Freeze Frame #3: Mudhal Mariyadhai

I consider Bharathiraja to be one of the finest directors Tamil cinema has seen. Sure, he can be quite melodramatic, and there are times when he doesn’t know where to stop, but consider what he has managed to do. After 16 Vayathinilae, the village film would never be the same again. Movies that came after it simply followed the rule book that he wrote.

 

My favourite scene from his movies is from Mudhal Mariyadhai. The plot involves a middle aged man (Sivaji Ganesan in one of his great performances) and his relationship with a young woman (Radha). The man is married to an absolute harridan (Vadivukkarasi), and his friendship with the younger woman is what sustains his soul. On one occasion, when his wife is on yet another of her rants, he loses it and talks about what a slut she was when she was young, and how he married her when she got pregnant by someone else, simply because her father begged him to help save face. At the face of it, it is simply a scene that allows him to lash out at a woman who has been making his life miserable for so long, but it sets up a later scene of poetic simplicity and power.

One morning, the village is abuzz with the news that the young woman has killed a man. The man, his wife, and many others get to the edge of the river where the body lies, covered by a cloth. The young woman stands there, mute; she has refused to offer any explanation for her actions. It begins to drizzle, and just at that moment, a gust of wind blows away the cloth covering the dead man. And Bharathiraja doesn’t stay on the man’s face but cut’s to the wife’s expression. As you see the shock and comprehension in her eyes, and the sudden unbidden tears, the rain slowly wipes off the sindoor from her forehead. And you realize, without anything having to be told, who the dead man was, and why the woman must have killed him.

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