|Directed by||J. Mahendran|
|Produced by||Venu Chettiar|
|Screenplay by||J. Mahendran|
|Based on||Mullum Malarum|
|Edited by||D. Vasu|
|15 August 1978|
Mullum Malarum (lit. The Thorn and the Flower [or] Even a Thorn Will Bloom) is a 1978 Indian Tamil-language drama film written and directed by J. Mahendran. Produced by Venu Chettiar and V. Mohan, the film stars Rajinikanth, Sarath Babu, Fatafat Jayalaxmi and Shoba. It marks Mahendran's directorial debut and is based on Umachandran's novel of the same name. Mullum Malarum tells the story of Kali, a winch operator who dotes on his sister Valli and clashes with Kumaran, his superior, at a power plant.
Production was complicated by Chettiar's opposition to cast Rajinikanth as the protagonist because of his dark skin and typecasting as a villain at the time, but Mahendran refused to direct the film without the actor. Since Mahendran had no previous directing experience, cinematographer Balu Mahendra, who was already an established director, assisted him with the screenplay, dialogue, camera angles, casting and editing. The film substantially deviates from the novel, with Mahendran having read only part of the book. Filming lasted for about 30 days, taking place primarily in Sringeri and also in Ooty. The soundtrack was composed by Ilaiyaraaja.
Mullum Malarum was released on 15 August 1978, India's Independence Day. Although it opened to tepid box-office earnings, positive reviews from critics and favourable word of mouth helped make it a success, with a theatrical run of over 100 days. Rajinikanth's performance as Kali received critical praise, and is widely considered the best performance of his career. The film won the Filmfare Award for Best Film – Tamil, the Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Film and Rajinikanth won the Tamil Nadu State Film Award Special Prize for his performance.
Mullum Malarum, a breakthrough for Rajinikanth as an actor and a milestone of Tamil cinema, focused prominently on visuals without excessive melodrama and other Tamil cinema conventions that Mahendran disliked. The film's success inspired remakes in 1979 (Venalil Oru Mazha in Malayalam) and 1985 (Pyari Behna in Hindi). It was also dubbed in Telugu as Mullu Puvvu, and released in 1979.
Kali is a winch operator at a village power plant. Although notorious for his escapades and self-aggrandising ways, he also does good deeds for the local community. Kali and his younger sister Valli, to whom he is devoted, were orphaned during childhood and have no close family. When a poor wanderer, Manga, and her aged mother arrive in the village, Valli helps them set up a home. Although Manga develops a liking for Kali, he is repelled by her fondness for food.
The power plant's new supervising engineer is Kumaran, an austere-but-fair boss. His relationship with Kali is difficult, worsening after he sees Kali's unruly side in a series of incidents (including allowing people to ride the winch, in violation of power-plant rules). Kali calls Kumaran "Law Point" because of his strict adherence to the rules. One day, when Kali is on duty, Manga teases him; he abandons the winch and chases her. In his absence, an emergency arises at the plant. The following day, Kumaran suspends Kali from his job for negligence of duty, ignoring his protests and threats.
Kali gets drunk and passes out in the road; a lorry runs over his left arm, which is later amputated. He cannot do his job with one arm, and is fired. Unemployed, Kali directs his anger and frustration at Kumaran, and Manga feels guilty because she is responsible for Kali's plight. At Valli's request, she marries Kali and takes care of him.
Kumaran is attracted to Valli, and asks Kali for permission to marry her. Because he hates his former boss, Kali arranges for Valli to marry Murugesa, a philandering grocer. Although Manga opposes Kali's decision, he stubbornly refuses her plea to let his sister marry Kumaran; she decides to arrange the marriage without his consent.
On the day Murugesa is supposed to marry Valli at his house, Kali learns that the entire village has left to attend Valli's marriage to Kumaran. He intercepts Valli's group, reminding her that he loves her and how difficult it would be to live without her. Although everyone else ignores him, Valli runs to him and assures him that she would never abandon him. Relieved that Valli still respects him, Kali then tells Kumaran that although he still dislikes his former boss, he and Valli have his permission to marry.
- Rajinikanth as Kali
- Sarath Babu as Kumaran
- Fatafat Jayalaxmi as Manga
- Shoba as Valli
- Venniradai Moorthy as Murugesa
Mullum Malarum was a novel written by Umachandran, and serialised in the Tamil magazine, Kalki. The novel, about the love between a brother and sister, won the first prize in Kalki's novel competition for the magazine's silver jubilee in 1966. Screenplay and dialogue writer J. Mahendran read only part of Umachandran's novel, but was particularly impressed by the winch operator Kali's affection for his sister and the loss of his arm. He wrote a screenplay based on the novel, but the story substantially diverged from the novel's plot, as Mahendran decided to make a minimalist, visually-focused film without melodrama, overacting, excessive dialogue or duets. Mahendran claimed he wrote the screenplay as if it was a "personal diary" of his thoughts. A significant difference is that in the novel, Kali loses his arm to a tiger; in Mahendran's screenplay, he loses it when he is run over by a lorry.
