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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Mouna Raagam (1986)

Mouna-raagam Need a melt-into-a-puddle, non-mushy romance? Need two romances for the price of one? You need Mouna Ragam (Silent Symphony) - director-writer Mani Ratnam's first memorable film and in my opinion, one of his best. The love story of two strangers united in an arranged marriage unfolds in a gently flowing narrative that keeps you spell-bound. You're wondering what the narrative is. Well here goes...
Divya (Revathi) is a lively, fun-loving, college student. Her joie de vivre lights up her household which is ruled by her stern father (Sankaran). Her family arrange a marriage for her with Chandrakumar (Mohan) a manager for a Delhi-based company. Divya - a modern woman - is unwilling to marry a stranger. She tries to put the groom off by cataloging all her faults for his benefit. Instead of being convinced of her unworthiness, the disobliging Chandrakumar is charmed by her forthrightness! (And who wouldnt be - Revathy is at her charming best here.)
There is some drama, a family crisis and Divya finds herself married to Chandrakumar. After the marriage however, Divya finds herself unable to accept Chandrakumar as a husband. Chandrakumar, sensing her remoteness, tries to woo her. He wines and dines her in style. Things come to a crisis when he tries to buy her a gift. An angry Divya tells her stunned hubby that the only gift she wants from him is a speedy divorce!
Chandrakumar tries to get to the bottom of the problem - doesnt she like the decor of their their luxurious Delhi apartment? Or is it his habit of wearing a kurta-pyjama (instead of the lungi-shirt more favored in Tamil Nadu) that is putting her off? Turns out that the problem is way bigger than that. She is haunted by memories of a dead love - Manohar (Karthik) - and cannot bring herself to accept any other man!
Chandrakumar is stumped. He tries to convince her that her past is immaterial but she is unwilling to let go and accept him. He gives in and agrees to a divorce. Unfortunately for the couple, they live in Delhi not Las Vegas. So, they are required to be married for at least a year before the divorce proceedings can be finalised. The two of them are forced to live under the same roof until the divorce comes through. She could of course, go back to her parents' and wait for the divorce there. But we wont quibble over such small details.
Where were we? O yes, Divya and Chandrakumar are living separate lives under one roof. Once the decision to split is made, Chandrakumar makes it clear that he no longer regards Divya as his wife and she is free to live any way she chooses. Divya chooses to make him coffee in the morning which he declines, and cook him great meals that he contrives to miss. Now that the threat of matrimony is past, she is perversely interested in him, while he wants to maintain a distance.
Events contrive to bring them closer and as their year of married life nears its end, they both realise that a divorce is the last thing they want. Divya has learnt to care for this grave, courteous and considerate man. Chandrakumar who initially fell for her forthrightness and beauty, has come to value her warmth, her bubbly charm and quick empathy. Each of them waits for the other to make the first move. While they wait, the year ends and their divorce comes through!
Fear not reader, the movie isnt over yet. THE END is yet to come. Whether you have any doubts about how it ends or not, this is one movie you need to watch! The romance - I should say romances as there are two Divya-Karthik and Divya-Chandrakumar - is very well done. While the first romance - told in flashback - is fun but tragically cut-short, the second one is like a slowly simmering pot that gradually comes to boil. The whole movie is light on dialogues and relies on conveying emotions through facial expressions and body language. So, even with inadequate subtitles, you have no fear of missing out on anything!
If I havent sold you on the romance, then you might want to watch this for the great performances of the entire cast. Revathi is superb as the vivacious Divya. She brings Divya to life on the screen with her brilliant acting and every one of Divya's changing emotions are etched clearly on Revathi's face. Mohan gives a brilliantly understated performance as the calm and patient Chandrakumar. You can feel Chandrakumar's burgeoning love for Divya and his sadness at her refusal. Karthik adds a touch of masala as the charismatic first love. His over-the-top Manohar is a perfect counterpoint to the reserved Chandrakumar. Of the minor characters, V. K. Ramaswamy as Chandrakumar's hen-pecked, wise-cracking boss, the helpful Sardarji (who speaks Hindi with a distinctly South-Indian accent but provides great comic relief) and Sankaran as Revathy's stern but affectionate father, are memorable.
The music for movie was composed by Ilayraja and there are some great songs. I loved Chinna chinna vanna koyil and Nilaavae vaa sellaadhae but my favorite was Mandram vandha thenralukku.
The movie won the National Award for Best Regional Film and was also a huge success commercially. Its a beautiful movie and well-worth watching.


