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Thoughts on Virumandi

Virumandi was rewatched recently. As with all the great Kamal films (as director and/or script writer), this is a film that never ceases to grow. நண்பர் @dagalti often remarks that “Kamal rewards the re-watcher.” I second, third and fourth that opinion. Where do I even begin with Virumandi? A few of you may have read a twiltonger I posted on the film more than a year back and bits of this piece might evoke a thirumba thirumba pesare nee feeling in you at places. But do go on.

Veerapandiya Kattabomman

Kothaala Thevan hates Naickers, driven by the fact that his dad was killed by Nallamma Naicker. This is evident from the very first dialog he has in the film after Angela asks him to speak; “Thirumalai Naicker kAlathirukku munbAgavE, Sundara Pandiyan Atchi…” and Angela stops him there. Pertinent. Because Sundara Pandiyan was possibly the final Pandyan King in the early 1300s and the Pandya rule was followed by the Madurai Sultanate, which was followed by the Vijayanagara Kingdom whose Kings placed as chieftains certain Nayaks, who slowly grew into the Madurai Naicker Dynasty (Thirumalai Nayakkar, Rani Mangamma, etc.).

Also, Panchalankurichi was ruled by a chieftain (chieftains are not Kings. They rule provinces in Kingdoms, collect taxes and give a share to the Emperor, whether the Emperor is a Chola, Pandya, of Vijayanagara descent, a Madurai Naicker or a Nawab. சிற்றரசர்கள் aka குறுநில மன்னர்கள் in Tamil). This chieftain was one Jagaveera Pandiyan, who claimed descent from the Pandyas. He did not have any issues and let his minister succeed after him. That minister who hailed from Andhra, and was a warrior whose ancestors migrated during Vijayanagara Empire’s times (1400s and 1500s), was called Bommu. Being strong, he was called Gettibommu. That in Tamil became Kattabommu and eventually Kattabomman. In his lineage came Veerapandiya Kattabomman. His full name? Veeramaraja Jagaveera Pandiya Kattabomma Karuthaiyya Nayukkudu. He would have spoken a Telugu-Tamil, which, as an aside, makes Sivaji’s larger-than-life portrayal a pretty outstanding brave heart re-imagination. He had the name Jagaveera Pandiyan hidden in his name out of reverence for the chieftain who passed the throne to his lineage. Why I give all this dry context is because Kothaalan wants to claim descent for his lineage from the Pandyan Kings. He sees Nallamma Naicker’s lineage as usurpers. This nuance is brought out in a single dialog without being explicit!

Also, the film does have a Veerapandiya Kattabomman reference in the bull taming sequence, paying homage to the bull taming sequence in the old classic and also introducing one of the bulls as Veerapandiya Kattabomman. Quite explicit. Also, giving women in marriage was a tradition practiced with bull taming. The bull tamer Virumandi does get the bull’s owner Annalakshmi like how Gemini got Padmini in a direct play on Veerapandiya Kattabomman. However, what is not explicit is another legend behind Kattabomman’s adversary Ettappan. Ettappan happens to be the family name of the lineage that ruled Ettayapuram, giving the town its name. The title owes its origin to one of their ancestor chieftains, who with his brother, was challenged to a duel by one Mallan (wrestler). They kill him and realize he has 8 kid brothers, who the chieftain adopts and gives succor to, getting the name ‘Ettappan’ (ettu perukku appan). His real name? Nallamma Naicker! [1] Now consider this. Nallamma Naicker says in Panchayat that he went to arbitrate a fight between Kothaalan’s and Virumandi’s fathers, got provoked by Kothaalan’s dad and killed him. He says he vowed never to use a weapon again and eventually gives succor to Virumaandi. This is already outstanding and beyond the grasp of average filmmakers. But wait till I get to the end of the post.