When Venu Chettiar of Ananthi Films offered Mahendran to direct his next production, Mahendran outlined Mullum Malarum, which he described as a brother-sister story; Chettiar became excited, and agreed to produce it as a film without hearing the complete story. Adapting Umachandran's novel for the screen with the same title, Mahendran made his directorial debut. Chettiar produced Mullum Malarum along with V. Mohan, although only Mohan's name appeared in the opening credits. Ramasamy was signed as art director, and D. Vasu as editor. Mahendran initially wanted Ramachandra Babu to be the cinematographer, but he did not accept the offer; he then suggested Ashok Kumar, who was unable to work on the film. Mahendran was unable to find a worthy cinematographer until actor Kamal Haasan introduced him to Balu Mahendra, who agreed to work on the film, making his debut in Tamil cinema.
Chettiar disagreed with Mahendran's desire to cast Rajinikanth in the lead role because of the actor's dark skin and typecasting as a villain. Mahendran refused to direct the film if Rajinikanth was not cast—not because Rajinikanth was a close friend, but because he felt that the actor was perfect as the character; Chettiar reluctantly agreed. He was still unhappy with the director's decision, and called it "ridiculous" and "preposterous" every time he visited the set. Rajinikanth, dismayed at Chettiar's lack of confidence in his acting, promised to "put his heart and soul into the character Kali".
Shoba was cast as Kali's sister Valli, Sarath Babu as the engineer Kumaran and Fatafat Jayalaxmi as Kali's love interest, Manga. Inspired by Sringeri's marine environment, Mahendran characterised Manga as a "foodie who loves fish". Latha said that she had to refuse a part in the film due to scheduling conflicts. Mahendran cast Venniradai Moorthy as Murugesa, the philandering grocer, and Samikannu was given a role as one of Kali's henchmen. Male supporting roles were played by S. A. Kannan, Pazhaniyappan, Dasaradan, Rangamani, Sarathi, Santhanam, Kumarimuthu, Jothi Shanmugham, Chellappa, Amalraj, Poondigiri and Vairam Krishnamoorthy. Female supporting roles were played by Santhamma, Jayakumari, Vijaya, Jaya, Pushpa, Radha, Prema, Vasanthi, Leela and Kala.
Mullum Malarum was filmed on 35 mm ORWO colour film. It was shot primarily in Sringeri, with additional filming in Ooty; filming lasted about 30 days. Chettiar initially refused to let Mahendran shoot in Sringeri, citing financial constraints, but Mahendran's friend Pazhaniappan convinced Chettiar and agreed to pay for the Sringeri shooting schedule. Balu Mahendra said he avoided incorporating the usual hero-heroine dancing into the film because he thought it was like "watching two drunken monkeys dancing". Instead, he allocated music to the background when the lead characters expressed their emotions. Since Mahendran had no previous directing experience, Mahendra, who was already an established director, assumed responsibility and responded to Mahendran's suggestions for screenplay, dialogue, camera angles, casting and editing.
Chettiar held up production by not financing a scene set before the song "Senthazham Poovil", and told Mahendran to release the film without that scene. When Haasan asked Chettiar if he did not mind anyone else financing the scene, Chettiar agreed, and Haasan himself financed the scene. Sarath Babu was originally supposed to lip sync the full "Senthazham Poovil" scene with him and Shoba, but Mahendra and Mahendran agreed on a montage after the actor performed a line or two, much to Babu's disappointment. Chettiar was puzzled by the finished film's lack of dialogue, since he hired Mahendran as director due to his success as a screenplay and dialogue writer and did not expect such a visually-focused film. Mullum Malarum's final length was 3,915.46 metres (12,846.0 ft).
