Mouna Ragam (Silent Tune) released in 1986 marked the arrival of an intelligent filmmaker. Mani Ratnam had earlier directed Unaru (Malayalam), Pallavi Anu Pallavi (Kannada), Pagal Nilavu and Idaya Koyil (Tamil) but they did not create any ripples at the box office. He was noticed in Pagal Nilavu, which went on to become a cult classic but at that point in time, it had few takers. In his next film Idaya Koyil, for the first time and perhaps the last, the director had agreed to work on someone else’s script. The cast was predefined and baggage like garish costumes (Radha) came along with the cast. Mani was forced to cast Ambika as the virginal innocent village girl. Mani could not find his rhythm in a script that had Radha coming to college in a horse! The result was obvious, Idaya Koyil, arguably Mani’s worst film, ended up a commercial disaster.
And that was supposed to have been his end in the unforgiving and ruthless film industry. After all, Mani was the director of the first dud produced by Motherland Pictures (Kovaithambi), which till then had a dream run.But the lead actor in Idaya Koyil did not give up on Mani. He gave interviews saying that Mani was the best director he had worked with! (Tall claim at that point in time considering Mohan had worked with the likes of Mahendran, Singeetam Srinivasa Rao and Balu Mahendra). But the actor’s intuition was proved right. Mani’s brother G. Venkateswaran gave him an opportunity to script and direct a low budget flick and Mouna Ragam came out in 1986.
And as they say, the rest is history!
But many people did not notice that the film was an intelligent adaptation of Mahendran’s Nenjathai Killathe! The story line was almost the same…a fiercely independent, yet family loving girl gets married due to the compulsion of her family, is unable to let go of her first love, but eventually comes to terms with her marriage due to her unbelievably good natured husband. Mohan, who played the flawed lover in Nenjathai Killathe, played the good natured young man in Mouna Ragam. (This style was again repeated in Raavan, where Vikram played the protagonist in Tamil and Antagonist in Hindi)!
Nenjathai Killathe was a very sensitive film, but watch it today and you might find it extremely slow. Mohan’s character in it was so boring and one dimensional that you wonder how an intelligent girl like Suhasini could fall in love with this guy! Mani took many elements from Nenjathai Killathe to pay his tribute. Both the films emphasized mood over dialogue to narrate the story. But Mani reworked on Nenjathai Killathe by making the characters more interesting and livelier in his adaptation, more contemporary. Manohar, played by Karthik, got a role of a life time and he was absolutely charming. Revathi as Divya became an instant dream girl for many young guys. V K Ramasamy as Mohan’s boss, and the actor who played the Punjabi neighbour at Delhi added excellent flavour to the film. Ilayaraja’s BGM was again an intelligent adaptation of his BGM in Nenjathai Killathe! There were several moments in Mouna Ragam that had made it into a timeless classic – the Karthik episode (taken mostly from Mani’s own Pallavi Anu Pallavi), the initial scenes where Divya is introduced as a bubbly and independent young girl, the songs, the BGM, the picture post card locations at Delhi and Agra and so many more.
But to me, Mouna Ragam marked the arrival of Mani the director. His trade mark stamps started becoming visible in Mouna Ragam. Take, for instance, the scene where Divya wants to cook for her husband on the occasion of completing one month of her moving to Delhi. While CK (Mohan) is in office, she takes the help of neighbourhood boys to reorganize things at home! Or the scene when her father slaps her, she walks out of her house, sits on a compound wall till her temper subsides and returns home. (The same character trait is intelligently again used in the latter portions). Or the title sequence which subtly tells you that it is the story about a girl growing up and becoming a woman! Or the best scene in the film –when Divya thanks the Punjabi neighbour for helping her out in times of crisis, he says ‘Podaa Daiii!!
He named it Mouna Ragam – Silent Raga – but it was more of a subtle symphony!!
Read more reviews on MANI RATNAM BLOGATHON:
1. Pallavi Anupallavi (Kannada) 2. Unaroo (Malayalam) 3. Pagal Nilavu (Tamil) 4. Idaya Kovil (Tamil) 5. Mouna Ragam (Tamil) 6. Nayagan (Tamil) 7. Agni Natchathiram (Tamil) 8. Geethanjali (Telugu) 9. Anjali (Tamil) 10. Thalapathi (Tamil) Take 2 Thalapathi (Tamil) 11. Roja (Tamil) 12. Thiruda Thiruda (Tamil) 13. Bombay (Tamil) 14. Iruvar (Tamil) Take 2 Iruvar (Tamil) 15. Dil Se…(Hindi) Take 2 Dil Se…(Hindi) 16. Alaipayuthey (Tamil) 17. Kannathil Muthamittal (Tamil) Take 2 Kannathil Muthamittal(Tamil) 18. Yuva (Hindi) 19. Aayutha Ezhuthu (Tamil) 20. Guru (Hindi) 21. Raavanan (Tamil) 22. Raavan (Hindi)