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Mouna Ragam

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Mouna Ragam
Left to right: Divya, Manohar and Chandrakumar. Below them is a montage of the red fort, Divya in a red sari, and the Taj Mahal.
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMani Ratnam
Produced byG. Venkateswaran
Written byMani Ratnam
Starring
Music byIlaiyaraaja
CinematographyP. C. Sreeram
Edited by
Production
company
Sujatha Films
Release date
  • 15 August 1986 (1986-08-15)
Running time
145 minutes[1]
CountryIndia
LanguageTamil

Mouna Ragam (transl. Silent Symphony, pronounced [maʊ̯n̪a ɾ̪aːɡam]) is a 1986 Indian Tamil-language romantic drama film written and directed by Mani Ratnam, and produced by G. Venkateswaran. The film stars Mohan and Revathi in the lead roles, with Karthik, V. K. Ramasamy, Ra. Sankaran, Bhaskar, Kanchana, Vani, Kalaiselvi and Sonia in supporting roles. It narrates the life of Divya (Revathi), a free-spirited college girl who is forced into an arranged marriage with Chandrakumar (Mohan) by her father. Divya, secretly mourning her former lover Manohar (Karthik) who was shot dead, did not want to be married. The story follows Divya's inner conflict between holding onto her past and coming to terms with the present and making a life with Chandrakumar.

The film's development began when Ratnam began writing a short story tiled "Divya" with no cinematic plans until he finished it. Since production on his directorial debut Pallavi Anu Pallavi (1983) was delayed, he took a break for a month and developed "Divya" into a film script, which would eventually be renamed Mouna Ragam. Although Ratnam began work on the script during Pallavi Anu Pallavi, it languished in development hell and ended up becoming his fifth film. Mouna Ragam was the first film produced by Venkateswaran's Sujatha Films, and was shot primarily in Madras (now Chennai), with additional filming taking place in Delhi and Agra. The music was composed by Ilaiyaraaja, with lyrics by Vaali. P. C. Sreeram was the cinematographer, and the art director was Thota Tharani. The film was edited by B. Lenin and V. T. Vijayan.

Mouna Ragam was released on 15 August 1986, India's Independence Day. Despite opening to modest audiences, it became a box-office success, with a theatrical run of over 175 days, and Mani Ratnam's breakthrough. The film received critical acclaim; it won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Tamil, and Ratnam received the Filmfare Award for Best Tamil Director. Mouna Ragam also became a breakthrough in Karthik's career despite his role being a cameo. The film introduced techniques such as soft-focus shots, flare filters and backlighting, which became popular in Tamil cinema. It was remade in Hindi in 1992 as Kasak, and in Kannada in 1999 as Chandrodaya.

Plot[edit]

Divya is a free-spirited college student from a conservative family. Her father Chandramouli has arranged for her marriage and tells Divya to come home early from college to meet Chandrakumar, the groom. Unwilling to get married, and hoping that the groom's family will reject her, she deliberately arrives home late, only to find Chandrakumar and his family patiently waiting for her. She talks arrogantly to Chandrakumar to make him dislike her but, undeterred, he says that he likes her and agrees to the marriage. Divya initially refuses, but when her father has a heart attack her family begs her to accept the proposal to aid his recovery. Succumbing to the pressure, Divya marries Chandrakumar, but they do not consummate their marriage.

Chandrakumar takes Divya to his house in Delhi, but she cannot accept him as her husband. When he asks her what she would like as a wedding gift, she says she wants a divorce. Startled, Chandrakumar asks her why; in a flashback, Divya remembers when she was in love with Manohar, whom she met as a college student. Manohar and his gang rob a politician's son. Divya reports Manohar to the police, and he is arrested. She later learns that the politician's son had run over a girl with his car, and Manohar stole the money to pay for the girl's medical treatment. Feeling guilty, Divya bails him out.

Manohar falls in love with Divya, and tries to win her love; although she initially rejects him, she eventually returns his feelings. Manohar is a member of a revolutionary group who plan to hold an illegal rally. Divya does not approve, and asks him not to attend; he agrees if she will marry him. On their wedding day, Manohar is falsely accused of participating in the rally and arrested. He escapes, and runs to the marriage registrar's office where Divya is waiting for him. A policeman accidentally shoots Manohar, and he dies in front of Divya.