Film critic Naman Ramachandran notes that Umachandran's novel and Mahendran's film metaphorically liken the relationship between siblings to flowers, which need thorns to protect them. According to film critic Baradwaj Rangan, "Mullum Malarum" can be read in two ways: "as a descriptor of the siblings (in which case, it translates as the thorn and the flower), or as a pointer to the end, where the brother softens (even a thorn will bloom)". S. Rajanayagam wrote in the 2015 book Popular Cinema and Politics in South India: The Films of MGR and Rajinikanth that Kali is a thorn and a flower throughout the film: an "angry young man with a kind heart" who does not admit mistakes, despite having committed acts such as breaking car headlights and allowing people to ride the winch, in violation of the power plant's rules. He noted that films like Mullum Malarum stereotype the poor as representing "all that is pristine and traditional", adding that "The overall socio-economic system, which has made them poor, is unchallenged. Within the system, however, the hero will be 'richer' in terms of his moral uprightness."
In their 2012 book Grand Brand Rajini, P. C. Balasubramanian and Ram N. Ramakrishnan describe Kali as "the loving brother, the angry worker and despondent physically challenged person rolled into one." The Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema by Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willemen compared the film to Pasamalar (1961) for providing "a low-key version of the orphaned brother and sister theme". According to French film historian Yves Thoraval, the film's theme is "the Oedipal possessiveness of a married brother for his younger sister". Ramachandran notes that Kali, like Rajinikanth's character in Bairavi (1978), is responsible for his sister's welfare. Unlike Bairavi, the siblings in Mullum Malarum are not separated; this leads Kali's protectiveness of Valli to the brink of obsession. In one scene, after he violently berates her during the day, he puts henna on her feet at night while she sleeps.
Ramachandran regards egotism as one of Mullum Malarum's central themes, with Kali (the community's alpha male) surrounded by sycophants who compliment him. He plays God, allowing the villagers to ride the winch (saving them the exertion of walking), and is jolted when supervising engineer Kumaran arrives. As a subordinate, Kali cannot oppose Kumaran; his frustration threatens to erupt several times before it finally does, and he is suspended. His feelings can be summed up in the line, "Raman aandalum, Ravanan aandalum, enakku oru kavalai illai, naan thaan da en manasukku raaja" ("It doesn't matter whether Rama or Ravana is reigning, I am king of my conscience"), resisting Kumaran's authoritarian yoke. J. Ramki, author of Rajni: Sapthama? Sagaapthama?, noted that Rajinikanth expressed resentment of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in the film with his lyrics.
According to Cinema Vision India, the film's theme is "that people change—and they must". Ramachandran notes that when Kali's arm is amputated, he feels helpless and emasculated; Kumaran, his bête noire, becomes an easy target. Kali refuses to see the benefits of his sister marrying a wealthy, educated man (even when Valli and his wife Manga ask for his consent), but sees the error of his ways when Valli abandons her wedding preparations to join her brother: "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."
Mullum Malarum's soundtrack was composed by Ilaiyaraaja, with lyrics by Panchu Arunachalam, Gangai Amaran and Kannadasan. Unlike most Tamil films of that time, the film does not include any duets. "Adi Penney" is set in the carnatic raga known as Madhyamavati. "Raman Aandaalum" is set in Mayamalavagowla, and "Senthazham Poovil" is set in Bowli. Elements of "Raman Aandaalum" were later used in "Machi Open the Bottle", composed by Yuvan Shankar Raja for Mankatha (2011).
The soundtrack and score were praised. The writer of a 25 August 1978 review in The Hindu called Ilaiyaraja's melodies "delicious" and said that a folk-dancing scene had a "delightful rhythm". According to a 1978 issue of the Tamil magazine Ananda Vikatan, Ilaiyaraaja composed his four songs with strands of sweetness.[b] Director Mani Ratnam said in a conversation with Baradwaj Rangan that there was "something really special" about Mullum Malarum's music, and because of it the film "really stood out". D. Karthikeyan of The Hindu singled out the score's re-recording in July 2011, ranking it with the music director's other films Uthiripookkal (1979), Moondram Pirai (1982), Nayakan (1987) and Thalapathi (1991).
|1.||"Senthazham Poovil"||Kannadasan||K. J. Yesudas||4:35|
|2.||"Adi Penney"||Panchu Arunachalam||Jency Anthony||4:30|
|3.||"Raman Aandaalum"||Gangai Amaran||S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, L. R. Anjali and Chorus||5:44|
|4.||"Niththam Niththam"||Gangai Amaran||Vani Jairam||2:54|
|1.||"Jeevana Sangramamulo"||Arudhra||L. Vaidyanathan||P. Susheela||4:02|
|2.||"Andala Mulaka"||Rajasree||Ilaiyaraaja||S. P. Balasubrahmanyam||4:09|
|3.||"Sakkanaina Saddikudu"||Rajasree||Ilaiyaraaja||S. Janaki||2:31|
|4.||"Pilla"||Arudhra||L. Vaidyanathan||P. Susheela||4:04|
Release and reception
Although Mullum Malarum was cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification on 4 August 1978, Chettiar's refusal to finance the scene before "Senthazham Poovil" let to a delay in the film's release. After Haasan's intervention, it was released on 15 August (India's Independence Day). The film's commercial performance during its first few weeks was poor. Chettiar, who believed he was "doomed", refused to promote the film: "A good product needs no publicity, whereas a bad product cannot be pushed in the market however much you publicise it". During its third or fourth week of release, positive magazine reviews and word of mouth spread; Mullum Malarum became a commercial success, with a theatrical run of over 100 days.[c] Chettiar later apologised to Mahendran, who in turn thanked him for "letting him make a movie with Rajinikanth".
