Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||J. Mahendran|
|Produced by||Venu Chettiar|
|Based on||Mullum Malarum
|Edited by||D. Vasu|
|15 August 1978|
Mullum Malarum (English: Thorn and Flower or Thorns also Blossom)[a] is a 1978 Indian Tamil drama film directed by J. Mahendran and produced by Venu Chettiar. The film, which features Rajinikanth, Sarath Babu, Fatafat Jayalaxmi and Shoba, marked Mahendran's directorial debut and was adapted from writer Umachandran's award-winning novel of the same name, albeit with several changes. It tells the story of Kali, a winch operator who conflicts with his superior Kumaran at a power plant, which eventually leads to the loss of his left arm and job.
The production of the film was deeply troubled; Chettiar was opposed to casting Rajinikanth as the lead protagonist because of his dark skin and tendency to portray villainous characters at the time, but Mahendran refused to direct the film without Rajinikanth and after a vehement dispute between him and Chettiar ensued, the latter eventually capitulated. Mahendran had no prior experience in film directing, and cinematographer Balu Mahendra, a director himself, had significant responsibility, involving himself in all aspects of screenplay, dialogue, camera angles, casting and editing, according to Mahendran's wishes. The film was shot mostly in Sringeri, Ooty, Glenmorgan and Kundha. After Mullum Malarum was complete, Chettiar was upset that the film had less dialogue than visuals, which he did not expect from Mahendran. The soundtrack was composed by Ilaiyaraaja.
Mullum Malarum was released on 15 August 1978 (India's Independence Day) to a tepid commercial response, but positive reviews from critics and favourable word of mouth helped it to become a success. The film was a major breakthrough for Rajinikanth, whose performance as Kali received unanimous praise and is widely considered to be the best performance of his career. Mullum Malarum became a milestone in Tamil cinema in that it focused primarily on the visual medium and realism, without excessive usage of melodrama, fights, duets or dialogue. The film won the Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Film and the Filmfare Award for Best Tamil Film, and Rajinikanth won the Arima Sangam Award for Best Actor, as well as a special prize for Best Actor at the Tamil Nadu State Film Awards. The success of Mullum Malarum spawned a Malayalam remake titled Venalil Oru Mazha in 1979, a Telugu remake titled Seethamma Pelli in 1984, as well as a Hindi remake titled Pyari Behna in 1985.
Kali (Rajinikanth) is a winch operator at a village power plant. Although a reputed troublemaker, he occasionally performs good deeds for the local community. Kali and his younger sister Valli (Shoba)—upon whom he dotes—were orphaned during their childhood, and have no close family. They take in a poor itinerant named Manga (Fatafat Jayalaxmi) and her aged mother, and accommodate both in a neighbouring hut. Manga becomes fond of Kali, but he finds her gluttony disgusting.
The power plant's newly appointed divisional engineer is Kumaran (Sarath Babu), an austere but fair boss. Kali and Kumaran have a difficult relationship, which worsens after Kumaran sees only Kali's negative side during a series of incidents. Kali nicknames Kumaran "Law Point" as he applies rules strictly. On a usual day, while Kali frolics in the river with Manga when he is supposed to be working, there is an emergency at the power plant while he is absent without leave. Kumaran suspends Kali from his job for dereliction of duty, ignoring his protests and threats.
Kali becomes inebriated and collapses in the middle of the road. A lorry then runs over his left arm, which is later amputated. Since he cannot perform his job one-armed, the power plant dismisses him from his job. Kali is now unemployed; he directs his anger and frustration at Kumaran. Manga feels guilty because she is responsible for Kali's predicament. On Valli's request, she marries Kali and takes care of all his needs.
Kumaran has developed a liking for Valli, and asks Kali for permission to marry her. Kali refuses the proposal due to his hatred for Kumaran, and instead makes arrangements to get Valli married to Murugesa (Venniradai Moorthy)—a local, philandering grocer. Manga challenges Kali's decision, and the entire village rallies around Valli. Manga decides to get Valli married to Kumaran without Kali's approval.