Chandrakumar does not care about Divya's past as he wants to build a future with her. He tells Divya to either sign the divorce papers he has just obtained, or accept the anklets he bought as his wedding gift to her; Divya chooses divorce. They consult a lawyer who tells them that according to the law, since they are newly married they must wait one year to file for divorce. The couple are forced to live together for a year.

Having told Chandrakumar about her past and the reason why she was unable to accept her marriage, Divya finds herself finally free from her mental baggage and depressed state. She begins to appreciate her situation and make the most of it. Conversely, Chandrakumar is wary of her as he fears what would happen at the end of the year when their divorce would be approved. Troubled, he distances himself from her and rejects her every move. At the same time, he slowly begins falling in love with her while denying his feelings to himself.

Chandrakumar is attacked by his company's labourers because he had suspended their union leader. Divya brings him to a nearby hospital, where he survives after receiving treatment. After he is discharged from the hospital, Divya takes care of him and realises that she has fallen in love with him. She tries to show it by wearing the anklets which are Chandrakumar's wedding gift to her. But before she could do this, Chandrakumar asks her to return to her parents' home and books her trip, thinking she was simply being immature as she was trying to surprise him by the sound of her feet.

At the railway station, Chandrakumar gives Divya the divorce papers that she had requested. Divya breaks down, telling Chandrakumar that she loves him and would wait indefinitely for him to reciprocate, and tears the divorce papers. A pleasantly surprised Chandrakumar catches up with the train which Divya is in, stops it and takes Divya home.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

When the last filming schedule for Mani Ratnam's directorial debut, the Kannada film Pallavi Anu Pallavi (1983) was delayed inordinately, he began work on his next script Divya—which eventually became Mouna Ragam, his fifth film.[6] "Divya" was originally a short story about a couple's wedding night that Ratnam did not plan to film, but after writing the story he realised it had cinematic possibilities. Ratnam took a break for a month from Pallavi Anu Pallavi due to its delays, and wrote the script for Divya.[7] For the first time, he was able to write in his native language Tamil, unlike Pallavi Anu Pallavi where he wrote the script in English and had it translated into Kannada.[6][7] The new title Mouna Ragam was derived from the song "Naan Paadum Mouna Ragam", from Ratnam's fourth film, Idaya Kovil (1985).[8] He considered Mouna Ragam the second film after Pallavi Anu Pallavi to be made exactly as he wanted,[9] in contrast to Idaya Kovil where there was interference.[10]

Ratnam initially read the script of Mouna Ragam when it was titled Divya to producer N. G. John, but the latter wanted a political film, which eventually became the Malayalam film Unaru (1984), also directed by Ratnam.[6] He then pitched Divya to G. Thyagarajan of Sathya Jyothi Films, but Thyagarajan wanted an action film, and Ratnam made Pagal Nilavu (1985) with him.[11] Kovaithambi of Motherland Pictures too rejected Divya, saying it was not the kind of film Motherland would produce, and Ratnam instead made Idaya Kovil with them.[8] The film was eventually picked up by Ratnam's brother, G. Venkateswaran, under his Sujatha Films banner,[12] ending its five-year development hell.[13] It was the company's first film production; until then, it was only distributing and financing films.[12] Mouna Ragam was also Ratnam's first collaboration with cinematographer P. C. Sreeram.[9][14] The film was edited by B. Lenin and V. T. Vijayan, with art direction by Thota Tharani.[3]

Casting[edit]

Ratnam cast his Idaya Kovil hero Mohan as the male lead Chandrakumar, and Pagal Nilavu heroine Revathi as the female lead Divya. He initially had "someone like Anant Nag and Supriya Pathak" in mind when he finished writing Mouna Ragam. Between finishing the story and making the film, he decided to include Revathi, whose performance in Mann Vasanai (1983) impressed him.[9] Nadhiya claims she was also considered for the role, but declined due to prior commitments.[15] Ra. Sankaran was cast as Divya's father, Chandramouli,[4] Kanchana as the lawyer,[5] and V. K. Ramasamy as Chandrakumar's boss. Vani plays Divya's mother and Bhaskar her brother; Kalaiselvi and Sonia play her sisters.[3] Prabhu Deva, who became a successful dance choreographer, made his acting debut in the film with an appearance in the song "Panivizhum Iravu" as a boy playing a flute.[16][17]