  1. I LOVE this movie...a Tamil friend recommended it to me early on in my Indian movie watching's just fabulous. I should watch it again!

  2. O you should - I re-watched after several years and this is going to be my favorite *comfort* movie now!

  3. Oh my gosh. I have GOT to get this movie. It looks awesome--thank you for posting on it!

  4. Looks fantastic. Thanks!

  5. Revathi is amazing here and everywhere else as well ! :D Definitely agree w/ u on this being a great "comfort" movie.

  6. @ajnabi: Romance in arranged marriage is one of my favorites - very Georgette Heyer-ish! :-) This one was apparently re-made in Hindi with Rishi Kapoor and Neelam in the lead (Kasak) but I dont think I want to see anyone but Revathy in the role!

    @Sita-ji: You are welcome. Hope you get to see it and like it as much as I do.

    @Shweta: You actually liked a romantic movie? Wonders will never cease! ;-)

    On a more serious note, Revathy is always great - whether in front or behind the camera. I loved directorial venture Phir Milenge (2004) as much as her on-screen performances!

  7. Wow thanks!! Kasak sounds like an exact copy!!! I love Kasak. I have to see the original now.

  8. i ADORE this movie. I saw it at a very impressionable age and it instantly became one of my favorites. Even though I didn't understand Tamil very well.

  9. @Shweta: any other romances that you liked? ;-)

    @nicki: this one was absolutely perfect, so I am rather scared of seeing a remake in case it doesnt measure up to this one - especially a remake that stars an ageing, sweater-wearing, beer-belly-sporting, Rishi Kapoor!

    @amrita: you dont really need to understand Tamil to appreciate the movie. I watched with subtitles that werent great but the emotions still get through.

  10. Looks super cutey! Will add it to the pile.

    Have you got any other Tamil recommendations for us? :)

  11. Alas, this and Kandukondein Kandukondein form the sum-total of my Tamil viewing. My Tamil-speaking friends have also recommended the Kamal Hassan, Jayprada-starrer Salangai Oli which is on my to-watch list but havent got there, yet.

  12. I tried my best to review Kasak but you did a good job here. I felt like I was repeating it but tried to do something different.


  13. Nicki, I saw your Kasak review. It tells me all I want to know about it. :-) I'll probably love this one better but will try and watch Kasak too!

    Amrita, thanks for the recommendation. Will try to look out for it (i.e., I'll pester my Tamil-speaking friends to find it for me!).

  14. Neatly written! But I differ on one point - the dialogues appealed a lot to me. Maybe after marriage there are not many, but whatever is there was brilliant. Especially liked the Kartik-Revathy lines. Actually I reached this blog googling for those.

    I think I will come back again. You have a thing with humour :-)

  15. cris, thanks for stopping by. As a non-Tamil speaker, I loved the fact that a lot of key scenes didnt have too many dialogues. Glad to know that all the dialogues were great. They didnt sound special on subtitles, especially in comparison to the facial expressions and body language.

  16. Hello, I'm coming into this a year late but through an unlikely path of discussion and links to YouTube I've discovered Mouna Ragam and fallen in love with the scenes and songs that I've viewed. If I could find the whole film with English subtitles (or French, for that matter, but English seems much more likely), even bad or incomplete ones, I would buy it immediately. Bollyviewer, or anyone else reading, can you offer a suggestion as to where to find this with subtitles?

    The library at my university does have a video copy of the film without subtitles, and I will watch that when I'm back there at the end of this month, but if I can find it with subtitles in the meantime then so much the better. Many thanks for your time and thoughts!

  17. Mattew, you could try googling Mouna Ragam subtitles and then play the movie with a player that allows you to load a separate subtitle file (like VLC player). Or you could try torrents for a subtitled version.

  18. Matthew, If you live in the UK then there is a Video/DVD company called Ayngaran based in London. I recently found a copy of Mouna Ragam Down Under produced by this company! It has english sub titles.

    Bollyviewer, I agree with you about Revathy not only being a very good actress but also a good director. I liked Phir Milengey very much.

