The magic of Mahendran
Udhiri Pookkal’s timeless beauty lies in its touch of reality and subtlety
Photo: M. Periasamy
JUST RIGHT For the role
Director Mani Ratnam once famously remarked: “If I get anywhere near what Mahendran did in Udhiri Pookkal, I’ll be a happy man.” Watch the film, and you’ll know what he meant.
Thanks to Konangal Film Society, many who had missed out on the timeless film got an opportunity to watch it, and those who had viewed it a dozen times over were only too glad for a once-more!
It is the story of a despotic village school head Sundara Vadivelu (Vijayan), who is forced to end his life.
From Vijayan and Ashwini as his wife, to the village hairdresser and the conniving sakuni of a music teacher, each actor has played his role to perfection.
There’s perpetual fear and despondency on Ashwini’s beautiful face, so much so that the smiles that play up occasionally seem reluctant.
Mahendran sprinkles subtlety throughout the film, in characterisation, dialogues and visuals. Vijayan never raises his voice: a soft smile is his bludgeon; you don’t see him hitting Sarath Babu, only a bleeding lower lip.
When Vijayan refuses to let go of his second wife, the calm woman says, “I could poison your food, don’t make me a murderess.” And, the river flows quietly, not telling us it will take the protagonist’s life.
The director throws in a few powerful lines too. When Vijayan wants to marry his wife’s sister too, his father-in-law Charu Hassan says: “I’ll be a father, not a pimp,” or when Ashwini mutely wonders if any woman has the courage to ask for another husband.
Someone from the audience claimed that the film, released in 1979, ran for 25 weeks in a Coimbatore theatre. Nearly three decades later, if the film still strikes a chord with the audience, it is because of its proximity to reality — the innocence of the villagers and the condition of rural women.
For the current generation overfed on a diet of outrageously hyperbolic movies, this should be a breath of fresh air. The lower middle class family does not live in a stately mansion with designer furniture, there are no song sequences tearing between Australia and the Alps, and no inch-thick coats of shocking pink lipstick or purple eye shadow!
Ilayaraja’s music speaks for itself. Film buff D. Anand summed up the brilliance of Azhagiya kanne in three words: Monalisa of music.
Eye for detail
Mahendran’s eye for detail adds to the charm of the score: a cute (baby) Anju (of Keladi Kanmani fame) smiling for no reason; Ashwini pulling out a chewing gum from a stubborn Anju’s mouth or a thorn from her son’s foot, or Anju drying out her paavaadai only to drench it again.
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