Details

The film is all about detailing, local nuances which never stick out but immensely add to the mann vaasanai, with the warts and moles of human lifestyle there. I doubt if there is a film rivaling this that gets so many local nuances right and yet none ever intrude into the story. For instance, Nallamma Naicker tells his mother okkatti ledhu when Kothaalan comes to investigate. The proper Telugu word for that is Emi ledhu. Okkatti ledhu is the direct Telugu translation of onnum illai. Like everyone from one culture integrated into another, he speaks his native tongue but thinks in Tamil. The film’s dubbed version in Telugu was named Potharaju, referring to a caste in Andhra whose members gain a livelihood by flagellating themselves. That defines Virumandi’s character in a nutshell! (if I remember right, these 2 details were mentioned by Plum in Bala (Karthik)’s blog. Hattip).

Again, Peikaaman asks Angela if she is proper Tanjore. She says Keezhvenmani. This is further underlined when she says Angela James’aa mArina nAn thirumba Angela Kathamuthu AyttEn. I find this nuanced because when I last read (correct me if the proposed legislation is now a law), till further legislation would ensure Dalits retain their Dalit status upon converting to Christianity (rightly so because conversion to another religion doesn’t automatically mean a change in socio-economic status), they’d be considered OBCs.[2] Now read the Keezhvenmani hyperlink, connect the dots to Peikaaman telling Kothaalan he prides their caste association more than him working in Nallamma Nayakkanur and Peikaaman’s visible contortion when Angela asks him to wait outside after getting to know her origin. How did Kamal get away (film is unimaginable in today’s scenario) with this? Virumandi, Annalakshmi, Virumandi’s appatha, Ganthimathi; pivotal and admirable characters all, are the same community as Kothaalan and Peikaaman.

When Peikaaman takes Angela around initially, he not-so-subtly takes a dig at the jailor when he says adhellAm IPS paritcha ezhudhi varravangaLukku varAdhu. ennaya mAri cadres lerndhu varravangalukku dhaan irukkum. Quintessentially everyone who thinks their higher-ups haven’t worked as hard as they have to get to a superior position professionally. In a single dialog. Also, when Virumandi bemoans his appatha’s loss while drunk, he invokes the 5 elements. So like Kamal (especially when Virumandi mentions sAmikki sonnA pOdhum’nu nenachen in the court when asked to prove his marriage). But while doing so, for kaathu, he swipes his hands behind his ass and for neruppu, he blows an imaginary beedi. Uncultured, but that is exactly how that character, when intoxicated, would behave. Again, how mainstream is this film! Hero gets a heroic introduction (subconsciously so, even while his story is being narrated by his adversary!), tames a bull and breaks into an intro song. But nothing is out of place.

Note when Peikaaman investigates Nallamma Naicker, and Virumandi escapes, there is an event and a dance which is a foil for the escape and the drama around it. I used to think it was Oyilaattam. Turns out, it is Devarattam, a preserve of the Naicker community, preserved by the descendants of Veerapandiya Kattabomman. The 2 dance forms do look similar but a key differentiator is Oyilaattam’s rhythm is provided by thavil [3] whereas Devarattam uses urumi and thappu [4]. The background score for that sequence uses urumi! This can be endless but again, note when the judge (who sentences Virumandi to death) is not too keen to hear details of the alleged rape (a subtle reflection of the general insular Indian mindset); Lawyer: “Matching accused Virumandi semmen…” Judge in an அத இப்ப சொல்லியே ஆகணுமா tone: “found in Annalakshmi’s body…aahn seri seri.” down to the வட்டார வழக்கு English, just like when Kondarasu speaks Telugu itself in a Kongu accent while Nallamma Naicker speaks it in a Madurai accent. Incredible. I also love how the poosari lies taking the ring granted by Annalakshmi in court. That’s how one places a knife inside the viewer.

Lesser details, but equally interesting; Annalakshmi is close to her pets, from the bovine to the avian variety. When she is assaulted by Kothaalan and left to rot, the first ones by her side are her pets. When Kothaalan’s tries breaking the door with his left arm, he flinches in pain and asks OAK Sundar to break it. He tried cutting his left shoulder to prove a point to Virumaandi long back in the film. It would hurt him, right? Now not showing all this does not lessen the film in any way. But showing them is what adds to the film and makes Kamal the writer/director who he is.