    Mouna Ragam was Revathy's first film and I think for a first film she has done a fab job. This is a mani ratnam movie.

    Revathy was excellent in "Thevara Magan" Tabu did her role in the hindi version "Virasat". Do watch the tamil version if u get a chance.

    Revathy also did well in a short role in Mani Ratnam's "Iruvar"

  19. @Filmbuff
    Mouna Ragam was not Revathy's first film. She was an established actress by then. Her first film is Mann Vasanai where she played a simple village girl.

  20. Filmbuff, according to imdb, this was her 13th film! I will look out for Thevara Magan. At the moment, though, I am looking for a decent print of Anjali (Mani Ratnam directing and Revathy acting - couldnt possibly be bad!). So far, I've only found bad VCDs.

    Rathi, do you have any Revathy recommendations for me? I would love to see more of her!

  21. I have a DVD of Anjali - haven't seen it yet. I thought it is a story of a small child - perhaps Revathy is also there in the movie.

    Thanks for that info on Revathy's film profile. I do know that Revathy has acted in some malayalam movies too.

  22. As far as I know, its the story of a mentally handicapped child who is handed into care without the mother's knowledge. Revathy plays the Mom who is devastated when she finds that her child wasnt born dead as her hubby told her. So, it is the story of the child (Anjali) but also of her family.

  23. I saw this movie last night - unfortunately it was not the original tamil version but a dubbed telugu version. I will wait for your review before sharing my views. Most of the movie is shot in the dark ie the scenes are set at night - so watching it on the small screen on a DVD does tend to strain one's eyes - perhaps to do with the picture quality as it is a 20 yrs old movie (made in 1990)! BTW, Revathy and Raghuvaran have done a good job. Raghuvaran who passed away (recently) was a good actor.

  24. "I will wait for your review before sharing my views. "

    Filmbuff, my review is right up there - the blog post before the comments! I hope you enjoyed the film. I am not sure who Raghuvaran is - was he in the film?

  25. Sorry I was referring to "Anjali" when i said i will wait for ur review - not Mouna Ragam which I have seen yrs ago in the theatre as well as more recently on DVD.

  26. Oops! All the hectic pre-holiday rush has quite disarranged my brains. :-) Should have caught on before! Did you find a good print of Anjali?

  27. Looked like a Video has been converted into a DVD - print quality was sort of okay but I think the movie itself has been shot mostly at night. On my next visit to India, I am planning to buy Mani Ratnam movie DVDs from a shop in Madras that has been mentioned on his website "Madras Talkies" - lets see about the quality.

    BTW, I would strongly recommend "Irruvar" - a brilliant movie by Mani Ratnam. Aishwariya Rai's debut movie (though Jeans released earlier) with the super star of Malaylayam cinema Mohanlal. If u r familiar with T Nadu politics, u will easily recognise the main characters - MGR (Mohanlal), Prakash Raj (Karunanidhi), Tabu (K's girlfriend), Aishwariya (Jayalalita), Gautami (MGR's wife in real life)

  28. Iruvar has been on my list for a while. Its just so hard to find subtitled Tamil films easily and at decent prices, here. Hopefully it will appear on the shelf of my local Indian video store, sometime...

  29. I think there are some video/DVD desi stores in Canada where you can find good quality tamil films with sub titles esp those relesed by Ayngaran Video Company from UK. I can find out from my best friend in Calgary if u r interested and i ur based in Calgary

  30. Hello all - sorry to have been silent for so long - I'm in Kolkata at the moment (Chitrakoot last week, Delhi and then London later this month, then back to New York). I did eventually find a subtitles file for Mouna Ragam on the web, a few months ago, so for the first time had a chance to watch all the way through understanding all the words. The story is such a visual one, and Revathy such an expressive actress in this role, that the words actually didn't add a huge amount (though it was nice finally to understand the joke when she was "teaching" Tamil to the car mechanic).

    I also have seen Anjali, on an old VHS video tape copy in the Cornell University library, though without subtitles. I must admit I cried when Anjali finally said "amma" - in part I guess because I also have a developmentally delayed sibling and the scene reminded me of my own mother.