On the day Murugesa is supposed to marry Valli at his house, Kali learns that everyone has left to attend Valli's marriage to Kumaran. He intercepts the group of Valli and other guests walking towards the venue and reminds Valli about his love and how difficult it would be for him to live without her. Everyone else ignores him and moves on. Valli however, runs towards him and assures him that she would not disown him at any cost. Kali then tells Kumaran that although 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 wife
- Shoba as Valli, Kali's younger sister and Kumaran's love interest
- Venniradai Moorthy as Murugesa, a grocer and philanderer
Mullum Malarum is based on the novel of the same name, written by Umachandran and published in the Tamil magazine Kalki. The story, about the intimate feelings in the relationship of a brother and sister, won the first prize in Kalki 's Novel Short Story Competition held to mark the silver jubilee of Kalki in 1966. J. Mahendran, who was already a successful screenplay and dialogue writer, briefed Mullum Malarum to the producer Venu Chettiar and he was impressed. By adapting Umachandran's novel into a feature film, Mahendran thus made his debut as a director. He also wrote the dialogue for the film. Chettiar produced Mullum Malarum under his banner Ananthi Films. Ramasamy was recruited as the film's art director, and D. Vasu as the editor. Ashok Kumar and Ramachandra Babu were initial choices for the cinematographer, but actor Kamal Haasan's intervention meant that Balu Mahendra was signed up, making his debut in Tamil cinema.
Mahendran only read a part of Umachandran's novel, but was particularly receptive to 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 a minimalist film without melodrama, overacting, excessive dialogue, or duets, writing a screenplay according to his visualisation of it. Among the differences between the film and the novel, Kali in the novel loses his arm to a tiger, but in the film he loses it due to a lorry.
Mahendran informed producer Venu Chettiar that he desired Rajinikanth to play the lead role, but the latter deprecated due to Rajinikanth's dark complexion and because he was primarily experienced at portraying villains at that point. Mahendran, however, refused to direct the film if Rajinikanth was not cast in the lead role. A vehement dispute ensued between Chettiar and Mahendran, and the former eventually capitulated. Chettiar was not convinced with the fact that a "villain" plays the main role as he felt it was "ridiculous" and "preposterous"; he voiced this opinion whenever he came to the location. Rajinikanth was perturbed with the lack of faith in his acting and vowed to "put his heart and soul into the character Kali". He was paid ₹13,000 (about US$1,579.59 in 1978)[b] for acting in the ﬁlm.
Shoba was recruited to play Kali's sister Valli and Sarath Babu was selected to play the engineer Kumaran, while Fatafat Jayalaxmi was finalised to play Kali's love interest Manga. Mahendran had decided to characterise Manga as a "foodie who loves fish", after seeing the presence of water bodies and fish in the location. Latha claims that she was originally considered for the role, but she could not take it up due to her tight schedule. Mahendran cast Venniradai Moorthy as Murugesa, the philandering grocer.
The film was shot using 35mm film, and was colourised using Orwo colour. Balu Mahendra likened typical Indian hero-heroine dancing to "watching two drunken monkeys dancing", stating that this was the reason he "kept music as the background while the screen had lead characters expressing their emotions". The film was intentionally made to defy the customs of traditional Tamil cinema, discarding all of the elements that Mahendran loathed. Because Mahendran had no prior experience in film directing, Balu Mahendra assumed principal responsibility, involving himself in all aspects of screenplay, dialogue, camera angles, casting and editing, according to Mahendran's wishes.
Venu Chettiar decided to freeze the ﬁlm's production by not providing ﬁnance when Mahendran wanted to shoot an important lead scene before the song "Senthazham Poovil" with Sarath Babu and Shoba. As a result, Haasan provided the funds to ensure that it was successfully shot. Mullum Malarum was shot in Sringeri, Ooty, Kundha and Chennai in about 30 days. The winch operating scenes were taken at Glenmorgan, Ooty. Originally, Sarath Babu was supposed to fully lip-sync for the music video of "Senthazham Poovil", that was picturised on him and Shoba. Balu Mahendra told J. Mahendran that after Sarath Babu "sings" one or two lines, the rest of the song can be picturised using the montage technique and Mahendran agreed, much to Sarath Babu's disappointment. After Mullum Malarum was complete, Chettiar was disorientated that the film had very little dialogue; he had recruited Mahendran to direct the film because he was a successful screenplay and dialogue writer. The producer did not expect a film with limited dialogue and more visuals from him.
