadi was released in theatres on 14 January 1994, Pongal day, and opened up against other Pongal releases such as Sethupathi IPS, Amaidhi Padai, Rajakumaran, Veetla Visheshanga, Siragadikka Aasai and Sindhu Nathi Poo. Made on a budget of ₹25 million (equivalent to ₹140 million or US$1.9 million in 2020), it was commercially unsuccessful, losing the studio up to ₹10 million (equivalent to ₹56 million or US$740,000 in 2020). The film was screened at the International Film Festival Rotterdam six years after its release.
Malini Mannath of The Indian Express wrote, "Mahanadhi is a melancholic film with scenes that linger long after the film is over." K. Vijiyin of New Straits Times wrote, "This movie is quite long [...] and I was warned the story was a bit "slow" but I did not really feel the time passing. If you like Kamal, you will like Mahanadhi, which should earn another acting award for him". The Tamil magazine Ananda Vikatan wrote that it is surprising to see such a soft, intense and different film in Tamil, and also praised Haasan's acting, stating that one will forget Haasan and see only the character Krishnaswamy and empathise with him.
|41st National Film Awards||Best Feature Film in Tamil||S. A. Rajkannu|||
|Best Audiography||H. Sridhar, K. M. Surya Narayan|
|Tamil Nadu State Film Awards||Special Prize (Best Film)||S. A. Rajkannu|||
|Best Stunt Coordinator||Vikram Dharma|
Mahanadhi has often been cited as one of the saddest and most depressing films from Tamil cinema. Following the film's release, many people mimicked Poornam Viswanathan's style of dialogue delivery in the film. On the centenary of Indian cinema in April 2013, Forbes India included Haasan's performance in the film on its list, "25 Greatest Acting Performances of Indian Cinema".
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