Mullum and Malurum - What makes this classic drama magnificent and magnetic?
A Delight in the 70s:
Basically ,when I hear the words "family drama ",I run in the opposite direction said William Dafoe, being a part of this prominent league ,I was left surprised when a piece of drama pulled me in and awed me with its people.
In 1978, in his directorial debut Mahendran portrayed a drama travelling in lines common but in vehicles varied. We have had loud dramas earlier especially in Annan - Thangatchi sentiments which is the key to this film but not the actual core for Mullum Malarum proves to be something beyond and forms a drama that is delightful to revisit after four decades. Delightful - not in context of fun and the easy alike but in how it reflects on realities.
What uplifts Mullum Malarum is its characters -all real, routine and hence riveting. This is a clearly simple story but its characters are simply complex. They create aspects that enable the drama stand tall while its lead man embarked on a journey towards superstardom with Kaali, the intriguingly flawed character he plays in the film.
The Flawed First:
When the film unfolds, we see two young abandoned orphans, the brother can't bear to see his only companion in travail. When few kids in a car mock his sister, he hits the headlights post their departure. The same helpless aggression grows into hatred and we see the older Kaali breaking the headlights of an anonymous car .While the past hints at an young boy growing to become an angelic figure to his sister, the very next unraveling arrives with a real note on the effect of a rugged self - upbringing. He is no savior, just another survivor.
As his name rightly remarks, he is a rebellion altogether - rageous. He serves a few good to his fellows but he is definitely not the "Nallavan" type of then.
"Drama usually has some sort of intense conflict", said Clint Eastwood and in this piece, Kaali serves the conflict of that sort.
He can't bear to have anyone point a finger at him and say he is wrong .His pride is hurt and is nursed by the country liquor he gulps down in the hills. Intoxicated, he sings out his heart,
"Raaman Aandalum Raavanan Aandalum Ennakoru kavallai Illa....Naan Than da En Manasuku Raaja!"
that went on to become a significant association to the Superstar .Kaali goes on elevating himself to be godly in the number which is not a celebration of macho but a bouncy and plaintive irony that soothes an injured heart.
It is remarkable to note the reception a song set of this status acquired. In Petta, Rajini grooves to the same number but he has come a long way since then - the beats are now punchier and not painful as it had originally been.
This man who selflessly loves his sister is supposed to pave a path for her well being. Here, he stands a conflict to it, emotionally blackmailing her to give in to his call. Yet, we don't develop an outright dislike towards the man; we root for his real self, hoping a reform .Kaali loses a hand midway through the tale which insidiously intensifies the wounds inflicted in his vanity.
This handicapped, flawed and real version of an abandoned impulsive man is masterfully played by the splendid actor with an aura both credible and strong.
Pride and Prejudice
Mullum Malarum translates as the Thorn and the Flower. Kaali is the Thorn here while his Sister Valli is the flower. They are of the same plant - one proud, the other pure.
Kaali hangs around older men who refer to him as "Annae!" feeding his hunger for pride which is no alien to prejudice. Kaali thrashes a clerk, technically his superior for talking ill of him and his sister. The clerk doesn't pass derogatory statements on Valli but falsely adds that Kaali never takes care of her. Kaali's rage, though sourced from love, reveals a higher sense of pride giving us cues on what the man is made of.
Kaali’s vanity is never really resolved .In the final part, he is proud that his sister backs him despite his rageous and thoughtless take .He concedes to the marriage strongly stating that he is doing it out of "sheer pride and arrogance".
Hence, Mullum Malarum doesn't merely signify and denote Kaali and Valli but pride - prejudice and love.
Back then, in the golden days, when Engineering and Engineers were held in high esteem, Sarath Babu plays Engineer Sir - the "Nalla Manushan" (The Good Guy). He is all that Kaali is not - educated, humble, soft and sophisticated. Engineer sir develops an instant liking towards the man but neither does fate nor does Kaali provide him a chance to establish a robust bond. It is a love at first sight that went wrong.
He is mocked by Kaali as "Law point" which he indeed is - a representative of the rational conscientious self which offends the rebel. If Kaali is clouded with pride, Engineer Sir is with his law points that prevent him from empathizing with few ground level issues. He, however, is genuinely gentlemanly.
Does Kaali get to sing on beauty or love? No, he receives a ventilation to ease his pricked pride while Engineer Sir mouths the marvelously flowing melody driving through the hills, that goes "Senthazhampoovil Vanthaadum Thendral!". The struggling survivor must not have even thought of one coz First things come first.
The Fatafat Female:
Fatafat Jayalakshmi plays the powerful and bold Manga who initially is the sloth and then the supreme. The first confrontation between her and Kaali is strikingly straight. When he glares at her who is just out of sleep, she asks him not in anger but in a loud casual way, "Ithuku Munnadi Pombalaingala Paarthathe Illaya?" (Haven’t you ever seen a woman before?) at which Kaali loses his stability for a brief while.
The revisit is rendered more riveting since these are elements out of question today - it is almost not plausible to have one address the star of today in such a tone while in early days, all of the essential nuances that set an air of authenticity had been powered with potent possibilities and promises.
She sturdily comes to the rescue of her man’s honor but isn’t submissive to him, putting up with his tyranny. She righteously rages against his prejudice.
The Foodie of then
In the fiery Manga, one can find traces of a foodie bestie whose thoughts and fantasies aspire around Food. This part of her fuels fun and flavors the interactions with her man. The delicious song (“Nitham Nitham Nelusoru”) she hums in their first night reveals what an unabashed foodie she is. This is a crazy relevance to today's Nammaku Soru than Mukkiyam priorities. As she strongly emerges as a rebel with a cause in her house, we see a transition from the amusing girl to a mature spirited woman.
Undoubtedly, all of these aspects make this reality - drama one of the classic debuts in Tamil Cinema encouraging relish-worthy revisits. Old times bring cherish as a few impossibilities of today were feasibilities back then as it is a vice versa.