That this movie got made in the 1970s will be very hard to believe for many many generations to come. This is due to the condescending way with which we look at the older movies and our nonchalant feeling that the newer generations of film-makers are making better movies in the Tamil Cinema arena (I, myself, am guilty of this). The fact, I see on second thoughts, is that such gems get made once in a while. We have gems being made now as well. But, its more like a freaky occurrence. Well, in that sense, this movie is a freaky occurrence too. Perhaps, the freakiest of them all. IMHO, Jayakanthan should have written and directed more movies. He (like Sujatha - who in his screenwriting stint wrote, more often than not, for movies of much lesser worth), is no stranger to Cinema. In the preface of the book on the screenplay of this movie (available in some Tamil bookshops), A. Bhimsingh, the director of the movie [*], beams that working with Jayakanthan was a revelatory experience and he was quite awed at knowing that Jayakanthan was a fantastic screen writer and that he understood the grammar of Cinema very well.
This is a movie about Ganga (Lakshmi in a career-best role; and National Award winning role), a Brahmin girl, who gets sexually 'assaulted' (well, there is a big question mark left here which is an audacious stroke of beauty from the writing department) by a man who gives her a lift on a rainy day, and how that day changes her whole life and how she attempts at getting her life back to normalcy. The movie works at various levels -
1. a searing criticism at the way marriage/sex/women are treated by the bourgeois society.
2. a character study of a lonely woman and loneliness itself
3. an unusual love story (heck, this description sounds terrible; but, hope you get the point)
4. and above all, a movie about relationships.
When Ganga's uncle asks for her pardon, the way the film cuts to the time when Ganga leaves with him to his home and he says "I will show them what's what!" is the clearest testimony for the reason behind the movie's title apart from the study of the lives of the two protagonists.
The movie steers clear of all clichés starting from not being yet another overtly pseudo-feminist fare (which was quite an identity for "good films" of Tamil Cinema in the 80s) with its very non-judgemental look (to such an extent that it even refuses to observe from a typical feminist standpoint, though that might be the most rightful position to take) on that fatal incident. After years, when she decides to meet the man (who is then introduced as Prabhu played by Srikanth) and she even befriends him, it is very strange from her part to catch the man who raped her and ruined her whole life. The girl going after the man who 'raped' her has been the plot of many movies [**], mostly terribly handled, and as if it was a righteous thing for the woman to go for that man. But here, it is not a mere indictment on the woman to go after him; but a willful decision from her part to do so; to prove her "smartness" to her uncle who, quite stupidly, says "she should go get that guy and marry him if she is smart enough" trying to prove she "cannot marry" unlike all other women. Her loneliness and Srikanth's helplessness and guilt plays the main factors in their progressing friendship. When Prabhu says he never forced anybody and asks Ganga if he really forced her that day, it is suggested that it was not a rape at all. In short, when Ganga finally yearns for his love, she no more feels he was the reason for her state of abandonment; rather, its the people around her who disowned her after that fatal incident years ago.
The writing involves many moments breaking many a cinematic cliché. Just to sample, Prabhu is a rich man. But still "his English is not good" (at least he thinks so; portrayed without much emphasis on it by, say, letting him speak horrible English) and admires Ganga for that. Literary references have been mostly absent in the history of Tamil cinema. But here we get references to Chekhov, Wodehouse (in a throw-away scene) etc.
Well, this is the only Jeyakanthan movie (clearly the man behind this fare) I have seen and I am still on the hunt for his other movies.
Also, Check out Baradwaj's take on this movie.
* - A. Bhimsingh collaborated again with JK and made Oru Nadigai Naadagam Paarkkiraal. His son, B. Lenin, adapted JK's "Oorukku Nooru Per" (a very serene, 'art-house' work which won him the National Award for the Best Director.
** - Sirai, a movie made by R. C. Sakthi is quite similar to this movie (and inspired by Benegal's Nishant, perhaps). Only that there we have a self-conscious director telling us that he has tried to tell the story "visually" (being apt to the cinematic medium, that is). But, something awfully goes wrong in its execution and becomes an unbearable piece for most of its running time, thanks in large proportions to the comedy track which in an approximate measurement goes for more than an hour.