S P Muthuraman’s movie did not quite set the box office on fire but it was a fairly sober movie in its time. Rajni steals the show with his mellowed persona while Ambika and Radha competently execute their parts.
The story needs to be seen from the prism of a patriarchal and provincial society – man’s social compact ensures a vise like grip on ordinary folks who pay a stiff price if they set about to violate the prevalent social mores in their milieu.
The tale is a simple one in many ways. Set in the rural belt the story revolves around the young Rajni who is a model farmer and a key marriage prospect for two cousins played by Ambika and Radha. Ambika is the elder sister who works in the Landlord’s mansion and wants to escape the rural scene. She is shown to be interested in books and city life with little interest or talent in managing household chores. In contrast Radha is personified as the ‘ideal girl next door’ who will make a great match for an aspiring farmer.
The triangle is set up well since Rajni adores Ambika while Radha is in love with Rajni. In the ideal world Ambika would have found better resolve and resources to avoid her fate when her parents decide to marry her to Rajni. The marriage seems preordained and the mismatch leads to strains in the relationship. It gets as complicated as can be possible as they already have a child as well. Such a sad mash-up of human life as traditions and customs are simply unquestionable and the young minds find it difficult to evade the System.
The story seems to be headed into a revolutionary spin when Ambika leaves her home, husband and child behind to join the Landlord’s son in the city. But things fall flat as she immediately realizes the enormity of her mistake. No amends are possible in the swift turn of events wherein she is formally ostracized by her family and the village. And Ambika’s parents manage to ensure that Rajni now marries Radha who welcomes the opportunity to provide stability to him and the young child.
The story finally draws to a close when a middle-aged Rajni learns about Ambika’s fatal illness and promises to perform her final rites. This goes against the social norms and he pays the price by leaving the village along with Radha and their grown up daughter.
The storyline is plausible and narrated in a matter-of-fact manner. There is no hyperbole and melodrama that was the mainstay of such family tear-jerkers. Rajni in particular emotes very well and carries off the character with aplomb. We do not see the ‘Superstar’ who dominates his more commercial avatars; instead we meet a thick-set middle-aged villager who practices humaneness while acknowledging one’s debt to society at large and the prevalent culture.
What jars a bit are the prevalent social mores that reduce the options available to the people particularly the women. There can be no sloganeering about feminism and women’s liberation herein. The wiser ladies would recognize the inherent limitations of their social setting and ensure that they operate with the ‘Lakshman Rekha’ drawn for them. For anyone who commits the folly of cross the line, the world is rather unforgiving and the price is rather heavy to pay.