Umachandran's novel and Mahendran's film metaphorically liken the sibling relationship to flowers which need sharp thorns to protect them. The film depicts the way two siblings of opposite characters can co-exist in the same way that a thorn and a flower can co-exist in the same plant. According to the entertainment news website Behindwoods, its title Mullum Malarum can be seen as a depiction of a brother (the thorn) being over-protective of his younger sister (the flower). The website compared the film to Robert Frost's poem Fire and Ice. Much like in Bairavi (1978), Rajinikanth and his sister have abusive parents in childhood and the brother is held responsible to safeguard his sister. Unlike Bairavi, the siblings in Mullum Malarum are not separated and this leads to Kali's protective attitude towards his sister Valli, bordering on obsessive love. In one scene, after lashing out at her in anger during the day, he applies henna to her feet at night when she is asleep.
Going beyond the central theme, the film explores egotism in that Kali is the community's alpha male whose sycophants constantly massage his ego. He plays god when he gives the villagers a ride on the power plant's trolley which he operates, saving them form the exertion of walking. Thus, Kali is shocked when the divisional engineer Kumaran, a presentable and educated male, arrives. Being a subordinate, Kali cannot oppose Kumaran and his frustration threatens to disclose itself several times; it finally does when he is suspended. Kali's feelings manifest themselves in the song "Raman Aandaalum" with the lyrics, "It doesn't matter whether Rama or Ravana are reigning, I am the king of my own conscience", a clear reference to Kumaran's authoritarian yoke to which Kali is bound.
When Kali's arm is amputated, he feels helpless and emasculated and the engineer—Kali's bête noire—, becomes an easy target. Kali refuses to see the benefits of his sister marrying into wealth and education, even when his wife Manga explains it 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's soundtrack and background score were composed by Ilaiyaraaja. The lyrics for the songs were written by Panchu Arunachalam, Gangai Amaran and Kannadasan. The soundtrack album, which was released by EMI Records, includes only four of the film's five songs; the song "Maan Iname" was omitted. The film has no duet songs—a notable rarity for Tamil cinema. The soundtrack and score were positively received.
Release and reception
Mullum Malarum's release encountered problems, but Haasan intervened and it was released on 15 August 1978—India's Independence Day. The film's commercial performance in the first two weeks of its release was poor. Chettiar relinquished hope of the film's success and refused to give anymore publicity for the film, saying "A good product needs no publicity, whereas a bad product cannot be pushed in the market however much you publicise it" and thought he was "doomed". In the third week of release, crowds visited theatres in large numbers after the film received positive reviews in magazines and word of mouth appreciation spread, making it a huge commercial success and the film ran for 100 days in theatres.[c]
Chettiar also apologised to Mahendran and offered him a blank cheque, which Mahendran politely rejected, instead thanking Chettiar for "letting him make a movie with Rajinikanth". Rajinikanth's mentor director K. Balachander, after watching the film, wrote a letter of appreciation to Rajinikanth saying "I'm proud to have introduced you as an actor." The letter has been described by Sify as Rajinikanth's "most prized moment and possession". 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). A Telugu-dubbed version, titled Mullu Puvvu, was released on 26 October 1979. The film was remade in Telugu as Seethamma Pelli (1984).
The film received positive reviews upon release. A review from The Hindu, dated 25 August 1978, said, "Mahendran has handled the theme deftly. Rajnikant shows his mature artistry in a portrayal of a turbulent illiterate worker with a blind passion for his sister". It described Balu Mahendra's camera work as a "feast for the eyes". The review also stated that although the first half of the film moves at a "leisurely pace", the second half is "eventful". On 3 September 1978, the Tamil magazine 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." K. Balachander wrote to Mahendran, "an intelligent filmmaker has come to the cinema world. Silence rules in many places in this film which deserve appreciation." After watching the film, M. G. Ramachandran—the then 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.
Director Dhanapal Padmanabhan informed K. Jeshi of The Hindu that Mullum Malarum "scores on content, craft and extraordinary screenplay." Rajinikanth in particular has been highly praised by critics, and his role as Kali is considered by Naman Ramachandran, the author of Rajinikanth: The Definitive Biography to be a highly challenging, complex role, which Rajinikanth effectively pulled off. 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".
G. Dhananjayan, the author of The Best of Tamil Cinema, 1931 to 2010 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". Maalai Malar stated that Rajinikanth lived through the role of Kali, praised Shoba's acting and described Balu Mahendra's cinematography as being on par with international levels. It also said Mullum Malarum is one of those few films which cannot be destroyed by time. Entertainment website IndiaGlitz praised Mahendran for having "used the novel to the best effects" and called the film as one of his most "precious contributions". In 2002, S. R. Ashok Kumar of The Hindu cited Shoba's performance as the hero's sister "a brilliant performance", and in 2007, Settu Shankar of Oneindia called the film "a perfect blend of literature with mass entertainment".
