‘Mullum Malarum’ stays fresh in mind even after 40 years

Sarath Babu in the song Senthaazham Poovil.

Chennai: From an open jeep cruising through the hairpin bends of Ooty originates this humming by K J Yesudas. Surprisingly, four decades have gone since then, and till today, this aalap of ‘Senthaazham Poovil’, along with the picturisation and the presentation of the song gives goosebumps to movie buffs.

On this day, which marks forty years of the blockbuster ‘Mullum Malarum‘ (15 August 1978), ‘News Today’ revisits the move that made this Rajini-Mahendran venture evergreen and refreshing even after two score years.
‘Mullum Malarum’s central idea was nothing new to Tamil cinema – it had already witnessed brother-sister bonding drama in iconic flicks like ‘Paasamalar’ (1961).
But, just imagine a rugged brother (Rajini), who calls himself ‘Ketta paiyan sir intha Kaali’, is always ready to obey whatever his sister Valli (Shoba) orders.

Actress Shoba who played Valli.
The usual sibling tales of cinema have always explored their devotion, but it was probably the first time, Mullum Malarum touched upon personal characterisation. The character of Kaali and Valli add weight to the story line.
Even the movie’s title can be understood differently in relation to the character: one, the general context Mull (thorn) – representing Kaali – and Malar (flower) – representing Valli.
But, the subtext of the title reveals the plot which means, ‘Even a thorn can bloom’ (Mul kooda malarum). So does Kaali, when his lovable sister chooses him over her man Kumaran (Sarath Babu) in the climax.
At that instant, thorny Kaali flowers, and accepts the wish of Valli, despite the hatred he has towards Kumaran.
Howbeit, there is enough justification for this positive climax. The way Mahendran develops a very fierce antagonism between Kaali and Kumaran paves the way to this deep-driven end.
While there are two tracks of affection – Kaali towards Valli and Kumaran’s love for Valli – all emotions are put together equally in the screenplay of Mullum Malarum.
The strength of the plot is that though there is a difference of opinion between Kaali and Kumaran, they are good in their own ways. It is the ruggedness of Kaali that, in a series of incidents, keeps away Kumaran and vice-versa.
This balance in writing and filming was one of the first-time experiences for the audience of the time.
We cannot stop with just crediting the writing for Mullum Malarum was backed by brilliant technicalities. One would never have thought of the poetic cinematographer Balu Mahendra capturing a raw folk-like ‘Raman Aandaalum Raavanan Aandaalum‘.
Not just that song, but the entire runtime was an experiment for this ace lensman. Every vibe of Valli and Kaali would be visible onscreen. The re-framing by Balu Mahendra in the song ‘Senthazham Poovil’ shows the unexpressed love of Valli and Kumaran on screen.
And, what else can one say about Ilayaraja’s score except that it was mind-blowing? The movie’s album has four songs in four different genres. After a long time, since ‘Kalyana Samayal Saadham’ in ‘Maya Bazaar’ (1957), this crazy and delicious number ‘Nitham Nitham Nelluchoru‘ followed up the legacy of referring to a whole cuisine in lyrics.
When it comes to original score, ‘Mullum Malarum’ is till date ranked among the top 10 works of Ilayaraja. His silence, as usual, rules in most places. Especially in the climax when the entire hamlet opposes Kaali, while his sister Valli alone stands by him, the pause and break of the original score stands out showing the emotion in the minds of the viewers.
Pulling them all off into a perfectly shaped ‘Mullum Malarum’ would have been a simpler task for director Mahendran than identifying the actor inside Rajini.
And since then, ‘Mullum Malarum’ has been one of the best-performed movies of the actor who gained star value. Though Mahendran has been a successful scriptwriter before ‘Mullum Malarum’, this directorial debut and the impact he created places him among the top filmmakers of the country and he never descended from there.