Redefining crazy with a 1980’s Tamil classic

As I was absent-mindely clicking away, looking for something short to watch to unwind, the following movie popped up in my YouTube recommendations:

The thumbnail is far from appealing, but I.. I watched the entire thing.

I know you have a lot of questions right now, like:

  1. What is this.
  2. Why would you watch this.
  3. What have you even been watching for YouTube to recommend this to you.
  4. You’re not going to force us to partake in your misery by writing a long-winded description of the whole movie for us, are you?

The answers:

  1. Mouna Geethangal– Some trashy Bhagyaraj movie from the 1980’s.
  2. I dunno lol. To get in touch with my Tamil roots? because I’m a sucker for punishment?
  3. Hmm, good question.
  4. : )

I feel like I should preface this post with some kind of warning, but I don’t know whom exactly to safeguard from this mess. If I had to pick one demographic to stay the hell away, it would be film connoisseurs  fashion experts people who don’t hate themselves non-Tamils  women, probably.

Our Hero, Bhagyaraj, is a suave, handsome, highly-educated Real Man with Real Needs and Real Desires. He attends job interviews with his shirt unbuttoned.

hero
Hi, friends.

The Meet-Cute: Our Heroine, Suguna, is a smart, ambitious woman who is prone to- if it were the West a few decades ago- what would be described as female hysteria, but since it’s a 1980’s Tamil movie, she’s just your average female character written by a man (Bhagyaraj). Right now, she’s just determined to ace the job interview. When she arrives, the chatty peon at the office tells her that all the other job applicants left because they were too intimidated by our Hero’s qualifications. Suguna is unflustered. Instead of leaving, she introduces herself to Bhagyaraj as one of the recruiters and informs him that it’ll just be a couple of minutes before his interview. She walks into the main office, pretends to interact with the other employees, and then returns to Bhagyaraj, faking a sympathetic expression. “I’m sorry, my boss just called to say he hired someone else”, she says and watches him dejectedly leave.

The Courtship: After getting the job just as she planned, she encounters Bhagyaraj outside, who looks the picture of misery. Her begs her to help him get a job in the office. Seeing no way out of it, she promises to try her best. They exchange contact details.

What follows is a bizarre courtship ritual. He first turns up at her house with… 3 sathukudis. For his next visit, he abandons the sweet limes in favour of a skipping rope for her little sister, a cricket bat for her brother, and a copy of the Bhagavad Gita for her grandmother. (This is turning into an odd memory game for kids to play on long car journeys). On his subsequent visits, he brings with him his dashing good looks, his sharp wit, and his resume. At some point during his endless requests for a job recommendation, she falls for him.

sathukudilove
Sathukudi-lovin’ had me a blast

A vacancy in the same office conveniently pops up. Bhagyaraj turns up for the interview, looking resplendent in a silky, orange floral-patterned shirt, black bell-bottoms and a big, red pottu adorning his forehead. He asks if she recommended him to the boss and she lies with a nod.  He then goes on to ace the interview and get the job, purely by his own merit. The interview goes like this:

Boss: Do you know how to use birth control?

Bhagyaraj: Yes.

Boss: You must be thinking I’m a mootal, asking about birth control in a job interview.

Bhagyaraj: Of course not! You, sir, are a budhi saali. You’re just checking to see which applicants would get married, have kids, and ask for bonuses and whine about pay cuts because their family is now their priority! Correct-aa?

Boss: Correctu! Super! You var appointed!

As Bhagyaraj is leaving, the peon asks how it went.”I got the job! Thanks to Suguna’s recommendation!” To which the peon replies, “Hahaha, Suguna ma was only hired a couple weeks ago, she has no influence here lol”.

Bhagyaraj is enraged/amused/infatuated by her. I’m not sure which emotion exactly because everything that happens in Tamil movies is surreal and confusing and comes with its own standards for normal human behaviour. Anyway, after playing along and teasing her and then flirting for a few more agonizing scenes, they get married.