After he saw the film Rajinikanth's mentor, director K. Balachander, wrote in a letter of appreciation: "I'm proud to have introduced you as an actor." Balachander's letter has been described by Sify as Rajinikanth's "most prized moment and possession". After its success, Mullum Malarum was remade in Malayalam by Sreekumaran Thampi as Venalil Oru Mazha (1979) and in Hindi by Bapu as Pyari Behna (1985). It was also dubbed in Telugu as Mullu Puvvu, and was released in 1979.
Mullum Malarum was well received at the times of its initial release, with commentators describing it as the coming of age of Tamil cinema. The writer of a 25 August 1978 review in The Hindu stated that the film reflected the trend of making films that do not have the "usual formula of fights, duets, intrigues and cabaret dances". The reviewer further noted that Rajinikanth "shows his mature artistry in a portrayal of a turbulent illiterate worker with a blind passion for his sister." It also praised the performances of Shoba and Jayalaxmi, and called Balu Mahendra's camera work a "feast for the eyes"; although the first half of the film moves at a "leisurely pace", the second half is "eventful". Ananda Vikatan, in a 3 September 1978 review, praised Mahendran's filmmaking skills and the fact that he told the story in a sharp manner without long dialogues, likening the film to Kurinchi flowers and rating it 61 out of 100.
After watching the film, M. G. Ramachandran—the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu—told Mahendran that he had no words to express his happiness, and that Mahendran set a new trend in Tamil cinema with Mullum Malarum. Ramachandran claimed Mahendran achieved a milestone, which even if Ramachandran had desired, could not have achieved. He added that Mahendran demonstrated clearly that cinema is a "visual medium" and had succeeded in that also. Ramachandran said the ﬁlms which came till this point on brother-sister relationships were full of dramatics, including his own, but Mullum Malarum stood apart and stood tall in realism. Ramachandran said the last scene was new not only to Tamil cinema but also to Indian cinema. He lauded Rajinikanth's realistic acting and hoped the ﬁlm would mark a big turnaround in his career.
Baradwaj Rangan said in 2004 that, through films like Mullum Malarum, Mahendran "proved himself a sublime storyteller". Kamini Mathai, writing for The Times of India, compared Mahendran to Balachander based on the similarities in showing "strong storylines and dialogues" in their films, citing Balachander's Apoorva Raagangal (1975) and Thanneer Thanneer (1981) as examples. S. R. Ashok Kumar of The Hindu lauded Shoba's performance in 2002 while a reviewer from Maalai Malar appreciated her acting and described Balu Mahendra's cinematography as on an international level. Naman Ramachandran particularly praised his use of natural light. In 2018, Santhosh Mathevan of The News Today praised nearly every aspect of the film, including Mahendra's cinematography and Ilaiyaraaja's score.
Many of the reviews have also commended Rajinikanth's performance, calling it as one of the best in his acting career. In 2005, Rangan noted that Rajinikanth, in films like Mullum Malarum, "still made the occasional attempt at being an actor." D. Karthikeyan of The Hindu wrote in December 2009 that Mullum Malarum would "remain etched in every film lover's memory by showing the best of Rajnikanth's acting skills." In October 2010, Amrith Lal of The Times of India wrote that Mullum Malarum "revealed the potential of Rajini, the character actor." The Press Trust of India said in December 2011 that Rajinikanth also "proved his acting mettle in challenging roles" in films such as Mullum Malarum.
Film journalist Sreedhar Pillai said in December 2012 that Mullum Malarum was Rajinikanth's best performance and the film was among his most "memorable movies". Ramachandran considered Rajinikanth's Kali an effective portrayal of a challenging, complex character. In December 2014, Gautaman Bhaskaran of the Hindustan Times wrote: "On watching [Apoorva Raagangal and Mullum Malarum] recently, there was no mistaking the brilliance of [Rajinikanth's] acting ability. In both, he essays shades of deep grey, and yet there was something captivating about Rajinikanth." Writing for The Indian Express in 2017, Kavitha Muralidharan praised Rajinikanth for showing his vulnerability and rawness at its "fullest expression": "vulnerable at the possibility of losing his sister to a love affair and rawness when he braves a handicap caused by a professional hazard".