    I will follow your recommendations and put Irruvar on my viewing list. I also recommend Kannathil Muthamittal - more of Ratnam's theme of individual acts of love pitted against institutional acts of terror; amongst other things I found it significant that in this film he added a twist to the stereotypical Bollywood rain scene by having it represent not carnal love but the platonic love between (adoptive) parent and child.

    I can hardly wait for Ratnam's current effort, Ravan. (He has of course been interested in the Ramayan at least since his gender-reversing, modern, and political retelling of the story in Roja.) Has anyone heard an update as to the anticipated release date?

  31. Filmbuff, I am based in Calgary. So any info about video stores in the city would be very welcome!

    Matthew, I am glad you were able to see Mouna Raagam finally. It is a wonderful film and Revathy is the best thing about the film!

    Anjali sounds as heartwarming as I had supposed - will try harder to look for it.

    I dont know what the story of Ravan is, but I'd hardly call Roja a gender-reversed reworking of the Ramayan simply because the hero gets kidnapped by an evil man and his wife runs from pillar to post to free him!

  32. Good morning from Kolkata! (This comment is long but I will cut it into three pieces so as to come under the 4096-character limit.)

    Bollyviewer wrote, "I'd hardly call Roja a gender-reversed reworking of the Ramayan simply because the hero gets kidnapped by an evil man and his wife runs from pillar to post to free him!"

    Actually, if one looks for it it's all in there. The element that hits one
    over the head is its transformation of the Ramayan into political cinema with
    current-day relevance -- one that seems politically conservative, but bears a
    sometimes subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle feminist twist. The allusions
    begin with an explicit mention of the Ramayan, by one of the old women of the
    village -- one that's slipped into dialogue as though it were an irrelevant
    detail, but which actually carries a great deal of significance: the Ramayan,
    as an examplar of pan-Indian culture, is what knits together the village and
    the city, all the provinces of India, and indeed much of South and Southeast
    Asia in general. The main Ramayan tale begins after Rishi Kumar, his mother,
    and Roja have left the village for the city:

    Ram (Rishi Kumar), having married Sita (Roja), is reluctantly exiled (sent
    away on a mission to Kashmir) by his father King Dasaratha (Rishi's ailing boss
    Mohan) who then dies of grief for Ram's absence (although Mohan doesn't
    actually die in the film, he is in hospital). A virtuous Sita insists on
    accompanying her husband into exile (Roja, on telephoning her sister Lakshmi,
    realises her lapse of faith in her husband and insists on coming along with him
    to Kashmir.)

    Here's where the gender reversals begin. Who, in fact, is the Ram figure?
    Both Rishi Kumar and Roja participate in it, but as the film goes along it
    begins to become clear that it's Roja who owns the role. Even the phonetics
    give out this message: Roja/Rama, and sibling Lakshmi/Lakshman. Rishi Kumar
    initially fears (and we fear with him, as we've not seen where Roja has gone
    in the morning) that some harm has befallen Roja at the hands of the Kashmiri
    rebels -- this scenario would be consistent with the gender roles in the
    historical Ramayan and would place Rishi Kumar as Ram.

    (In yet another sense, Rishi Kumar is neither the Ram figure nor the Sita
    but rather -- true to his name -- the character of the hermits (rishi) who
    inhabit the wilderness. His conversations with his captors -- principally
    the leader Liyaqat -- wax philosophical ("Is it justice to capture homes
    after driving away the families in them?"), and Rishi Kumar's triumph is his
    redemption of Liyaqat after the sacrifice of Liyaqat's young brother, turning
    him from a mere agent of the irredeemably evil Wasim Khan (Ravan) into an
    enlightened and merciful human being. At the end of the film Rishi Kumar
    leaves Liyaqat with a benediction, "Wipe the tears of people, instead of making
    them cry.")



    Rishi Kumar goes searching for Roja, all ready to play the Ram hero, and finds
    her at the shrine, where she has just met her sidekick Chajoo (another face of
    Lakshman, the faithful companion). At this juncture, though, it is Rishi Kumar
    rather than Roja who is kidnapped by an apparition of Ravan (the rebels led
    by Wasim Khan). That is to say, Rishi Kumar has assumed the wife's role of
    captive, leaving Roja to fill the hero's role. And fill it she does.

