Not many films would get such contrasting ratings from me for the two halves, so for this alone Mouna Ragam stands out. Unfortunately this also means I have to throw in more spoilers than I usually do, but without spoilers for the first half I could never talk about the loveliness of the second half, so I have no choice in this one.
I apologise in advance for the shoddy quality of my screencaps (and for the scarcity) but this DVD must be among the worst I have seen. Which is a shame especially because there are 2 or 3 songs that would have deserved much better print quality.
However, judging by the quality of some youtube videos, I think it's safe to assume I ended up with a very pirated copy which makes me sad, but partly explains the shortcomings of my DVD.
But enough whining, the movie! Well I knew it was made in the 80s, and it sure looks it, but it always amazes me to see how far back this stereotype of "wooing a girl with a technique that eerily resembles eve teasing" goes. I'll get to that in a minute but first I want to talk a little about my reactions to the heroine during the first part of the film. The girls sure had a lot to say about this one!
The film starts with the heroine, Divya (played by a certain Revathy who reminds me half of Asin and half of Scarlett Johansson), being told that a potential groom is coming to see her. She reacts rather vehemently and refuses to "be seen" because she finds the practice antiquated and wants to focus on her studies.
She ends up seeing him anyway because he waited for 5 hours at her place. This of course establishes him as a "carrect match" in the eyes of the family immediately. During their first conversation she tells him about all her defects encouraging him to just drop it and refuse the match.
Dolce and Namak: Wah wah wah! How ballsy!
Actually their first meeting is all kinds of adorable with her fussing with her beautiful yellow sari telling him about her shortcomings and him sitting and not being able to get a word in.
But horror of horrors he is a sucker for punishment and says yes. She on the other hand still refuses and stands up to her father when asked to reconsider her refusal. As a consequence we apply the age old formula with German efficiency and 100% success rate for getting the stubborn girl to say yes: heart attack!
Dolce and Namak: Oh nooooooo!
Oh yes. What's a girl to do when the whole family blames her refusal of an arranged marriage for the father's minor heart attack? Don't blame it on the fatty food drenched in ghee, don't blame it on stress from work, don't blame it on a weak and potentially unexercised body. Nope, blame it on the girl!
Divya reluctantly moves to her husbands
So now we finally find out why Divya was really against this marriage.
Namak: So all those principles that we cheered for in the beginning were just a cover-up?
Dolce: Seems so.
Namak: And the only reason why she didn't want to marry this super nice guy is because she was in love with a rowdy?
Namak: She's not revolutionary then, she's just dumb!
The subsequent flashback from Divya's past reinforces this seemingly harsh conclusion. The story goes like this: Divya gets a man arrested for rowdyism and theft without realizing that he was stealing for a good cause and from bad people.
Namak: You know, all of a sudden it's not as surprising to read about all the corruption in India when people get fed films like this where theft is presented as acceptable as long as it's from rich and evil people in order to help good poor people.
Dolce: I hardly see how this (admittedly overindulged) Robin Hood complex is an excuse for corruption though.Namak: Because, my dear, if we don't consider theft punishable at all times, what's to stop me from considering the tax payers as the rich and evil people and myself as the poor good person? Presenting something illegal as acceptable in one context opens the door for a million other contexts where it can be tweaked to one's advantage, no?
But that's not the end of the girls' woes during this first half. So after Divya gets the man arrested, she finds out why he had done it and repents. She proceeds to doing everything she can to get him out of jail. By this point he has been in 2 fights: one where he kicked ass and one where he was thrashed (by the police). He has also taken two opportunities to wink at Divya. I'm not sure whether it was the second fight, the one where he presumably gets pounded, or the second wink, but by now he feels like he has already won the heart of his lady love. The fact that she's still telling him to leave her alone bears no weight of course, we all know she's just playing hard to get.
|One of the many stalking moments|
Namak: Aha! Which brings me to another major issue in India (according to the papers anyway) that seems to be fed by movies like this: eve teasing. How exactly is a guy supposed to grow up knowing that "no" means "no" when so many movies use emotional blackmail and stalking as a sure method to get the girl? I mean, if I were a dude growing up in India why would I NOT try that? Clearly all the girls in the movies like it, the ones in real life must like it too. They're just saying they don't, right?