Folk Story

However, all of this aforementioned brilliance pales (with the exception of Nallamma Naicker story origin) in front of what Kamal and Raaja pulled off with 3 specific songs. All other songs are enjoyable, appreciable, aid narration (as Maada Vilakke does. Andha Kandamani is from Kothaalan’s perspective of a villain Virumandi who has soon gotten over his appatha’s death and drinks unrepentantly and Maada Vilakke from Virumandi’s perspective who is still mourning his appatha. Both are apt musically and mood wise for the exact same events. Stupendous). Eventually in the grander scheme of things, all songs except the 3 are red herrings. The 3 songs here are Karumathur Kaattukkulle, Andha Kaandamani and Garbageragam Vittu. Now there is a folk story revolving around village deities.

Vishnu is Mayandi, Shivan is Muniyandi, Parvathi is Pechiyamma and Brahma is Virumandi in Tamil village folklore around Madurai. The story goes like this. Pechiyamma, Shiva and Virumandi head down South from the abode beyond the Himalayas to search for a new haven. Virumandi, Pechi’s brother in local lore, makes his peace in Kerala and Pechiyamma settles down in Karumathur, a forest near Madurai. Peikaaman is a demon deity in the forest who harasses everyone around and does not like the poojai Pechiyamma does and approaches her with the offerings of a garland of liver and intestines of cow. Shiva is a vegetarian God and hence Pechiyamma turns those offerings into flowers but Peikaaman’s harassment persists, Shiva is powerless and so she searches down Virumandi from Kerala, requests him to help her out and after much deliberation, promises him a padayal (sheep offerings in this case) 6 times every day. He accepts her request and comes to fight Peikaaman. They battle. People around offer a solution; i.e. for Peikaaman and Virumaandi to go to a nearby peak and return and whoever does so first shall be the winners. Peikaaman, the demon lord of the jungle, offers Virumandi a horse whose leg is broken to win easily but Virumandi manages to eventually win. Now Pechi is bound by her promise but realizes an offering 6 times a day is not practical to sustain in the longer run and drops her ring into a well and requests Virumandi to take it out. He enters the well but Pechi locks it. He cries out against the injustice at what has happened to him after helping her out and she reasons with him and offers another deal. Every Aadi, the last Friday would be his when people offer 3 sheep with pongal as padayal and the tradition continues to this day.

This story is detailed in the Karumathur Kaattukkulle Oru Kaalathil song:

This song does not appear in the film completely. The first couple of lines make an appearance before Virumandi is hacked initially but it stops. Now consider this. Angela, new to the jail, is the Pechiyamma equivalent. Nasser is the powerless Shiva equivalent who is the new jailor. Virumandi belongs elsewhere but is brought to the jail with a false offering (false case in a subversion here). The jail is Peikaaman’s den. Narayanan, the death row inmate, initially complains Peikaaman tholla thaanga mudila.

Virumandi, it turns out, *IS* trapped in a well. Quite literally, it is the well in the land owned by his appatha. He bemoans to Annalakshmi en appatha kenathula vesatha kalakka vittutten. Why else would a well have to be a bone of contention? Of course, water, a resource, is a valid superficial plot point. But again, *these layers legitimately are what* Kamal is all about.

The song Andha Kandamani is all kinds of awesome now when we place the context and listen. It appears just after Virumandi (Kamal) is done burying his appatha in his well.

Pandi (Madurai), Malayalam (Kerala), Kasi (North as they hail), Rameswaram (South as they rule from Madurai) Adakki Alum Andiyappa…

…Peikaamana adakki vechcha Virumandi’ya Pechiyamma kooppudurA (justifying lore and also foreshadowing what would eventually happen).

The foreshadowing ain’t done yet. Virumandi and Peikaaman are shown in 2 frames as the prayer goes on.

AK 1

VK 2

Odhava karankodutha sAmiyE onnathAn adakki oduchadhu pAvam (justifying lore and foreshadowing Virumandi (Kamal) who would try mediating between Kondarasu and Kothaalan and would end up convicted for no fault of his).

SaNda prasandangAmen marubadi ezhundhA thanjamA nAnga enga pOvOm? (need I say anything?) All the songs except Unna Vida have been written by Raaja and Muthulingam.