According to Ratnam, the only difference between Divya and Mouna Ragam was the inclusion of Karthik's character Manohar, which was not part of the earlier screenplay. Divya did not explore the girl's past; it just dealt with how she settles into an arranged marriage. Ratnam realised that the story needed to satisfy a wider audience, and decided to give them something that would make them accept the character without questioning Divya's actions, then the film could depict the arranged marriage – two strangers suddenly thrown together – and how they adjust. He originally resisted this, but reconsidered because it provided a clear rationale for Divya's resistance to the arranged marriage.[9] Karthik said he was a last-minute addition to the cast,[18][19] and described his role as a cameo.[20]

Filming[edit]

Principal photography began at P. C. Sreeram's house in Alwarpet, Madras (now Chennai).[21][22] The film's introductory credits feature photographs of Revathi from her childhood through her teenage years;[23] her mother gave Thota Tharani the pictures.[21] Although the film was primarily set indoors in Delhi, Ratnam and Sreeram wanted the indoor scenes to look as lively as those shot outdoors. Since the cast was relatively small, Ratnam did not want it to resemble a play and used backlighting for the interior scenes.[24] Tharani found a house in the residential area of Kilpauk which admitted a great deal of sunlight, making it similar to houses in Delhi.[21][24] To reduce production costs, food for the film's crew was cooked at Venkateswaran's home.[25]

Sreeram made extensive use of frontal and profile close-ups, set against long shots with out-of-focus foregrounds.[26] While filming Manohar's introductory scene, he had to lie on a bed sheet to film. The crew pulled the sheet, with Sreeram and the camera.[27] The scene where Manohar plays a prank on Divya's father, which later became known as the "Mr. Chandramouli scene",[28] was shot at Tic Tac, an open-air restaurant in Nungambakkam.[18][19] Filming was also done at Madras' Presidency College,[29] the Schmidt Memorial on Edward Elliot's Beach,[30] and the Madras Literary Society.[31] While filming the song "Oho Megam Vandhadho" which shows Divya dancing in the rain,[32] Revathi tied a handkerchief around her wrist to cover her watch because she felt Divya would actually do that.[21]

The crew filmed in Delhi for two days, and the scenes set in Agra were shot in one day.[33][21] Portions of "Panivizhum Iravu" were shot at the Taj Mahal in Agra,[34][14] and those from "Mandram Vandha" were shot at the India Gate.[14] The scenes involving Karthik were the last parts to be filmed,[18] being shot in either a week or two.[a] In post-production, Mohan's voice was dubbed by S. N. Surendar.[35] The film's final length was 3,987.50 metres (13,082.3 ft).[36]

Themes and influences[edit]

Mouna Ragam provides insight into the issues faced by married couples, exploring the plight and perception of divorce, how societies need to view the desires of women,[14] and questions the agency of women.[37] Film critic Baradwaj Rangan compared it to Nenjathai Killathe (1980), another story of a woman torn between the man she loves and the man she marries,[38] Antha Ezhu Naatkal (1981) and its Hindi remake, Woh Saat Din (1983).[39] Rakesh Mehar of The News Minute noted that one thing differentiating Mouna Ragam from Antha Ezhu Naatkal and similar films is that it remains focused on Divya.[40] Kumuthan Maderya, writing for PopMatters, described Mouna Ragam as a "chick flick", because like other chick flicks, the film allowed romance to blossom between Divya and Chandrakumar, rather than let divorce separate them; according to him, "chick flicks center on the romantic worldview of females while gratifying their hopes and dreams usually through a warm and fuzzy denouement".[41]