Dolce: But to be fair this one was more subdued in his approach, no? He doesn't really force himself on her, he just follows her around.
Namak: All while explaining to her that "she already loves him, she just needs to admit it" (this is where the emotional blackmail comes into play too, twice!). So what, that's not bad enough? After all, at this rate if she keeps saying no and you keep pursuing her, when do you start taking her refusal seriously? Before or after you grope her? Before or after the forced kiss? Before or after the rape?
Dolce: Well, at least unlike other movies on the topic, we know he won't be the right guy for her in the end.Namak: Yes, thankfully but the scriptwriters also made sure to glorify him before getting rid of him, AND to have the girl weeping her heart out after him. It's only her good luck that a decent guy like Chandra Kumar came along.
Dolce: Now you're really starting to talk like an aunty. All you were missing was the word kismat. Let's just let it be and focus on the more important parts of the story, eh?
Without getting into too many details about this flashback story that managed to seriously annoy me, we finally come to the good part of the film. I know, who knew it would ever come?
I started liking Chandra Kumar more and more in the second half, and especially loved his dignified attitude towards a situation that he did everything in his power to prevent. Sure, the dialogues give him the opportunity to shut his wife up with her own hateful lines from the first part of the movie in a way that looks like choreographed volleyball - with the ball always getting perfectly set for the winning spike - but somehow I even loved that.
Namak: Should we even mention that once again the hero getting beaten up works its magic on the girl?Dolce: We could, but I think we've complained enough about that one already, na?
Besides it's not just the beating this time around, it's Divya starting to really see her husband's qualities instead of focusing on her long lost love. In that train of thought, this is my favourite picturization, though they really overdo the close-ups of the hero and heroine looking up at each other. I think we got it the first 5 times around, Mani-ji. Oh, wait, I forget, it IS Mani Ratnam after all. Unless he slaps you with a dead fish over the face he doesn't feel that you got the message.
Still... such a beautiful picturization!
This is the half that makes the film worth while and the awkward interactions between the leads as they keep building and breaking their fragile relationship are a joy to watch. These are the moments when I wish my print was better because I'm sure I missed a lot of subtleties in the long looks that the two exchange. If the whole movie had been about those two I would have happily rewatched it over and over.
None of the marvelous songs were subtitled on my DVD, but such is the magic of Ilaiyaraja's music that it finds its way into your heart without even a word translated. My favourite song of the soundtrack doesn't even have a great picturization, but it still rocks my world.
Mouna Ragam won't be getting any awards for suspense, as it manages to be quite predictable, but the second half gets all my love for some great scenes between the two leads, which almost... almost make me forgive the tresspasses of the first half.
So what's the verdict?
Instead of a cheese rating, I'll do a quick recap of what we have learned from this movie:
1) That stealing is ok as long as it's for a noble purpose and only from the rich and sinners.
2) That stalking the girl and getting beaten up in front of her will make her heart melt for you.
3) That you can be a great guy and will still lose in front of the rowdy who got beaten up before you, BUT
4) That if in turn you get a good thrashing as well, that will exponentially improve your chances to make the girl love you.
And some good things? Sure!
5) That Ashutosh Gowariker stole half of the scenes in this movie when he made Jodhaa Akbar (definitely the wedding night scene)
6) That there is a better version of Gone With the Wind and it's Mouna Ragam!
7) That Ilaiyaraja deserves all the love he keeps getting and then some!
8) That there is yet hope for Mani Ratnam if he manages to focus on only one story at a time. For my taste the whole back story of the long lost lover could have been completely done without, leaving room for more of the delightful moments in the second half.
Despite all its faults, I did like the film and would whole heartedly recommend it for the second half which is vastly superior to the first half.