The Marriage: This is when the crazy begins. Some notable moments:

  • Suguna’s nightly break-downs, during which, in between her loud sobs, hair-pulling and spirited chest-heaving, she begs him to never leave/ cheat on her.
  • Suguna’s tantrum (?) after discovering 20 rupees missing from his salary. She demands to know what/whom he spent it on, and when he offers no answer, proceeds to call him a cheat, a thief, a scoundrel, and then violently beats her chest and bangs her head against the window grills.
  • Bhagyaraj’s work trip. While lodging at a dodgy inn which also functions as a brothel, he struggles not to give in to temptation. On his final night there, he decides to let the coy, plump malli-poo-scented women giggle him into becoming one of their clients.  Just before he gives into his Real Man Desires, his wife calls to tell him she loves him. After the call, he is about to return to the prostitute, when a bunch of cops turn up and handcuff all the women and the men who were with them. He is saved thanks to the timing of his wife’s call.
  • Bhagyaraj yelling at his wife for not performing her wifely duties one night because she is on her period. (“Couldn’t you have told me this when I bought you malli-poo this morning? Or when I took you to the cinema? Or at least when I ordered you a biryani at Buhari Hotel? You tell me NOW?!”) To which she responds by dissolving into sobs and treating him to the usual barrage of her chosen curse words- “You,you.. you scoundrel!! You,you.. you fraud!! You,you..you dammit!!” (Since this scene, I’ve been using “Dammit” as a noun.)
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Tears: the best nightly beauty ritual
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Running-away-from-temptation-in-a-brothel sample outfit

But what leads to their shambles of a marriage finally falling apart is Suguna reuniting with her old friend, a young, white-saree clad widow, whose life she’s helping getting back on track. Bhagyaraj is vocally critical of her because widows bring bad luck and can not be trusted or whatever screwed-up symbolism he was going for. And you thought the Tamil movies of today are misogynistic and regressive.

One night, Suguna requests her husband to drop the friend back home. It’s late and she can’t go alone. On their autorickshaw ride to her place, he is splashed by mud or something… I don’t remember the exact plot device they used for getting him into her house and into her bedroom. While washing off the mud, a faulty faucet drenches him while he struggles to turn it off. In response to his yells, the woman rushes in and gets soaked too. She slips, she falls into his arms, and after some gratuitous displays of her in a flimsy, wet, white saree, he gives into his Real Man Desires. You’re probably wondering a lot of things; I urge you to cast aside your thoughts about newfangled nonsense like “consent” and “what about the woman” and “why would two people sleep with each just because they were together in a confined space”. Remember, this woman is a good-for-nothing widow who brings bad luck.

The Divorce:  After learning of her husbands little “mistake”, Suguna engages in more self-mutilation and then- in the only normal display of human behaviour so far- divorces his cheating ass.

Suguna goes back to her family, who treat her to some much-deserved respect and sympathy. Haha, kidding, of course they yell at her and chastise her for being so stubborn and cruel to her paavam husband. He is a man! All men make mistakes! You have to forgive him, her grandmom and dad scold her like she’s an errant child. Speaking of children, she is now pregnant. Clearly Bhagyaraj lied at the job interview.

The post-Divorce period: Suguna gets a job (She’d quit after marriage because what kind of self-respecting wife has a career). She finds support in a female colleague, Meena ka. Years pass. The kid grows up to look the splitting image of his father (They just cast a random kid with zero resemblance to Bhagyaraj, but they give him the same hair and glasses so apparently they’re like father, like son). Things seem to be going pretty okay for her.

Until the day a New Boss is introduced to the employees, and it turns out to be none other than our Hero. Suguna is quick to start writing her resignation letter, but Meenaka urges her to be practical. There is a lot of high-pitched yelling from Suguna’s side (He is a scoundrel! He is a fraud!) (Why does she always switch to English while cursing?), but she agrees to stay. She forces herself to remain calm and professional during their interactions, despite his constant harassment and begging for them to get back together.

Finally, after pushing her to yell at him in rage, he slaps her loudly across the face and raises his voice. “How long do you expect me to apologize? I’m a MAN! I have my prestige! I give you 30 days to come back to me! If you don’t, you will be ruined!” (My translations don’t do justice to the original dialogues) Nice! For a second, you almost forget who is at fault here.

He also moves into a house opposite to hers and makes supposedly “adorable” attempts to win his son over, but I’ll spare you the details of that.

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Genetics, amirite?

Remember when I said “This is when the crazy begins” several paragraphs ago. I was wrong. This is where the crazy begins.

Bhagyaraj’s ridiculous ultimatum doesn’t fetch his desired results and 30 days pass without Suguna’s anger at his betrayal subsiding. I forgot to mention that everyone in the office knows about their drama and the ultimatum and the peon is constantly reprimanding Suguna ma for not listening to Saar. Such a professional working environment. Also, I have no idea what exactly their profession is and what this office does? It’s just some generic office with desks and ledgers and where everyone is unnaturally invested in their boss’ love life.