Also, in Kamal’s love for mirrors, well archived here, truth and lie lies divided by a simple mirror. It places Virumandi and Peikaaman on the 2 sides. Not a coincidence from placing them in Andha Kandamani, says me.

Mirror Mirror On the Wall

Angela requests him to cooperate with her. He initially refuses. From the standpoint of stranger meeting stranger perspective, what Kamal pulled off is mind boggling (read this right away). Factor in the folklore, you are lost for words. Multiple layers, each with its own phenomenal depth exist side-by-side without affecting each other in the same sequence!

And when, in the climax, before the fight, as Peikaaman, in a subversion, offers a broken promise (broken horse to ride) in giving Kothaalan to Virumandi in return to receiving Angela for himself (going as far as to literally say “onakku naan pali tharEn da en Virumandi chaami!”) when in reality, he aligns with Kothaalan. As a weakened Virumandi (stabbed in the back by Kothaalan) heads out with forces, knowing not how to hold a gun, as against forces of Peikaaman, fully armed to the teeth, we get the denouement with Garbageragam Vittu Saami Veliyerudhu. The film’s narrative merges with the folklore in an awesomesauce (words don’t do justice) new age realization of the old as the Lord breaks out of his ‘jail’ to battle the dark forces.

As an important aside, how awesome is Raaja with his voice made gruff in both versions? Climax’s impact without music is 0. The primal rage, retribution, அறச்சீற்றம் (I love this word) is magnified several fold with the music. Never more than here have 2 versions to one song made more sense. Never more than here has divine justice and Karma been realized *this* viscerally on screen.

Again, how effective is the theme music itself? The darkness and tragedy around Virumandi (both the deity and the mortal) is reflected in the theme. Themes as abstract as they come find a phenomenally precise vent in the theme music. Even in the epilogue, the tragedy of the character holds. Like the deity, the mortal, even if he is physically freed, is likely to be jailed in a pointlessly unhappy future. The theme plays.

PS: The folklore to be honest is not Kamal’s knowledge. It is the knowledge of our கிராமிய மரபு. But it takes a Kamal to bring it to life in a modern art medium like cinema and place a commentary around the death penalty, flaws in a justice system in how the truth itself is perceived by it. That (commentary) is the most important takeaway on a superficial plane. But what Kamal has hidden in layer after layer in a way to say புரிஞ்சா புரிஞ்சுக்கோ இல்லாட்டி சொரிஞ்சுக்கோ (phrase hattip @dagalti) is beyond the scope of whatever that is which passes as mainstream Tamil cinema. Now I am a fanboi of Kamal and Raaja (as if that needed any saying) and what I say may come across as clouded by bias. But to me, they are the greatest filmmaker-composer collaboration that I have seen from what I understand as mainstream Indian cinema.

PPS: I hope all the details I have provided are accurate. If anyone spots any error, do let me know. I shall edit it.

Edit (On Aug 28, 2015): A few more pointers from Twitter and conversations. A mayyam post (original poster untraceable. If recognized, kindly mention, shall credit him) argued a couple more village deity based things here: http://goo.gl/Mw4o2r

For those who don’t read Tamil, the summary is here. There was this book by one Tho Pa which was the basis for the folklore in this film (acknowledged by Haasar himself in an interview). The author of that book also speaks of a couple more stories. One is the famous Annamalaiyaar story which had Shiva burst out as an unending flame and Vishnu and Brahma search the respective end and origin. Both fail but Brahma lies and gets cursed to never be worshiped. In the film, Virumandi lies in the court of law and gets asks by Nallamma Naicker inime nee nimmadhiyA thoonguvayA? Also, there is the folklore about Vellore’s Jalakandeswarar Temple to Shiva where the lingam was found from a well and there is also the tale of Pazhayanoor Neeli who is supposed be a guardian Angel from inside a well. Virumandi cries out that it is his appatha‘s blood and not water. His appatha‘s well to him is a நிரந்தர ஊத்து. The unnamed person argues Virumandi sees his appatha as his Pazhayanoor Neeli. The well, apart from literally and metaphorically trapping Virumandi in the film, is also the meeting point for him and Annalakshmi several times; to romance, confide, repent.