In December 2012, film journalist Sreedhar Pillai stated that Mullum Malarum was Rajinikanth's best performance and the film was among his most "memorable movies". In December 2009, D. Karthikeyan of The Hindu declared that Mullum Malarum would "remain etched in every film lover's memory by showing the best of Rajnikanth's acting skills."
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.
Mullum Malarum is often featured on several lists of great films. In December 2012, Aishwarya Bhattacharya of Koimoi included the film in her list of "Top 10 Rajinikanth Movies". In December 2013, Daliya Ghose of Bollywood Mantra ranked the film fourth in her list of "Top 10 movies of Rajinikanth", saying "This film brought out the human side of the actor". In May 2007, K Balamurugan of Rediff.com ranked Mullum Malarum fifth in his list of "Rajni's Tamil Top 10" films. In June 2005, writer Sujatha included the film in his list of "ten best Indian films", and stated, "Mahendran's triumph was making superstar Rajnikanth act naturally". In December 2013, The Times of India ranked the film fifth in its list of "Top 12 Rajinikanth movies" and said, "with this film, the talented actor dispelled whatever doubts remained about his acting ability". Behindwoods listed Rajinikanth's performance as one of his "Top 12 acting performances". In July 2007, S. R. Ashok Kumar asked eight Tamil directors to list ten of their favourite films. Four of them—K. Balachander, K. Bhagyaraj, Mani Ratnam and K. S. Ravikumar—named Mullum Malarum as one of their top ten Tamil films.
In addition to being critically acclaimed and commercially successful, Mullum Malarum became a milestone in Tamil cinema in that it discarded the traditional melodrama, fights, duet songs or excessive dialogue, focusing on the visual aesthetic and realism. Gayathri Sreekanth, the author of The Name is Rajinikanth states that the film "gave a new dimension to brother and sister relations on screen", and established Rajinikanth as an "actor par finesses [sic]". Though he received praise for his performance in this experimental film, beginning in the 1990s he no longer acted in similar films due to becoming a "larger-than-life" hero. On Raksha Bandhan in 2007, Behindwoods said, "There might be very few or even no movie that revolves mainly the brother-sister relationship. The relationship [in Mullum Malarum] is shown with lot of respect and dignity." It stated that the characters form one of the best brother-sister relationships onscreen. Director Prabhu Solomon has confessed that Rajinikanth's character was the inspiration behind the male lead played by Vikram Prabhu in Kumki (2012). The film's iconic winch inspired director P. V. Prasad to use a winch in a fight sequence in Kadhalil Vizhundhen (2008). The lead character's name Kali soon became the name most often used by Rajinikanth onscreen; his characters in subsequent films such as Murattu Kaalai (1980), Kai Kodukkum Kai (1984), Kaali (1980) and Athisaya Piravi (1990) were named Kali. Actor Bobby Simha has stated that Mullum Malarum was a film that affected his life, and the film's dialogue "Rendu kai, rendu kaal ponakuda, kali angarava polachikava, sir" boots his confidence level whenever he hears it.
When asked what film of his was most beloved, Rajinikanth told Gayathri that it was Mullum Malarum, and that he considers Mahendran to be his favourite director. According to G. Dhananjayan, it is one of five films that Rajinikanth considers "close to his heart", the other four being Bhuvana Oru Kelvi Kuri (1977), Aarilirunthu Arubathu Varai (1979), Enkeyo Ketta Kural (1982) and Sri Raghavendrar (1985). 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 television serial of the same title was produced by Venus Studio and was broadcast in September 2007 on Kalaignar TV. In 2006, director S. Shankar revealed to The Hindu that he entered films "with dreams of directing films such as Mullum Malarum." But when nobody wanted to produce his script Azhagiya Kuyilae, he directed the big-budget Gentleman (1993), the success of which caught him in an image trap and he never got to make the small budget film. On 19 August 2013, a day before Raksha Bandhan, film historian/actor Mohan V. Raman tweeted, "Happy Pasa Malar /Mullum Malarum Day—honour that brother-sister relationship", referencing both the films which received praise for their depictions of a brother-sister relationship. The title of G. V. Prakash Kumar's upcoming film Ketta Paiyan Da Indha Karthi is a play on the line "Ketta Paiyan Sir Indha Kaali", spoken in Mullum Malarum.
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