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The man needs no introduction—not after his inimitable contributions to Tamil cinema. Indeed, something about how Radha Mohan leaves his distinct flavour—the way one can tell a particular film is his brainchild—makes him the quintessential auteur.
Here’s a list of factors you can easily check off while watching any of his works:
Be it Mozhi’s fiery-willed Archana who never allows herself to be treated like a victim because of her impairment, or gentle Karthik whose masculinity isn’t compromised by his kindness and humility—Mohan’s characters are always a breath of fresh air.
Not only do they defy illogical social norms with an ease that’s natural rather than affected; they possess vulnerabilities, make errors in judgement and have moments of unguarded frustration. They also come to terms with themselves in solid developmental arcs—Professor Gnanaprakasam’s turbulent breakdown in the same film when he’s forced to confront the reality of his son’s death, for instance.
When we think of complex and heartening dynamics in pop-culture, three kinds overwhelmingly come to mind: familial, platonic and romantic. However, Mohan has a knack for creating relationships that are just as powerful but fall into more ambiguous categories.
The bond between 60 Vayadu Maaniram’s Govindarajan (a 60-year old man suffering from Alzheimer’s) and Indhuja (his caring, young doctor) is one such example. Another that comes to mind, is the closeness shared by little Abhi and the homeless Ravi Shastri, from Abhiyum Naanum. Meanwhile, Mohan’s romances disregard the unhealthy bar set by many of our films, choosing to invest in couples that mutually respect each other.
One of Kollywood’s quirkiest or most irritating elements—depending on whom you ask—is the inclusion of unnecessary stunts and unrealistic fight scenes that would have Netwon rolling in his grave. But Mohan’s works are marked by their conspicuous lack of either.
Since most of his movies are rom-coms, violence is rare—unless required, like Archana’s intro scene in Mozhi where she thrashes a man for beating up his wife. When Mohan experimented with Gouravam and Payanam, a reasonable amount of bloodshed was included but it always served a higher purpose than commercialism.
One of Mohan’s defining tells in writing is his genteel comedy. It’s clean, family-friendly and usually steers clear of controversy by opting for exaggeration and absurd humour rather than jibes at particular communities or individuals.
While Abhiyum Naanum relies on amusing dialogue and comical misunderstandings, Brindavanam stars Vivek as a fictionalised version of himself who drops witty one-liners throughout. (One of Mohan’s most hilarious flicks is Mozhi but it would be remiss to ignore the fact that it has an off-colour running gag about two characters being mistaken for gay.)
As seen in the previous point, Mohan tends to address serious issues through his craft in a thoughtful manner that genuinely sheds light instead of using them as sensational props to reel in a “woke” (lord, how I hate that word) audience.
Gouravam is tonally a different venture for this director, making casteism and honour killings the focal point of the story. It isn’t the most riveting watch owing to much predictability that gives the big reveal away, but the intent and effort are laudable. Kaatrin Mozhi, on the other hand, highlights the stigma and obstacles haranguing working women. I found the humour tepid but the message relevant.
Forgoing the mainstream recipe of item numbers and filler songs for the most part, Mohan’s music videos generally help in plot progression. For instance, Abhiyum Naanum’s ‘Vaa Vaa En Devadhaye’ is a touching montage that pays tribute to the film’s father-daughter relationship, in addition to portraying the passage of time.
Abhiyum Naanum (2008)
Mozhi is known for not only its pleasant soundtrack, but the empowering strength of its lyrics as well. When Karthik fantasises about Archana in a song called ‘Sevvanam Selai’, the words ruminate about who she is and what she does, rather than fixating on how she looks.
By now, even the most casual viewer would’ve picked up on the fact that Mohan’s movies almost always seem to star Prakash Raj, Elango Kumaravel and M.S.Bhaskar in some form or another. This is a winning formula, as evidenced by the four’s track record together.
Azhagiya Theeye (2004)
Mohan has definitely signed on A-list stars like Trisha, Jyothika and Nagarjuna; but he’s provided newcomers the opportunity to play sizeable parts too. Ganesh Venkatraman, Tanya Ravichandran and the majority of Azhagiya Theeye’s actors (including Prasanna) were relatively unknown when cast in his films.
So… there you have it! Radha Mohan’s filmography isn’t above crique by any stretch of the imagination, but he remains one of Kollywood’s most unconventional directors by continuing to challenge the status quo. What’s your favourite movie by him?
Written by - Shakthi Bharathi