Also, Virumandi twirls his mustache after crying in front of the camera in the TV station. Might seem like an over-analysis, but what the hell. It is a subconscious reference to a நீ ஆம்பள. அழக்கூடாது. மீசைய முறுக்கு sentiment methinks.

Something that strikes me now. Pechi in the folklore drops her ring and traps Virumandi. Here, Annalakshmi offers her ring to the poosari who takes it out (apart from being a brilliant moment), hides it and lies and traps Virumandi. Virumandi trapped in the well guards over Karumathur is the belief. Virumandi in the film is trapped in a jail (the ‘ring’ connecting both the deity and mortal being trapped) and hence, Virumandi is a sort of Guardian Angel for the jail. Garbageram Vittu Saami Veliyerudhu is now not only very apt, the final climax cries for the battle and the song! And how does Raaja deliver. The song with Pandi Malayalam begins as they break the outer wall and the prelude of running to the gate goes with Viru Virumandi refrain. Raaja begins his Garbageragam Vittu exactly as the outer gate (Garbageram) is broken and Virumandi steps out. The timing, flow, control over medium, how Raaja and Kamal merge is nothing short of phenomenal. A friend was telling me yesterday that the film without Raaja is still a Giant. True, for cinema is a director’s medium. But with Raaja, it becomes a demon. Is this the greatest Tamil film ever? Yeah, the level of internalization and usage is insane here. Along with Hey Ram, yes, there is a convincing case to consider this right up there.

References:

  1. http://tamil.chennaionline.com/tamilcolumn/newsitem.aspx?NEWSID=5f5906ee-866b-4455-9429-66ba1a17afd3&CATEGORYNAME=Seeta
  2. http://www.legalservicesindia.com/article/article/conversion-and-reservation-christian-dalits-and-the-obstacles-to-social-mobility-1385-1.html
  3. http://beautyspotsofindia.com/oyilattam/
  4. http://www.india9.com/i9show/Devarattam-26478.htm

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Thoughts on Guna

Warning: Potentially lengthy read. May end up boring you to death, putting you to sleep or maybe if your stars are aligned with mine, rivet you. Anyway, jump along.

I happened to re-watch Guna recently and as is the wont with any film of intelligence involving Kamal in the ‘90s, it sent me on a trip. On the surface, this is a film about a person with obsessional psychoneurosis who kidnaps a woman who comes under the influence of Stockholm syndrome, likes him but the plot contrives them to death. But there is more to it than this in my considered opinion. I just feel like archiving my thoughts on the film here. So here goes.

I feel it is up there with other Kamal works like Hey Ram and Virumandi as a master-class in Indian film history. The story and screenplay are credited to one Sab John and the dialogues to Balakumaran, while the direction is by Santhanabharathi. Superficially, there is no Kamal other than the lead actor and occasional singer. But peer closely and there are enough filmmaking signatures which tell me subtly that there is quite a lot of Kamal all over the place (for a broader discussion on the same across many films, hattip: Dagalti). Let me broadly focus on the screenplay, scene composition and the music (Ilaiyaraaja; genius bursting out everywhere) which in my opinion makes this film an insanely great achievement by Kamal and Raaja.

Prologue and its Poetry

The first sequence itself is richly conceived. The film’s first shot after the opening credits is a full moon with a man standing like Lord Shiva on a terrace top.

First Shot of Guna

We are then provided a tapestry into a North Hyderabadi settlement (vote for TDP, vote for BJP graffiti on the wall to go with Charminar shown with the opening credits) which houses a brothel. This is kind of evident when a woman, dressed like a courtesan of yore, dances to Inhin logon ne le liya dupatta mera (these folks have taken my Dupatta off) from Pakeezah, a 1972 film about a courtesan! It is even more evident when, as the song fades to the background, Kaka Radhakrishnan, a quack, assures a person he doesn’t have AIDS, followed by telling a girl, “ரெண்டு மாசம் தானே? கலச்சுரலாம்.” There is Ismail, a local dada, extorting from the folks and taking care of the Police. A corrupt yet thriving settlement is made clear in a single sequence of admirable detailing. The shot pans to Kamal, who is revealed to be the guy standing like Shiva, the longshot zooming to him reigning down on a wedding procession and he goes down to the bride and utters a verse from Abiraami Anthaadhi and gets kicked about. Pause.