Meanwhile, in accordance with Bhagyaraj’s prophecy about his ex-wife being “ruined”, the office lecher sets his sights on Suguna and he will stop at nothing to bed her. He boasts to the employees that she has agreed to come over that night, and tells them to wait outside his door for proof. He then calls her pretending to be a kidnapper who has her son. In a panic, she rushes to the address he gives her. She is shocked to find her creepy colleague brandishing a knife and pointing to the bed. A crazy confrontation ensues. He tries to rape her, she attacks him and curses him in English (this time, she calls him a bastard which was unexpected and hilarious, despite the circumstances). He then says that now she’s already been in his flat for ten whole minutes, the damage to her reputation is done. The colleagues who- like mature adults- are standing outside watching the door, do the needful by spreading the word.

The next morning, everyone at work is whispering and side-eyeing her like a bunch of teenage bullies. She tries to get answers out of Meenaka, but even her only friend walks away without speaking. She confronts her: “Don’t you trust me? He tricked me! Nothing happened!” Meenaka solemnly stares into space, and the dramatic music builds up as she gives the following cryptic response: “I trust you, but I don’t trust your age.”

She then overhears the peon updating Bhagyaraj about her night with Office Creep. Our Hero doesn’t believe him. He stares into space and makes the following cryptic exclamation: “If any man touches her, she’d set herself on fire and burn him too!” (It is possible something got lost in my translation, but it was a pretty simple statement. Maybe it’s an expression? He can’t seriously be insinuating that a honourable thing for a rape victim to do is set herself and her rapist on fire… can he?). Unable to deal with the hostility/people talking in code, Suguna breaks down in tears and runs away from the office.

Our Hero finally does something heroic and forces a confession out of the Office Creep, that the entire office listens to. Suguna is vindicated. Now that she’s no longer the slutty slut she thought she was, Meenaka graciously goes to her friend and tells her that all is forgiven and things can go back to normal. Cool. Suguna is collapsed on her sofa, sobbing, chest-heaving, the likes (only this time, it was completely warranted). Suguna realizes that her ex had her back when no one else did and that she now wants to reunite with him. She voices her realizations and the two women fall into each other’s arms, giggling uncontrollably. The giggles continued for an awkwardly long duration and made me very uncomfortable.

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Female friendships ❤

The (Happy??!!) Ending: You should just re-adjust your standards of crazy to accommodate what follows.

Suguna rushes to Bhagyaraj’s house to proclaim her love for him. But what’s this! A wedding ceremony is underway! And Our Hero is the groom seated next to a strange woman, holding a thaali!

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STOP! I LOVE YOU, TAKE ME BACK, PLSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS, she begs.

“You lost your chance, he gave you 30 days to decide but you were too arrogant! Now leave!”, the peon tells her. (Why is he even here.)

PLSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS, she begs, chest-heaving, sobbing, pulling out her hair, etc.

He looks her squarely in the eye and proceeds to tie the thaali around his new bride’s neck.

Suguna wails for an uncomfortably long time as the wedding music rises. She then rushes back home to make preparations for… a murder-suicide, you know like what women who’ve been rejected by men usually do. She’s not planning to murder him, oh no. The victim would be her son, remember him? Unfortunately for her, the kid sees her mixing poison into their glasses of milk and refuses to drink it. Nothing seems to be going according to plan for her today! Fine, go! Go be with your father, she angrily shoos him away.

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Stop fussing! Will you drink it if I add some Bournvita?

Just as she’s about to gulp down her poison paal, she’s interrupted by someone at the door. It’s…the peon (Seriously, what is this guy’s deal?). He’s accompanied by… the bride.

“Hahahahaha, Suguna ma! GOTCHA!”, he exuberantly declares. “This ‘bride’ is my sister! She was just acting! Boss just wanted to teach you a lesson. It was all an act! Now, go! Your husband and son are waiting for you!”

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THE END.

Since we’re all clearly speechless, as a concluding statement, I’m going to paste a woman‘s YouTube comment here:

“super family entertainment n especially for women’s those who r not respecting the great human as husband. nice n real actors bakkiyaraj sir, saritha n that cute boy super ji👌”
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We are all Suguna ma right now.
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10 thoughts on “Redefining crazy with a 1980’s Tamil classic

  1. Ok but the woman commenter is totally not a woman it’s a man pretending to be female on the internet thanks bye

  2. While this post is funny… there are a few points I’d like to make.

    The scene in which Bhagyaraj is mad at his wife for not letting him know about her periods, the moment she mentions about her pain, he immediately apologizes. He’s not walking off saying “Who cares about your pain? I want sex!”