Manohar was part of a group involved in anti-government activities. Rangan drew similarities between his motives and those of characters in the Italian film The Night of the Shooting Stars (1982) and Unaru.[42] The connection to The Night of the Shooting Stars is referenced when a poster of it appears in a scene where Manohar and his anarchist friends plan an event.[43] According to Rangan, the scene where Divya is looking after Chandrakumar at the hospital reflects her traditional qualities; with her strengths, she is humane and vulnerable.[44] Divya's mischievous nature is shown in a scene where she teaches a Sardar offensive Tamil phrases, which he says to Chandrakumar's boss.[45] Revathi compared herself to Divya, saying that Divya believes in "living life to the fullest" and she was once like that.[21] Sujatha Narayanan, writing for The New Indian Express, described Chandrakumar as a "patient-understanding-and-poised-at-all-times" man, contrasting him with Manohar who she described as a "dashing, brave and epitome-of-the-word-'dude'".[2] She noted that Divya, like the female leads in most of Ratnam's films, is "practical with strong convictions" and the characters "go through their confusions unapologetically".[46] According to Ratnam, the line "Neenga thottaale kambilipoochi oorraa madhri irukku" (When you touch me, it feels as if caterpillars are crawling on me), spoken by Divya to Chandrakumar, expressed how she would feel on her wedding night.[7][47]

Many critics have mentioned that Mouna Ragam's background score suits its scenes and themes.[48] According to Martin Clayton, Trevor Herbert and Richard Middleton's 2003 book, The Cultural Study of Music: A Critical Introduction, "Oho Megam Vandhadho" resembled Broadway and MTV styles of singing and dancing, and the main songs combine American music with Indian vocals by S. Janaki.[49] Sangeetha Devi Dundoo of The Hindu considered that Ratnam used rain in the film to accentuate the "childlike, free-spirited nature" of Divya.[50] The sarangi and nadaswaram are used in the music accompanying Chandrakumar and Divya's wedding. In scenes of the couple sightseeing in Delhi, light synth-based music depicts them as modern tourists in their own country. The restaurant scene with Manohar and Divya includes awkwardly played sitar music, indicating the couple's emotions. Spanish music is used for the fight scene when Manohar attacks the MP's son.[49] Sruthi Radhakrishnan of The Hindu described "Panivizhum Iravu" as "one of those only-80s songs that served as a stand-in for sexual tension, where you'd have two people looking intensely at each other."[51]

Raveena Joseph of The Hindu noted that films in the 1980s and 1990s which featured men stalking women, hoping to get them, were reflective of "the times where romances were covert and such discretion was necessary even in consensual encounters", citing Manohar stalking Divya in Mouna Ragam as an example.[52] The film was Ratnam's first to follow the theme of a person moving to a strange place where they do not know the local language. Divya has a dilemma; because she does not know the language in Delhi, she can barely socialise with local people, and is in conflict with Chandrakumar, the only person with whom she can socialise.[53] Rangan believed Manohar to be the first character in a Tamil film to invite a girl for a "cup of coffee", a form of dating. He contrasted it with Oru Thalai Ragam (1980), in which the protagonists barely spoke. Ratnam said that although it was not uncommon to invite a girl for a cup of coffee in the 1980s, it was not reflected in mainstream Tamil cinema of the time.[54]

Soundtrack[edit]

Mouna Ragam
Soundtrack album by
Released1986
Length22:43
LabelEcho Records
ProducerIlaiyaraaja

Mouna Ragam's soundtrack album consists of five songs composed by Ilaiyaraaja with lyrics by Vaali, sung by S. Janaki and S. P. Balasubrahmanyam.[55][56] It was released by the Echo Records.[55] According to The Cultural Study of Music: A Critical Introduction, "Oho Megam Vandhadho" (featuring Divya dancing with several teenage girls) is a reworking of Gene Kelly's "Singin' in the Rain".[57] "Nilaave Vaa" is the second song on both sides of the soundtrack's original LP record.[55] The instrumental theme, which does not appear on that LP record, was partially inspired by the "Love Theme from Flashdance" (from the 1983 film Flashdance).[58]