Mullum Malarum won the Filmfare Award for Best Film – Tamil, and two awards at the Tamil Nadu State Film Awards: Best Film, and Special Prize for Rajinikanth. He also won the Arima Sangam Award for Best Actor. The film was screened at the 1979 International Film Festival of India as part of the Indian Panorama.
The film consistently ranks as one of Rajinikanth's best films in polls. In May 2007, K. Balamurugan of Rediff ranked Mullum Malarum fifth on his list of Rajni's Tamil Top 10 films. Writer Sujatha Rangarajan included the film on his June 2005 list of ten best Indian films: "Mahendran's triumph was making superstar Rajnikanth act naturally." In December 2013, The Times of India ranked the film fifth on its list of "Top 12 Rajinikanth movies": "With this film, the talented actor dispelled whatever doubts remained about his acting ability". In July 2016, The Hindu included Mullum Malarum on its list of "roles that defined Rajinikanth the actor": "Rajini played the role of the quick-tempered, lovable brother with ease, and Kali is surely one of his most revered roles."
In addition to its critical and commercial success, Mullum Malarum was a milestone of Tamil cinema and a breakthrough for Rajinikanth as an actor. Discarding traditional Tamil cinema conventions which Mahendran disliked such as melodrama, the film focused prominently on visuals. Gayathri Sreekanth wrote in The Name is Rajinikanth that it "gave a new dimension to brother and sister relations on screen" and established Rajinikanth as an "actor par finesses". Praised for his performance in what was seen as an experimental film, during the 1990s, he stopped acting in similar films because he had become a "larger-than-life" hero.
Director Prabhu Solomon said that Rajinikanth's character inspired Vikram Prabhu's protagonist in Kumki (2012). "Kali" became Rajinikanth's most-frequent onscreen name; his characters in Kaali (1980), Kai Kodukkum Kai (1984) and Petta (2019) were also named Kali. Mani Ratnam called Mullum Malarum "the benchmark in terms of [Rajinikanth's] performance"; although it was not parallel cinema, it was "very realistic, and was performed very, very realistically. The dialogues were real." Director C. S. Amudhan said that in Mullum Malarum, "[Rajinikanth] has proved he can be subtle and yet make an impact." Asked which of his films he loved best, according to The New Indian Express, Rajinikanth told Gayathri Sreekanth that it was Mullum Malarum; he considers Mahendran his favourite director. Film producer and writer G. Dhananjayan wrote that Mullum Malarum is one of five films Rajinikanth considers "close to his heart".[d] Rajinikanth's dialogue "Ketta paiyan sir indha Kaali" (This Kaali is a bad boy) attained popularity.
In 2006, director S. Shankar said that he entered the film industry "with dreams of directing films such as Mullum Malarum" but never got to make any. In July 2007, S. R. Ashok Kumar asked eight Tamil directors to list ten of their favourite films; four—K. Balachander, K. Bhagyaraj, Mani Ratnam and K. S. Ravikumar—named Mullum Malarum. Director Kathir said in July 2012 that Mullum Malarum inspired him to enter the film industry. In October 2015, director Pa. Ranjith said that Rajinikanth's characterisation in Mullum Malarum was a "lesson" of sorts for him, and the actor's character in Ranjith's Kabali (2016) was influenced by Kali in Mullum Malarum.
- The film's runtime is listed in Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema as 143 minutes, but the version screened at the 1979 International Film Festival of India was 145 minutes long.
- The original quote in Ananda Vikatan is, "Naaṉkē paaṭalkaḷ eṉṟaalum, avatṟai iṉimai iḻaiyōṭa isai amaith thirukkiṟaar Iḷaiyaraaja" ("Although there are only four songs, Ilaiyaraaja has composed them with strands of sweetness.")
- Balu Mahendra wrote in his 2013 blog that the film's fortunes changed in its third week, The Name is Rajinikanth by Gayathri Sreekanth states that the film "picked up by the end of the third week", and J. Mahendran writes in his autobiographical Cinemavum Naanum that the film's commercial performance improved in its fourth week of release and did not cease after 100 days.
- The other four films are Bhuvana Oru Kelvi Kuri (1977), Aarilirunthu Arubathu Varai (1979), Enkeyo Ketta Kural (1982) and Sri Raghavendrar (1985).
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