    Roja's divine nature as Ram is prefigured in her relationship with the gods,
    and with God. It's she who visits her village's shrine to ask for Rishi
    Kumar's marriage to her sister Lakshmi, and it's she who calls at the shrine
    in Kashmir and says that all gods are one. Later, she says to the government
    minister, "You are a form of God for me" -- in one reading this sentiment
    reflects the awe of a simple country woman in the presence of a powerful man,
    but in another, stronger reading it reflects her respect for all human beings,
    who participate in the divine.

    An insistent Roja (now grown fully in the role of Ram) will not leave Kashmir
    (Lanka) until she has rescued her spouse Rishi Kumar (Sita). With Chajoo
    (Lakshman), she waits at the police headquarters for Colonel Rayappa
    (Hanuman), who helps her pursue Rishi Kumar (Sita). At Roja's urging, the
    government relents and agrees to release Wasim Khan in exchange for Rishi
    Kumar, but when Rishi Kumar hears of this deal he resists trading the blood of
    Wasim Khan's future victims for his own freedom (Sita refuses Hanuman's offer
    to carry her back to Ram, unwilling to be touched by a male who is not her
    husband). Instead he remains with his captors for months, and conversations
    ensue where he tries to convince them to change their ways, and they try to
    convince him of thei righteousness of their agenda.

    After all this time dwelling with his captors and hearing their ideas, it's
    unclear whether Rishi Kumar's ideological purity (Sita's physical purity) has
    remained intact. This purity is tested when his captors set the Indian flag
    alight, and Rishi Kumar rolls in the fire to put it out (the Agni Pariksha).
    With the help of a Kashmiri woman who is the only free thinker in the bunch,
    Rishi Kumar escapes, at risk to his life. After evading his captors, he
    crosses the river (the ocean separating Lanka from the mainland) to be reunited
    with Roja (Ram). At the end of their exile, the couple return to the kingdom
    of Ayodhya (the united and indivisible republic of India).



    [This being a feel-good ending, we leave out the later part of the Ramayan
    in which Ram (Roja?) banishes Sita (Rishi Kumar?) to Valmiki's ashram in the
    wilderness -- but it does make one wonder who ends up wearing the pants in that

    The film has a great deal to say about the stratification of Indian society,
    and how this stratification must yield to democratic socialism. After Roja
    marries the professional Rishi Kumar the people of the village half-joke "You
    are a memsahib now." Roja, pleading with the minister to intercede for her
    husband's release, explains, "We are not influential people but we are citizens
    of India." After Colonel Rayappa scolds Roja for her selfishness in wanting to
    regain her husband, a man of status, at the cost of releasing Wasim Khan, who
    surely will kill many more innocents of no status, Roja throws his argument
    back at him by asking, "What if it were a minister's child?" Later, after the
    deal for the exchange seems set, General Rayappa observes, "The minister will
    earn a good name by getting an eminent scientist released."

    The script, of course, isn't the only great element of this film -- the
    cinematography complements all of it, right from the beginning, when the
    blue-grey of Colonel Rayappa's battle against Wasim Khan cuts to the warm
    orange of sunrise in Roja's village. And in the middle, with the cuts between
    Rishi Kumar's fantasies of Roja and the reality of his beaten and bleeding
    body. And in the end, with the light of grace on Liyaqat as he begins to
    become converted by Rishi Kumar after the sacrifice of Liyaqat's brother.

    Through it all, it's the women who rule -- the grandmother who prevails on her
    son, Roja's father, to allow his other daughter Lakshmi to wed her sweetheart;
    Rishi Kumar's mother, who prevails on her son to allow his new wife Roja to
    accompany him to Kashmir; the Kashmiri woman who releases Rishi Kumar in an
    attempt to ease the suffering that she sees all round her; and of course Roja,
    who rules all with divine authority. The men, in contrast, are for the most
    part a bunch of fools who are too fond of playing with guns. I think that my
    favourite scene/song is the one at the very beginning, Dil Hai Chota Sa,
    because in it Roja is a simple, provincial young woman, but already possesses
    all the divine nature -- all the beauty and moral authority -- with which she
    rules the rest of the story.

    This is an action film subordinated to a love story, a love story subordinated
    to Indian nationalist political theatre, political theatre subordinated to a
    progressive, social-democratic and feminist message. It has so many levels,
    and says so much about India past, present, and future.