The majority of songs are set in Carnatic ragas; "Mandram Vandha" is set in Keeravani,[59] with Natabhairavi notes.[60][61] "Chinna Chinna Vanna Kuyil" is set in Gourimanohari,[62] "Nilaave Vaa" is set in Dheerashankarabharanam,[63] and "Panivizhum Iravu" is set in Natabhairavi.[64] All the songs attained immense popularity.[14] "Mandram Vandha" was later adapted by Ilaiyaraaja and used twice in the 2007 Hindi film, Cheeni Kum as its title track and "Sooni Sooni".[65][66]

Side A
No.TitleSinger(s)Length
1."Oho Megam Vandhadho"S. Janaki4:25
2."Nilaave Vaa"S. P. Balasubrahmanyam4:36
3."Chinna Chinna Vanna Kuyil"S. Janaki4:24
Side B
No.TitleSinger(s)Length
1."Panivizhum Iravu"S. Janaki, S. P. Balasubrahmanyam4:32
2."Nilaave Vaa"S. P. Balasubrahmanyam4:36
3."Mandram Vandha"S. P. Balasubrahmanyam4:46

Release and reception[edit]

Mouna Ragam was publicised with a shot of Revathi clinging to a lamp post and singing, which Ratnam confirmed as being inspired by Singin' in the Rain.[67] Before the film's release, a Central Board of Film Certification member wanted it to receive an "A" (adults-only) certificate because the female lead asks for a divorce;[68] after much deliberation,[14] it received a "U" certificate.[36][b] Mouna Ragam was released on 15 August 1986,[14][47] India's Independence Day.[70]

The film was critically acclaimed,[71] especially for its realistic portrayal of urban Tamil people.[72] In a 31 August 1986 review, the review board of the Tamil magazine Ananda Vikatan praised Revathi and Mohan's performances, the film's camera work, music and lack of masala, giving Mouna Ragam a score of 43 out of 100.[73] Kaviya Shetty of India Today wrote in 1994, "[Mouna Ragam] found the perfect formula of a strong storyline and great music, presented in a fresh visual style that caught the audience by surprise".[74] Despite opening to modest audiences, it picked up and became a box-office success,[75] running for over 175 days in theatres,[76] thereby becoming a silver jubilee film.[77] Ratnam considered Mouna Ragam his first commercial success.[6] While the film performed very well in urban areas, it was largely shunned by audiences in rural areas.[78] At the 34th National Film Awards, it received the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Tamil.[79] Ratnam received the Award for Best Tamil Director at the 36th Filmfare Awards South.[80][81] The film was later dubbed in Telugu and released with the same title in 1987, which was also a success.[82]

Mouna Ragam was screened at the 11th International Film Festival of India, the only Tamil entry.[83][84] It has also been screened at other film festivals, including Mani Ratnam's Love Films at London's National Film Theatre in 2002, a Retrospective of Mani Ratnam's Films at the 2002 Calcutta Film Festival[3] and at the 2002 Locarno Film Festival.[85] An enhanced 5.1 Digital Dolby soundtrack was released in May 2008 by Bayshore Records.[86]

Legacy[edit]

Mouna Ragam emerged as the top grosser of the year netting 5 crore in Tamil Nadu box office.[87][88] It has been acclaimed for combining box-office success with elements of an art film.[89] The film introduced techniques such as soft-focus shots, flare filters and backlighting, which became popular in Tamil cinema. Ratnam continued using these techniques in his later films, notably Nayakan (1987) and Agni Natchathiram (1988).[90] Mouna Ragam's theme of a person moving to a new place where they do not know the local language was replicated in Ratnam's later films like Nayakan, Roja (1992) and Bombay (1995).[33] It was also Ratnam's first film to make extensive use of staccato dialogue; this became another recurring feature in his later films.[24] The film became a major breakthrough for Karthik despite his role being a cameo,[20] and his "Mr. Chandramouli" dialogue became popular.[91] A feature film, released in 2018 and starring him, was named after this dialogue.[19][92] Mouna Ragam was remade in Hindi as Kasak in 1992,[93] and in Kannada in 1999 as Chandrodaya.[94]