*Tangent*

Abiraami Anthaadhi was written by one Abiraami Battar. His legend is of interest in context with this film. He was someone who was obsessed with the Hindu female deity Parvathi aka Abiraami, so much so that he was branded a lunatic by the people around him. He was also known to see Abiraami in every woman he saw and went about praying to every girl. One fine day, the King Serfoji of Thanjavur, visits Battar’s hometown Thirukkadaiyur, learns about him and asks him what day it is. Battar answers it is the full moon day, when in reality, it was a new moon day. An argument is supposed to have ensued and the King declares that unless Battar proves that the day has a full moon, he’d be put to death. Battar places himself on a plank strung to a ceiling by 100 strings with boiling oil beneath. He goes on to sing an Anthaadhi, where every verse’s last word is the first word for the next verse and cuts of one string at the end of each verse. At the end of the 79th verse, it is said that Abiraami tossed her earring, moved by his devotion, and the earring manifested itself on the sky as a full moon, stirring the King and everyone around to be thrilled by Battar’s devotion. He went on to sing 21 more, with the 100th verse’s final word being the first verse’s first. Nice symmetry.

*End Tangent*

The full moon makes vague sense as Kamal gets beaten about, with some cruel irony in there with him uttering “சென்னியின் மேல் பத்ம பாதம் பதித்திடவே” (placing your lotus feet on my head) as he gets kicked around [1].

This supposed madman, with his doctor in the asylum as he rages, keeps circling with the camera moving with the circle and the doctor standing still on a tangent, in some superbly conceived scene geometry. The theme music, to dominate the film later, makes its first appearance, a leitmotif of the score that sounded with the opening credits, underpinning a troubled mind. Guna, as Kamal is revealed to be, hallucinates about a mountain which provides the chills. Abiraami is மலைமகள், after all and he ends up jamming on a door, opening the film up to full credits as Raaja sings a brilliantly written Sidhar paadal to cap what to me is among the most poetic prologues to any mainstream Indian film.

General Themes

The film touches upon quite a few themes, handled with varying degrees of finesse, all interesting and some eminently gratifying. To be sure, this is subjective, but with Kamal, it is alright to read in without inhibitions.

The film skirts briefly with effeminate men. Ganesa Iyer, a Guru of sorts to Guna who implants the idea of Abiraami in him and sends him off with a thaali to Kaka Radhakrishnan (Mangalyam Thanthunaane), wears a mark on his forehead and speaks and dances like a woman. The Chithappa, a very engaging Janakaraj, bets on his masculinity, only to immediately flip when confronted by Ismail and unabashedly exclaims he’s a woman. A more direct instance is when an iconic song has the lines, “சிவகாமியே சிவனில் நீயும் பாதியே…”, quite literally invoking the ultimate instance of the effeminate man in Ardhanareeshwara. But the film doesn’t really tell us more than this (edit: the song Unnai Ariven has a shot of Rosy lighting a lamp in front of a photo of Ardhanaareeshwara).

A more evident theme to me was the film dealing with religious patriarchy, which is evident among the characters. Guna is a man of conventional rights and wrongs (“தூங்கறதுக்கு இருட்டு வரலியே”). He can be capable of incredible heart (“அங்க ஒரு குருவிய கொன்னுட்டாங்க குயிலே”). But he also has his shades of grey. He justifies him stealing a car; comparing it with the quasi legitimacy Rosy and his mother receive, indulging in prostitution. To take it up a notch, he chains his woman in his house! This from a man who rages infinitum and even kills another man for a dead sparrow! Why, even his mother, technically Abiraami’s mother-in-law eventually, gags her and throws her into a dungeon initially. Mysskin and Pisaasu anyone? Also, as he lets her bath, he lets us know, “புகுந்த வீட்டுக்கு வந்து பொறந்த வீட்டு பெருமைய பேச கூடாது [2].” Heck, even the doctor, before the climax, to lure Guna, lets him know that “புருஷனுக்கு பாத்ததுக்கு அப்பறம் தான் பொண்டாட்டிக்கி.” However, quite curiously in a witty subversion, he eats from her plate after she finishes (the reason given is lack of plates. But read with these instances from the film, you know where I’d wager my bet on).