    Matthew Belmonte

  35. Matthew, Wow, just came across your comment(s). You seem to have given Roja some very serious thought! I myself would never have detected the connection between Roja and you think Mani Ratnam did?

  36. Matthew, thank you so much for that thoughtful exposition. Have you tried looking for similar footprints of the Ramayana in other films?

    Ruchi, ditto on the Roja - Ramayana connection! I wonder if the Sangh Parivar will take exception to a divine Suhaagraat being consummated onscreen and that too, to the tune of Rukmini rukmini!

  37. Wow Mathew, Roja and Ramayana - a new perspective indeed!

    Bollyviewer, will let u know about tamil DVD outlets in Calgary soon

  38. Hi ppl, nice to c u ppl spkng abt dis wonderful film... wanted tell abt 2 things i noticed in ur review
    1.)Or is it his habit of wearing a kurta-pyjama (instead of the lungi-shirt more favored in Tamil Nadu) that is putting her off?-- dress is not at all matter here... i think u said tat for joke coz lungi-shirt is jus a comfy wear not 'favored'


    2.) She could of course, go back to her parents' and wait for the divorce there. But we wont quibble over such small details.-- yes she could hav gone but she dint go coz she was forcibly married to her dad's wish so hw can she expect her parents to support her on divorce - so she stays with him

    anyways ur review was good

  39. Swathy, I certainly was joking about the kurta-pyjama. :-)

    As for going to her parents' home, she will eventually go there after divorce. If she expects them to accept her divorce eventually, she can start off before the divorce, too!

  40. Hi Bollyviewer,

    I am posting this comment very late, but I saw your comment asking for Revathy reccomendations and I couldn't help posting this.

    I suggest you watch Marupadiyum.

    Much like how Mouna Raagam is a heroine's film, Marupadiyum, is also a heroine's film, which is extremely rare in this industry. And much like Mouna Raagam, Revathi has the opportunity to act as a character who develops slowly over the entire film and changes very much.

    The story, at first, seems like a domestic drama about extra-marital affairs, which usually aren't good, but as it keeps going, the true story is about a housewife who has to rebuild her life from scratch. It's very good.

    It may be hard to find since it's an old and forgotten film...though a subtitled version has recently made it's way onto the internet by one prashanth12.....

  41. Thanks for that, anonymousperson. I will certainly look out for Marupadiyam. It sounds really nice!

  42. I think Revathi can't go back to her father's house before divorce. Because, then they will try to stop the divorce. After it is legal, there isn't much they could do.

    When I was young, I didn't particularly like Revathi's movies because they were all soo serious. I appreciate her more now.

  43. "When I was young, I didn't particularly like Revathi's movies because they were all soo serious." Even this? I saw it at a very young age, but was instantly in love with it. Now I need to find some of her other "serious" films, because if they are anything like this one, they should be seriously good! :D

  44. The most serious movie I remember is 'Ankuram' (Telugu 1992), and about doing the right thing. It was so intense and realistic that it really scared me. 'Anjali' didn't help the matters either. The first half is so fun and the second half, we were crying buckets (me and my sister). There is then 'Gaayam' (Telugu 1993).

    Compared to those, I agree that Mouna Raagam is light fare. But for teenagers, killing off first love doesn't make an entertaining movie, no? :)


  45. As a teenager, I wasn't very keen on college romances, so killing of the first love worked perfectly for me! :D

    Just read up Ankuram on wikipedia. It sounds very interesting but I can see that it's not the sort of film that would inspire adolescent Revathy-fandom! Which reminds me that I do have Anjali and need to get to it, ASAP.

  46. Just had a 2 hour session watching this movie on google video. A quick search led me to this blog post (comments spanning two and a half years, wow!). Thanks for capturing a lot of the feelings that I had watching this.

    In general, I feel a little bit guilty about dwelling on comfort movies/songs from the past (fear of escapism perhaps) but this one was worth it.


  47. subbu, the "comments spanning two and a half years" just highlight the film's enduring appeal! :) And hey, what is wrong with escapism? Isn't that what all entertainment is - escape into an alternate (and fun) world? Why rule out older films on that count?

  48. I love each and every nuance of this movie. The common love for this movie brought me and 'special friend' close!;)

  49. Romance brings romance home? :D That is so cute, Guru!

  50. My favorite movie I just luv it.I need like this life .