Can an eight-scene character be possibly changing the narrative of a film, give the film the push it needs? Well, it might, given that the role is written with a flavour and enacted with passion. This article is about one of those memorable third-wheel characters of Tamil cinema which stood out over years.
The 90s saw a light-weight offering from Shankar after every vigilante movie: Kadhalan after Gentleman and Jeans after the tremendous success of Indian. When we were asked to compare between Aishwarya Rai and the seven wonders of the world, Shankar was aiming towards what his name is associated with now, grandeur. But Shankar’s light-weight offerings never had a story arc as exciting as his social dramas.
Take an eraser, wipe out Rahman’s songs and the music videos from Kadhalan, you will get some scenes which go nowhere (and still I can’t wrap my heads over that bomb-diffusing climax). Jeans is a lot better, thanks to the OTT performance by Lakshmi in the tiring first- half where only two things happen: play with the concept of twins (as it was the first-ever time we witness twins in Tamil cinema) and a budding romance with no gravitas and when it is sort of exhausting, Shankar throws in the much-needed punch with the melodramatic flashback and Sundaramba as the catalyst.
It is difficult to root for any other woman when Aishwarya Rai is in the film, but Sundaramba is the real scene stealer of Jeans. Sundaramba, the shrewish women, played magnificently by Radhika, was introduced with her splitting of a banana leaf into two, an image to her splitting the brothers in the future. It is no less of a firecracker every time Sundaramba appears on the screen. In those few scenes, she comes a circle as a character, and one must give it to an actor of stature like Radhika to create a full-fledged character with those scenes.
The credits also have to go to writer Balakumaran who gives Sundaramba the sharp dialogues, and who could forget that iconic dialogue “thaali aruthukitu poren”, a blasphemous word to come out from a house-wife for Indian society. The first time, when she says that to stop her husband from helping his sister-in-law, we learn her venom-spewing tongue has no bounds. When she says that for the second time to split the property, we would have wished her all sorrows of life already, but when it comes for the third time as an advocate to the leads’ love story, we would have admired her courage.
That makes Sundaramba an interesting rebel. The only reason to have a strong woman with negative shades in Tamil cinema is for the hero to tame her. But in case of Sundaramba, post realisation of her wrongdoings, she changes for good, but that doesn’t change her persona of who she is. She doesn’t hold back at the end when she has to speak for the pair, to put sense into Nasser’s mind of his stupid prejudice.
Radhika plays this character with enthusiasm of a 5-year-old getting an air balloon to play with. If Balakumaran becomes the voice of Sundaramba, Radhika brings a body language to match that sharp tongue of Sundaramba. Two scenes were my absolute favourites:
The first one is when the character played by Geetha asks her husband’s brother for a Soda, Sundaramba taunts her husband and his sister in law, and says if he goes to get soda, she will break the marriage and Radhika, makes a look at Geetha to ask, “Is this enough for you or do I need to speak worse before you get up and get a soda for yourself”. And the second one, when the younger brother cries to the elder bother how he and his wife were responsible for his sister-in-law’s death, Radhika mourning in a corner makes a look at him as to when this guy will change for better. And, trust me, never imagine anyone in the place of Radhika, no one can play Sundaramba as she did.
Written by : Tharun Prakash