Youngsters seeking their soul-mates nowadays, empowered by their parents and spoilt for choice, may little appreciate the concept of a ‘Arranged Marriage’. Nonetheless to make any relationship work, the romantic overture hardly matters for the real work starts only once the honeymoon is over.
In this context, ‘Mouna Ragam’ is worth a watch even today in order to learn some lessons on what makes the ‘modern marriage’ work. “A movie made in 1986 is still relevant in 2013?”, you may ask rather incredulously. My answer is, “Yes – aren’t Classic movies supposed to be precisely that?”
‘Mouna Ragam’ is a Tamil romantic movie that was directed by Mani Ratnam and released in 1986. Starring Mohan, Revathi and Karthik, it went on to garner much critical and commercial acclaim. It became a ‘Classic’ movie that defined an anachronistic era wherein, even in the educated ‘Middle Class’ families, marriages were ‘arranged’ by the Elders in the family and youngsters were not encouraged to choose their own life partners. We led cloistered lives dominated by the local culture and with very little idea on the kind of marriages that happened in the other parts of the world.
The movie was very different from the typical ‘masala’ Tamil movies and was bereft of melodrama and hysterics that had been ladled to us for years as being expressive of our ‘Paasam’ (passion) for the ‘Kudumbam’ (family). Understated as it was, it was nonetheless effective in communicating to the audience on what a modern marriage should look like.
And it had ‘credible’ characters who engaged you rather than the cardboard stereotypes enacting predictable ‘girl-meets-boy’ routines and spouting mouthful of clichéd dialogues. Thankfully the film went on to receive the ‘National Film’ Award in 1987 and so it was telecast on our national television, Doordarshan. This gave me an opportunity to watch the movie as a teenager and the movie just caught my imagination. It was so refreshingly different.
The story was a narrative of a young, playful ‘college-going’ Chennai based girl (Revathi) suddenly getting married to a ‘soft-spoken’ and ‘mild-mannered’ HR Manager from Delhi (Mohan). The ‘arranged marriage’ is rammed through much against Revathi’s own wishes, since the collective family thinks it is in her ‘own interest’ and of course Revathi’s father’s heart ailment clinches the choice. I hope this doesn’t sound rather condescending – to the contrary I want to emphasize the dilemma which parents faced in ensuring a secure future for the children while coping with the limited means available to them. The context needs to be understood since it explains the dichotomy – the duress under which Revathi agrees to the marriage proposal leads her to ‘rebel’ against the union immediately after the event.
The plot thickens when Revathi realizes the enormity of her choice and is spunky enough to want to redeem the situation by seeking a divorce. Surely unheard of and rather scandalous as per the social mores of the conservative middle class families. Mohan’s restrained reaction as a sober and ‘well-meaning’ husband who is willing to give her the time and space needed to resolve the situation, should be heralded as rather revolutionary in those times. The approach was aided by the fact that he stays alone in Delhi and so there are no nuances – either positive or negative – that would have appeared due to the presence of the groom’s own family.
And Mani Ratnam pulls no punches when Revathi makes scathing remarks to her husband on his ‘expectations’ from the marriage. The audience’s sympathies are firmly aligned to Mohan at this juncture. She then shares her story of her brief romance with ‘Karthik’. While some stunts are obviously meant to be ‘playing to the gallery’, overall the college interlude is etched realistically and adds heft to the story. It is the fun period in the film that helps to lighten the subject. And it is placed well since it comes as a ‘flashback’ post the unraveling of the basic plot of the film. This helps us understand Revathi’s rather ‘uncivil’ behavior towards Mohan.
The divorce law requires that the couple stay together for a year before granting them the divorce they seek with mutual consent. Predictably the year sees the relationship evolve wherein Revathi gives up her hostile attitude, becomes civil, then friendly with Mohan. Finally she is very eager to put her past behind and start a new life with him. However things happen a bit differently with Mohan. He starts and remains on a friendly note, but misses no opportunity to remind his wife of her boorish behavior in the past just when she is having a change of heart.
It is interesting to see an HR Manager, who should be well versed in communication and interpersonal skills, being so oblivious to the positive changes in his wife’s behavior. A reasonable view could be that although Mohan’s behavior is not in sync with his personality, it is a reaction to Revathi’s behavior immediately after the marriage. It also makes him seem ‘human’ and avoid being a ‘too-good-to-be-true’ character.
I have a different view on this though. I think that the mismatched frequencies between the couple is a deliberate and crafty ploy since it contributes to a lot of ‘hand-wringing’ by the viewer and raises his engagement levels with the story. Obviously some sacrifices have to be made at the altar of commercial cinema so that the pitch of the ‘climax’ can be achieved.
And all this happens amidst lovely songs and interesting comedy tracks (‘Mr. Chandramouli …’ being the pick). PC Sreeram cinematography is picturesque and Ilaiyaraja comes up with soulful music. Finally the rather contrived climax is reached in the best possible fashion – a train leaving from Delhi to Chennai when Revathi, having failed to convince Mohan on her love and commitment for him, decides to part ways with him. The Indian Railways should demand a ‘Licence Fee’ for providing a platform (pun intended) to so many ‘star-crossed’ lovers seeking to evade their ill-fated destinies.
The movie had a great impact on me as a teenager and has stayed with me ever since. The opening credits are presented in an innovative manner and the background music (BGM) lingers with you even after the movie is over. And even when I did not know the lyrics of the Vaali’s song, ‘Mandram Vantha Thendralukku, Manjam Vara Nenjam Illaiyo …’, it still stuck the right chord in my heart.