According to a Rediff.com article, "The Most Memorable Mani Movies", Mouna Ragam was "arguably the film that announced Mani Ratnam to the Tamil film industry as a talent to watch out for. An excellent script by Ratnam himself, [cinematography by P. C. Sreeram] and a lilting score by [Ilaiyaraaja] made it a hit with both critics and moviegoers".[95] Pavithra Srinivasan of the same website said, "It took a Mani Ratnam to move away from cliched romantic dialogues and capture subtle nuances that add so much richness to the story, introduce proper, three dimensional characters that lived breathed and sorrowed like everyone else".[87] Deccan Chronicle listed Karthik and Revathi on its "Top 10 Jodis" of Tamil cinema; they "made a fresh pair and were adored by the youth, especially the college students. Their awesome on-screen chemistry in Mouna Ragam was a talking point back then".[96] For the April 2013 centenary of Indian cinema, Forbes India included Revathi's performance in its list, "25 Greatest Acting Performances of Indian Cinema".[97] As Gautam Chintamani put it for Swarajya, the film's success "transformed Ratnam into a rock star of sorts. Here was a guy who was saying it like you said it and showing it the way it didn't seem alien and yet adorning the imagery with a magic that made it extraordinary and lingered long after the lights came up."[98]

In popular culture[edit]

Mouna Ragam has influenced countless films, particularly regarding the trope of the bride or groom being reluctantly married. These include Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999),[39] Milana (2007),[99][100][101] Vallamai Tharayo (2008),[102][103][104] Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008),[105] Tanu Weds Manu (2011),[106] Raja Rani (2013) where both the male and female leads have past lovers,[107][108][109] Bangalore Days (2014) where a man who is unable to forget his past love and accept his wife,[110] and Maalai Naerathu Mayakkam (2016).[111][112]

Karthi said that his character in Naan Mahaan Alla (2010) was similar to Karthik's "moody yet jovial" character in Mouna Ragam.[113] Sri Divya called Revathi's character an influence on her role in Mallela Theeram Lo Sirimalle Puvvu (2013).[114] Vaibhav Reddy compared his character in Kappal (2014) to Manohar in Mouna Ragam because of their shared effervescence.[115] Director B. V. Nandini Reddy said that the story of a bride unhappy with her husband in Mouna Ragam inspired her to make Kalyana Vaibhogame (2016), where neither the bride nor the bridegroom is interested in marriage.[116]

The scene where Manohar tries to declare his love for Divya through the college intercom in response to her challenge was parodied in Thamizh Padam (2010).[117][118] Director R. S. Prasanna described one scene in Kalyana Samayal Saadham (2013) where the male lead meets his father-in-law at a café as an ode to the "Mr. Chandramouli" scene.[119]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ In a 2010 interview with The Times of India, Karthik said his scenes were shot in a week,[18] and contradicted this in a later interview with The Hindu, saying they were shot in fourteen days.[19]
  2. ^ In CFBC terminology, "U" means "unrestricted public exhibition", similar to MPAA's G and PG ratings and BBFC's U and PG ratings.[69]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Rangan 2012, p. 289; Rajadhyaksha & Willemen 1998, p. 476.
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  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Rangan 2012, p. 289.
  4. ^ a b Shivpprasadh, S. (14 June 2012). "Father figure". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 29 November 2014. Retrieved 22 February 2016.
  5. ^ a b Nadadhur, Srivathsan (20 August 2015). "Yesteryear actors: Old and still gold". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 22 February 2016. Retrieved 22 February 2016.
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  7. ^ a b c Rangan 2012, p. 38.
  8. ^ a b Rangan 2012, p. 29.
  9. ^ a b c d Rangan 2012, p. 31.
  10. ^ Rangan 2012, pp. 28.
  11. ^ Rangan 2012, p. 24.
  12. ^ a b Rangan 2012, p. 10.
  13. ^ Rangan 2012, p. 44.
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  15. ^ Sangita (30 January 2008). "Nadia spelt fun". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 15 November 2014. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  16. ^ Raghavan, Nikhil (10 December 2011). "Born to Dance". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 1 March 2016. Retrieved 1 March 2016.
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  26. ^ Rajadhyaksha & Willemen 1998, p. 476.
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  33. ^ a b Rangan 2012, p. 42.
  34. ^ Rangan 2012, p. 170.
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