Valliyoor Satya


Why Bharathiraja’s Kollywood movie En Uyir Thozhan is so special, Bharathiraja, En Uyir Thozhan


There is absolutely no doubt that there is something special about directors like Bharathiraja and K Balachander when it comes to innovative thinking and exemplary creativity. But strangely, with age, their creativity seems to be going towards a downward spiral. Notwithstanding this fact, none can deny the impact Bharathiraja’s movies had on Tamil speaking audiences. His oeuvre is vast.

The redoubtable Bharathiraja is a legend in his own right who brought his own brand of cinema in Tamil movies and succeeded. His brilliance remains unmatched and so is his versatility. The same director who made “Pathinaru Vayathinile” was equally adept in filming murder mysteries and thrillers like “Tik Tik Tik” and “Sigappu Rojakal”. Just look at the number of actors and actresses that this great man has introduced. His “Kallukul Eeram” was an innovative concept and way ahead of its time. I don’t think any other director has portrayed rural Tamilnadu as brilliantly and as vividly as Bharathiraja.

Viewers generally associate Bharathiraja with “Pathinaru Vayadinile” which gave a major uplift to Sridevi’s career (remember the song – Chendura poove chillenra katre?). The characters of the innocent waif Kamal Haasan, the roguish Rajnikant and the vitriolic, acid-tongued Kanthimathi permanently remain etched in people’s memories. A strong social message was conveyed by Bharathiraja in this movie in a commercial format and this is where he stands apart. Isn’t it? I mean the idea of an ingénue, succumbing to the charms of a city-bred youth and looking at a person who loves her with contempt easily stood the risk of being classified under the category of “parallel cinema”. But to the credit of the director, he blended rural charm into the plot and made a classic movie.

When we look at Bharathiraja’s movies shot in villages in Tamil Nadu, we can vicariously experience rural life, isn’t it? There are scores of movies of the legendary director that created a massive impact but two movies are indeed special for this writer. Out of these two movies, one is even more special because it dared to show the true picture in Tamil Nadu where gullible men fall prey to the charms of politicians and end up giving their lives for a politician who only pays lip service to society. How many innocent lives are lost in the name of servitude to politicians for whom the dead man is just another statistic! How innocent village girls get duped by con men and end up losing everything they had. Death becomes the only option for them unless they have the courage and mental fortitude to pick up the pieces of their shredded lives!

The movie that I am referring to is “En Uyir Thozhan” which may not have set the box office on fire but is intensely thought provoking and high in its emotional content. The woman  protagonist in this movie (Rama) is shown as a young village girl who is duped by a con man who entices the girl to elope with him. He cheats her and runs away with all her jewellery.

The girl is shell-shocked and is unable to find the way forward as she is stranded in a new place. How can she go back to her village? She is spotted by Babu, a political worker, who gives her asylum in his home. A bond develops between the two. Turns out that the girl’s lover has now become a politician and Babu starts owing allegiance to him. Blinded by his affection towards the politician, Babu refuses to see reason despite Rama’s pleas. Revealing anything more at this point will kill the fun of watching the movie which had a brilliant climax.

Rama was working in the Railways in Chennai when the director spotted her. After much persuasion, she agreed to act in the movie. Rama did not have much of a Kollywood career and remained a one-film wonder though a few years back she was spotted in “mother” roles. Babu, the hero of the film steals the show. It is so tragic that this brilliant actor met with a near-fatal accident and had to be bed-ridden for several years. Tamil cinema lost a brilliant actor who actually lived the role of the innocent man who will die for his “thalaivar” (leader).

I have watched the movie several years ago but Babu’s acting and the movie’s climax still stand etched in my memory.

The other movies of the director that I am fond of are “Kadhal Oviam”, “ Kadalora Kavithaigal”, “Mudhal Mariyadai:”, “Kizhakke Pogum Rayil”, “Man Vasanai:”, “Puthu Nellu Puthu Nathu”. It is strange that though most of Bharathiraja’s heroines made it big (including Ranjitha who debuted with Karthik in a movie – can’t recollect the name of this movie, but I know that it had a foreign face as another heroine), barring a few exceptions, the heroes introduced by Bharathiraja never made it big. Raja, Kannan (the hero in Kadal Oviam), Arjun (Radha’s brother who debuted in “Puthu Nellu Puthu Nathu), Rahul (the hero in “Puthu Nellu Puthu Naathu”), Sudhakar (“Kizhakke Pogum Rayil”) and Pandiyan. Even Karthik who was introduced by the director did not achieve huge success as was expected of him.

Trust Bharathiraja to transform a 20 plus actress (Renuka, the TV actress) into a 50 plus mother in “Puthu Nellu Puthu Nathu”. Radhika’s innocence in “Kizahkke Pogum Rayil” remains unmatched, isn’t it? Though the director did succumb to stereotyping (Napolean’s character in “Puthu Nellu Puthu Nathu”) and the umbrella-clutching Christian school teacher (Rekha in “Kadalora Kavithaigal”), the truth is that he brought out the best in his actresses more than the actors. Even Silk Smitha got to display her histrionic abilities in “alaigal oivathilai” as the silent, suffering wife.

But among all his achievements, I would consider the portrayal of Sivaji Ganesan’s character in “Mudal Mariyathai” as the best. What a movie! The performances were riveting! For once, Sivaji Ganesan was subdued, did not overact and conveyed a lot through his eyes. The same Radha, who played his fiery daughter-in-law in “Thunai”, played a village woman who is innocent and develops a special bond with the old man who is subjected to lots of barbs from his shrewish wife (Vadivukkuarasi). The emotions in the movie were subtle. The relationship between the young woman and the old man was shown as platonic without a trace of vulgarity. The characters were so real that one could easily identify with them. Srilankan actress Ranjini who debuted in the movie got completely lost. She had almost packed her bags to Srilanka when Bharathiraja put in a word and got her some Tamil movies. But Ranjini could never make it in Kollywood and except for a controversy with director Sundar K Vijayan, Ranjini sank into oblivion in no time. But she did make an impact in the only Tamil serial that she acted – “Pagalil Oru Eravu” that co-starred Revathi and her ex-husband Suresh Menon.

For both Radha and Sivaji, “Mudhal Mariyathai” was a landmark film in their careers. It was a new kind of histrionics for “Nadigar Thilakam” – a kind of new age acting where he did not speak much but used his eyes to convey his acting prowess. For Radha, it was the beginning of meaningful roles in her career that she ended with the movie – “Marupakkam”. Mudhal Mariyadai enabled Radha to shed her glamour doll image and move into the cadre of heroines who could also be actresses. For that matter, even for Sukanya, her role in “Chinna Goundar” was an extension of the role that she enacted in “Pudhu Nellu Pudhu Naathu”. If you watch this movie, you will find it hard to believe that it was Sukanya’s first movie. Kudos to the director for bringing out the best in his actors and actresses. Satyaraj got a new lease of life as a hero only because of Bharathiraja. Who would have imagined that the bald villain of “Nooravathu Nal” could actually play a village bumpkin – a tough man with a soft interior.

So long as Tamil cinema exists, Bharathiraja’s name will continue to shine. Among all his jewels (the movies he made), “En Uyir Thozhan”will remain the most sparkling.

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