Immortality, Divinity and Music

However, the most obvious and gratifying themes were religious symbolism and immortality. The theme, we think is meant for love, also plays very briefly with a leitmotif registering the first few notes when he rushes to see his mother who he thinks is dead [3]. She says “நான் சாக மாட்டேன்”, assuring to him of her immortality. Janakaraj tells Guna before doping him that he is “பாதி சாமி.” This seems important to Guna, to be constantly reassured of his divinity. There is also a wee bit of make believe and a leap of faith necessary where he borders on possessing superhuman strength, to repeatedly recover after falling from a cliff to being shot, that it’s also plausible that the screenplay thrusts some divinity, outside the scope of his hallucinations, on him. Guna tells ‘Rohini’ “எதுக்கு சாவனும்? நமக்கு சாவில்ல” as she wants to kill herself. In fact, he simply walks away after introducing his name with some delight, oblivious of her perilous state [4], almost as if he is assured of her divinity that he doesn’t consider death as a possibility! In fact, he takes her to a mountain top, as is the residence of a மலைமகள், worthy of the name Abiraami.

It is impossible to talk about the screenplay without the music and vice-versa. The depth in this film’s music places it right up there among the top of the table in my experience with Indian films. The numerous leitmotifs to the theme come when ‘Rohini’ is seen as Abiraami by Guna and the ‘divinity’, such an abstract thing/emotion, finds vent in the music so aptly that this author is lost for words. I’d say the music is inseparable from the divinity and immortality in the film. In some breathtaking poetry of scene composition and music, it plays when Guna sees her in the halo of the Sun.

Abiraami

Abiraami

It plays when she is dead, in a gory way. It plays when he first spots her, in a temple. The theme gets fulfillment there. That entire stretch is screenwriting/music composing porn. Allow me to indulge. He is goaded by Janakaraj that Abiraami would come, “pippiripippiripee”, and there materializes a beautiful woman he sees as Abiraami. She spots him, casts a benign smile and walks away. He asks himself if she is Abiraami and follows her in the other direction. His head hits the bell, the signboard he hits points him to her, the screen dislodges a veil to shine the Sun on him and even the security Guard points his finger toward her. The stars, with the deities, animate and inanimate objects seem to align to tell him She is his Abiraami. The theme, playing in raga Sarangatharangini, changes scales to Paavani, as verses from Abiraami Anthaadhi begin. At ஆயகியாதி உடையாள், the camera pans to her feet. The line literally means Abiraami’s feet is the origin of everything and presents Battar there. Ilaiyaraaja and Kamal are firmly in fifth gear now.

The song begins. Stunning melody. Paavani, the raga, literally means remover of sins (interesting, because Guna helps steal from the temple the next day and is immediately repentant. Seeing ‘Abiraami’, he follows her, seemingly wanting her to show him the way out of his sins). The rhythm pattern (thaaLam) operated by Ilaiyaraaja is Kandam (beat of 5, tha ka tha ki ta). Kandam is the beat used for Shiva thaandavam. The interlude is a brief reentry to another verse of the Anthaadhi which praises the jewels that stay firm on Abiraami’s breasts (முத்துவடம் கொண்ட கொங்கை – muthuvadam meaning pearl necklance and kongai meaning breasts) and her vagina that is beautiful like a cobra (நல்லரவின் படம் கொண்ட அல்குல் பனிமொழி வேத பரிபுரையே – nalaravam – nallapaambu – cobra; algul – vagina), she being of speech that cools us (paNimozhi), with all the Vedas present at her feet; and Raaja takes a brief detour to a pleasant Kalyani raga exactly as the film rolls to the filmy Abiraami’s breasts at முத்துவடம் கொண்ட கொங்கை, almost asking to take pleasure, and reverts back to Paavani from நல்லரவின், as Guna goes on a hallucination trip into a Shiva thaaNdavam with this Abiraami, ending with the cheNdai pouring its rhythm; a subversion of a devotion bordering on the erotic in the Anthaadhi to divine love here. Outstanding.