    The scene in which they quarrel over the missing 20 rupees from his salary, after her crazy fit, he confesses he used it for film tickets of her favourite director. And later, he goes into the bedroom and breaks down. She walks in and consoles him and while his face is buried in her, he repeatedly apologizes for whatever he said.

    Bhagyaraj is at fault for having done the “thappu” with the widow, just like how Ross did something when he and Rachel were on a break. But, it’s difficult for both Ross and Bhagyaraj to apologize directly. Male ego. Even when Ross and Rachel patch up, Ross gets intimidated when he learns that Rachel expects him to accept that he’s completely at fault. Even when a sobbing Bhagyaraj apologizes to Saritha after the film ticket argument, his face is buried in her arms. He’s not looking her in the face. He can’t. That’s the way male psychology works in relationships. Whether it’s right or wrong is another debate altogether but that’s reality.

    Although Bhagyaraj never directly apologizes to her for the “thappu” he did, the screenplay gradually builds up his apology through indirect means. He’s never married another woman. He’s taking care of Saritha’s family. He’s not troubling her in office after she said, “Shut up sir” on the first day. He’s trying to spend time with their son. When the mother and son have a fight and the son apologizes to her, she hears Bhagyaraj’s voice from the past asking for apology. In a way, he’s asking for apology through the son’s mouth. And then she also sees how other couples and males around her are. There are quite a few instances shown. And the final blow is when she realises he still trusts her. So even if Bhagyaraj never directly falls at her feet and cries “Sorry for what I did!”, he’s worked the apology into his screenplay.

    I’m not a Bhagyaraj fanboy! And I’m not claiming this Mouna Geethangal to be a masterpiece. I do feel awkward watching the “vesham sequence” in the climax. And I don’t understand why a woman should burn herself if touched by someone else. And this film does have some of the typical heightened melodrama of its times. All I’m trying to say is any film should be viewed through the prism of the society and the time in which it was made.

    It’s true that Kollywood is extremely misogynistic even today, but I wouldn’t blindly sweep Bhagyaraj aside as a misogynistic filmmaker. He was relatively more sensitive to emotions, as compared to his contemporaries. His films are among the few that portray sensitive male characters. It’s rare to see the hero breaking down in front of the heroine even in films today. I loved that bedroom argument in fact. It’s an inevitable moment in a marriage. There will definitely come a day when one of the partners wants sex and the other doesn’t. What happens on that day impacts the fate of the marriage. I can’t think of any other film that had such a brutally honest scene! Yes, there’s Saritha’s antics and the funny English. But, isn’t that who we are as a country that picked up English from a foreign power? Don’t we still have a brilliant English-speaking host named Gopinath who invents his own words like “nuantic”?

    TLDR: Silly though this film may seem due its outdated cinematic language, it’s about fissures in a married relationship and how for a specific couple of that period, such a fissure gets patched up. And in that way its core is relevant even today.

    1. This definitely wasn’t supposed to be a balanced or “nuantic” analysis. The humour lies in looking at the movie from the perspective of a woman- who’s not well-versed in 80’s Tamil movies- in 2017.

      Few things could be commended, like the lead actress looking like your average Tamil woman, rather than some exceptionally light-skinned, overly-made-up doll who is way out of the male lead’s league. And the female lead actually did stuff (even if it was completely insane stuff), unlike contemporary “heroines”. The plot is still way better than the formulaic crap being churned out today.

      It’s still hard to look past several things, like the Other Woman being a white-saree-clad widow; completely unnecessary, especially considering the stigma attached to widows in India (the 80’s weren’t all that long ago for this to be excused!), and the wife being not-so-subtly shamed for dumping her cheating husband. Yes, it was interesting that the man wasn’t your stereotypical macho guy. But he did cheat on her (which he successfully managed to on his second attempt) and even hit her- him shedding a few tears now and then wasn’t memorable enough. If anything, all these taken together have the makings of an abusive relationship.

      There’s no shame in a limited/nonexistent English vocabulary, but unnatural stilted English dialogues in Tamil movies are always hilarious because they’re completely unnecessary. Why resort to childish English insults when there are so many better Tamil ones?

      I can appreciate the movie for its complex storyline about a dysfunctional relationship that was equal parts entertaining and disturbing, but I wouldn’t say it has much of a message, let alone one that is relevant today. I’m just not Bhagyaraj’s target audience, which is what made my recap a fun exercise!

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