After making his presence felt in the tinsel world with films like Pallavi Anupallavi (Kannada) and Unaroo (Malayalam), Mani Ratnam entered Tamil Cinema with Pagal Nilavu. While these 3 films did not exactly set the cash registers ringing heavily, there was an indelible trace of the talent that was to emerge from there on. Most cine lovers and followers of Mani sir’s films are aware that it was Mouna Raagam that’s widely credited as Mani’s first major success. This was of course followed by Nayagan which propelled him under National and International media glare. But not many know that Mani Ratnam also made a half hearted effort to embrace the masses with a Tamil film called Idaya Kovil, a film that is probably now known more by either Tamil Cinema lovers, hard core Mani Sir fans or quizzing enthusiasts.
While I wrote about Unaroo recently I did mention that the film is a forgotten gem, something that probably never got its due credit due to various reasons. But do I feel the same about Idaya Kovil? Are there elements and traces of the genius visible in the film? What is the film all about and how does it measure up to the filmography of Mani Ratnam overall? All these and more are aspects that I wish to highlight upon in the course of this post on the film. Idaya Kovil (Temple in heart) is a 1985 release and the 4th film of Mani Ratnam overall and his 2nd Tamil movie.
Produced by the popular politician and Tamil film producer of the 80’, Kovai Thambi (under his Motherland Pictures banner), Idaya Kovil is more of a Kovai Thambi film than a Mani Ratnam. More on that in some time. The film is centred around Shankar (Mohan), a popular singer. Suriya (Radha) a college student wins her college student council elections by promising to get Shankar to perform at her college. So Suriya goes about trying to convince Shankar to perfom at her college, but he refuses outright. Shankar by now is extremely popular and at the same time notorious for his drinking problem. Slowly Suriya does manage to convince Shankar to perform at her college.
From here on Suriya slowly manages to get friendly with Shankar and it doesn’t take much time for her to fall in love with Shankar (neither does it take much time for the audience to guess the same 🙂 ). As she tries to get Shankar to give up drinking ( which he does eventually ) she finds out about Shankar’s past and his days in the village and all about the love of his life, Gowri ( Ambika )who is now no more. The rest of the movie follows predictable lines and ends in a typical 80’s style fashion. Right from the opening scenes when you find Radha going to college in a horse (she’s shown doing it a few times so it’s not a one off case) to the typical college scenes which include a silent lover (Kapil Dev, not related to the famous cricketer in any way 🙂 ) to the typical village portions, everything about it is either loud and/or predictable.
This is one of the rare Mani Ratnam films where the script and dialogues have been written by someone else (story –R.Selvaraj, screenplay & dialogues-M.G.Vallabhan ). While in Unaroo he had a veteran writer like T.Damodaran at the helm of the script, there wasn’t anything to be worried about and Mani had to focus mainly on ensuring that the writing is translated equally well on the screen as well. But here unfortunately there’s nothing in the script which gives Mani any scope to deliver to his optimum. Kovai Thambi was known for his musicals and had tasted huge success with films like Payanangal Mudivathillai, Naan Padum Padal, Uyire Unakkaga, Ilamai Kaalangal, Udaya Geetham etc. Common elements across these films included a reasonably popular star cast (mainly with Mohan as the hero), supremely popular soundtrack (with Maestro Ilaiyaraja at the helm) and reasonably ‘safe’ plotlines.
So it’s no surprise that Idaya Kovil too stars the then popular Mohan known for his musicals, be it films produced by Kovai Thambi or otherwise. The film also stars Ambika and Radha who play the female leads and were extremely popular for their films across the Southern languages. Sisters in real life, they were known for their performances in mainly the typical mass films of the 80’s. It is almost clear now that Mani had little or no say in choosing the actors or technical crew. If the choice of Ambika and Radha surprise you then what is even more surprising, actually irritating is casting Goundamani in the film. A fine comedian who rocked in Tamil films of the 80’s and even 90’s, here he is plainly irritating and the scenes featuring him have little or no significance to the main plot. Maybe this is another reason to probably feel that this wasn’t a typical Mani film at all.
Amidst the ruins if one person stood tall and kept his shoulders high in the film then it has to be the one and only Ilaiyaraja. The songs composed by the maestro are still popular and compete with each other for supremacy. Be it ‘Idayam Oru Kovil’ (version 1 sung by S.P.Balasubramaniam and version 2 sung by Ilaiyaraja and S.Janaki which is almost like an anthem in the film (featuring at least thrice in the film?), the romantic duets ‘ Paatu Thalaivan’ ( S.P.B and S.Janaki ), the semi classical ‘ Kootathile Kovil Pura’ ( S.P.B ), or the solo ‘ Yaar Veetu Roja’ & ‘ Vaanuyarntha Solaiyil’ ( both by S.P.B ) or even the college group song ‘Oororma Athu Pakkam’ ( Ilaiyaraja, Chitra ), the songs have variety and are all more or less melodious. Eventually at the end of the film all that you take away are the songs and nothing else.
Which is why it’s more or less certain that Idaya Kovil is more of a Kovai Thambi film rather than a Mani Ratnam film, as he could hardly leave any trace of his genius in the film. In fact even before the opening credits start you have footage of the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, M.G.Ramachandran shown against the strains of ‘Idayam Oru Kovil’ and that itself is like a warning of what lies ahead of you. But one important lesson which probably Mani Ratnam picked up from Idaya Kovil is to work on films either produced by himself or by someone close to him and more importantly work on his own scripts. With his very next film Mouna Raagam itself ( produced by his brother late G.Venkateswaran ) he went on to act upon the lessons learnt from Idaya Kovil and thus so far he hasn’t had to look back at all.
So overall I can easily and comfortably agree with popular perception that Idayal Kovil is an exception in the career of Mani Ratnam and undoubtedly his worst ever film. Watch it for the songs or maybe if you want to figure out still what went wrong, but remember it won’t be an easy watch for sure.
Read more reviews on MANI RATNAM BLOGATHON:
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