Addendum: A crystallization after a twitter convo with @athreyaa. The beauty in the changing of scales from Sarangatharangini (ST) to Paavani is the difference is 1 note and a variation in another. SaRiGaMaPaDhaNi are the 7 swaras. But for Sa and Pa (which don’t have variants), RiGaMaDhaNi have 2 or more variants each. That way, Paavani has Ri1 and ST has Ri2. Not a big difference but the addition of Ga1 to Paavani (which ST does not possess) makes it a vivadi raga. Now vivadi ragas, especially those with with Ri1, are considered divine (in feel, mood, etc.). Now consider this. A mundane yet attractive Rohini (underlined by a melodious ST) becomes Abiraami to the lover/seeker and that is underlined by a divine Paavani as the song segues to Abiraami Anthaadhi. Insane genius. To opine further, I’d like to quote the man himself to say: http://www.tubechop.com/watch/5611673

Unnai Naan Ariven is a great song too; a picturization of great symmetry, beginning in the brothel where Guna is put to sleep, travelling across the brothel/settlement to ghazal, Telugu folk and back to Guna with his mother putting him to sleep. But before she gets to her son (hattip: the Dagalti post linked above), there is a rich sequence where she peeps over to monitor business between a client and a prostitute working under her, all the while praying to the Gods, seemingly indifferent to the irony! Also, note how Rosy suddenly looks at the rickety table fan as the song segues to ghazal mode because of the change in the Tabla rhythm, this at the back of Guna telling her “இதுல சத்தம் தான் வரும்”! What detailing man! All round brilliance.

Kanmani Anbodu Kaadhalan is set to Shankarabharanam. The raga quite literally means an ornament on Lord Shiva. Was this deliberate too? Maybe not. But will it stop me from reading in? No. After all, this is Raaja and Kamal we are talking about.

Coming back to the divinity minus music briefly, the crooks who assist Guna and his uncle before they are eventually killed are curiously named as Kaasi and Anumanthu (Guna in fact calls him Anumaar!!), names associated with Shiva and Rudra. To make this more evident, Anumaar is killed by a trident which was part of the loot!

Trident

As a side note, the police officer after Guna is called Moovendar (meaning Lord of the 3 worlds and Shiva having 3 eyes and a trident and all that. You get the drift). There is also a wickedly ironic moment where the villain SK, the only character with trite and clichéd dialogues (more of a nitpick this), gives permission for Ismail to rape Abiraami inside a dilapidated Church! But then, Ismail refers to her as a देवता as he sees her for the first time in the dungeon.

Sekoolar

Above all, there is the presence of Abiraami Battar, his Anthaadhi and legend all over the film. He wants to tie the thaali to Abiraami on Pournami. He is derided as a lunatic. He ends up tying the thaali a day before Pournami, because Abiraami tells him this IS Pournami, a subversion of Abiraami making a full moon when it was not for Battar’s sake.

The end happens when, despite his unshakable belief in their immortality, she dies. Guna’s nemesis is eventually Abiraami’s and his mortality. Not humans, who he disdainfully tosses away. His penultimate statement before dying is stating he is a சாமி, holding Abiraami like the Shiva of lore held Sati.

Naan Saami

The final shot of the film is the full moon that eventually arrives that night.

Final Snap of Full Moon

The first shot of the film was a full moon. So was the last shot. The second shot of the film was Guna standing on a terrace top like Shiva. The penultimate shot of the motion picture is Guna standing in a similar pose with Abiraami. Talk of symmetry! Especially when Abiraami Anthaadhi’s final word is the same as its first word.

What do you do when presented with such high art? Kamal and Raaja are great creators. Together, they are just something else. Every film of theirs where Kamal has been involved in significant degrees as a creator has been absolute magic on screen. This simply stands head and shoulders above even among their best.

PS:

[1]: http://www.tubechop.com/watch/5575149

[2]: http://t.co/Cc86i2EPWW

[3]: http://www.tubechop.com/watch/5575185

[4]: http://www.tubechop.com/watch/5575198

PPS: Bouquets and brickbats welcome.

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