Freeze Frame #16 & #17: Iruvar

My favourite Mani Rathnam movie of all time. Yes, even more than Mouna Raagam, Nayakan or the movie I just raved about in an earlier postKannathil Muthamittal. I can’t quite explain why.

Iruvar is the story of two men, both destined to shape the future of Tamil Nadu politics. One is an actor, the other a writer. They start out as friends, then become comrades in the political arena, then rivals, then just a couple of old men with a lot of baggage but not enough energy to carry it anymore.

Two larger than life protagonists, both played by great actors. A story whose broad outlines most Tamilians with a grasp of recent history can recognize. Little wonder that the women don’t have too much to do. Yet, my two favourite scenes in the movie both involve the women.

1. Tabu plays Senthamarai, a school teacher in a village in Tamil Nadu who catches the eye of Thamizhselvam (Prakash Raj in the Karunanidhi role) when he is at a protest rally. He writes to her and asks her to come to him. And she does. He is a married man, and the concept of a divorce is not only alien to the culture of that time, but would also mean political suicide. She asks him, “Who am I here? What is my position?” And he replies, “My darling. My lover. My friend.” He explains with his eyes what that list does not contain, and why it can never contain it. She processes this, ponders for a moment and smiles, eyes shining with unshed tears.

The next scene shows the couple on the floor on the bedroom after their coupling, while the lines Unnodu naan vaazhntha ovvoru maniththuliyum, maranappadukkaiyilum marakkathu kanmaniye (Every moment I have lived with you, I will never forget to my dying breath) are uttered in the background. It’s a beautiful poem, very well rendered, quite poignant. But I think it would’ve been far less powerful, had it not been preceded by that sublime moment between Prakash Raj and Tabu.

2. After he becomes the chief minister, on the way home, Selvam changes his mind midway and asks his driver to direct the car to Senthamarai’s place. One of his aides calls up his house to inform his wife Maragatham (played by Revathy) of the change in plans. She is in the middle of some housework when the call comes. You don’t hear what is said – you just see her face. She listens, her face falls for a moment, then with a resigned look, she goes back to her housework. Revathy has about 10 minutes of screen time in a three hour movie. Most of it is nondescript. But in that one moment, without a single line of dialogue, she captures the essence of her character.

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