"If I get anywhere near what Mahendran sir did in Uthirip pookkall, I’ll be a happy man."
- Director Manirathnam.
There are 2 types of directors. Director and director of directors. Tamil film industry possesses the richest chain of great directors. There are few who are predominantly portrayed in this category, starting from Sridhar to Ameer. Mahendran is one such GEM in the industry.
If literary works are properly used, it will turn into fine cinema. Uthirip pookkall is one such great example. Mahendran read the [ only ] short-novel of Pudumaipithan - Sitrannai and fascinated towards the children Raja and kunju. He then developed them into his own version of film. Mahendran had earlier worked with 28 different projects starting from his first movie 'Naam moovar' [ Story writer ]. This includes Thangap padakkam, Kali, adu puli attam etc., The 29th project is Mullum Malarum produced by Venu Chettiar of Anandi films, which was a grand success and fed fresh air in Tamil cinema. Mahendran worked initially in Thuglak for 3 years, writing cinema reviews in the section 'Post mortem' - a good friend of Cho.
This film is all about people, their nature, feelings and stubbornness in their stand. I admire the way the characters are etched, visual narration of story. He wrote pages of dialogues when he was a story writer and when started his direction career he implemented visual narration with bare minimum dialogues. To add, he was accompanied by the top talent of those times Ashokkumar, b.Lenin and Ilaiyaraja.
Uthirip Pookkall - Drama/1979/Tamil
Produced,written & Directed by : Mahendran.
Music : Ilaiyaraja
Cinematography : Ashokkumar
Sundara vadivelu [ Vijayan as Su.va. ] is a rough natured school correspondent who has his physically weak and soft spoken wife Lakshmi and 2 kids Raja & Bhavani. Lakshmi's sister Shenbagam and their father live in the same village. Lakshmi's father owes a big sum to Su.Va. Also, Su.Va has an eye on Shenbagam. The entire village is unhappy with Su.Va's behaviour.
Prakash, a new teacher arrives to the village and later harassed by Su.Va. Prakash develops love with Shenbagam. Meanwhile, Sarath and his wife Premi, come to the same village to work in the health centre. Sarath is an old neighbor of Lakshmi [ before her marriage ] and even he proposes his wish to marry her, to her father. But it was late then as she was engaged with Su.Va. Su.Va. approaches his father-in-law for getting his second marriage with Shenbagam. Every one opposes this atrocious decision. He doubts his wife's relation with Sarath and keeps her separated. Sarath, feeling guilty for this, leaves the village.
The village people raise strongly against him this time but Su.Va. cares nobody.With his mother's support, he marries another girl from the next village. Prakash gets the permission from Shenbagam's father for their marriage. Meanwhile, something happens and that leads to the finest climax ever shot in Tamil films.
- Mahendran meticulously developed his characters so that they look unique and stubborn till the end of the story. Even the local barber Samikannu has got one of the finest supporting character roles. Nobody looses their character in the flow of the story. Mahendran was so courteous to offer a sum to Pudhumai pithan's family though he was just inspired by the work.
- The film starts with the flutes music in title and a cliched folk song of IR [ Sentiment Sithravadhai :) GAmaran did the damaging lyrics]. The story starts from the health officer Sarath and the teacher Prakash reaching the village.
- Watch out for the brilliant and villainous performance of K.Vijayan. Though he delivers rationed dialogues, his looks and grim face expresses a lot more about what he thinks. He is one of the best villains portrayed in Dhoti/Jibba/Shirt [ My other favorites are G.Umapathy in agni Natchathiram and Thilagan in Chathriyan ]. Each and every word uttered by Vijayan carries his thoughts. His introduction shows his complete character [ Ennaya sattai pottirukke.. Cinemakaran maadiri ! ]. Sparkling dialogues and close expressions showing his complex, anger and vengance.
- Aswini as Lakshmi. The way Mahendran selected her was interesting. Mahendran was looking for Lakhmi's role and his friend in Bangalore was in a loss that time with a movie produced using Aswini as heroine. That sad face fascinated Mahendran and his Bangalore friend begged him not to use her as she is considered bad, sentimentally. Mahendran was adamant and he succeeded in finding the first homely lady portrayal in Tamil cinema [ even Shoba has the traces of cinema ]. Grim looked, rarely smiling and emotionally packed Aswini's performance was a major element in this movie.
- I can't easily leave other characters as just 'others' [ matrum palar ! ]. Chaaruhasan [ first film ], Sundar, Madhumalini, Charulatha, Master Raja, Baby Anju, Samikannu, Bhoopathy, Sarathbabu, Premi, Vijayan's mother [ few of them are from Kannada industry ] - every one of them was utilised fully. I was touched by the performance of the barber Samikannu and his dialogue 'Naan ambattanaa porandhadhu en paavamyaa' with tears in his eyes. The movie has fewer dialogues but they are as sharp as paper cutter. Charuhasan says after hearing the 2nd marriage proposal from Vijayan .. 'Naan nalla thagappanaa irukken.. brokeraa illai'.
- There's a scene where Prakash swims easily in the river and warned by the assistant of Su.Va. that periyavar doesn't like anybody swimming as he doesn't know swimming. This was used in the later part of the movie. In another scene, Su.Va warns Prakash not to roam behind Shenbagam. He asks Prakash to drink the tea before the dialogues and once he conveys his thoughts, he'll ask Prakash to keep the tea and go back to class.
- To convey his 2nd marriage thought to his wife, Vijayan does some unusual stuffs like buying flowers to her, taking her to cinema and hotel. She eagerly walks out and sees the sky. The director conveys the same with the local barber uttering the dialog 'Amma sandhoshamaa irukaanga.. Innaiku mazhai vara pogudhu'. Azhagiya kanne music is used in that situation and IR rules.
- There's fight scene between Sarath and Vijayan. Vijayan turns furiously towards Sarath and the visuals are shown for strong wind, furious river. The next shot shows Sarath washing his bloody lip in the river water and he collects his glasses/foot wear scattered in the bank. I really wonder the shock Mahendran created among the so called unrealistic fight sequences in Tamil films. சண்டையைக் கூட கவிதையா சொல்லி இருப்பார்.
- IR needs a special mention not only for the brilliant composition of 'Azhagiya Kanne' [ HINDU once mentioned this song as Monalisa of music :) ] but also his themes for various characters and sequences. He bridges the silences of the characters and audience with his music. He aptly uses the Azhagiya Kanne music in apt situations. Kannadasan wrote the stupendous lyrics and the song summarizes the entire story.
- Though Vijayan is shown as a villain, he has a soft corner for his kids. The dialogues he talk to his kids at the end was a disturbing one. The end title credit shows what is actually meant in the film title.
- B.Lenin [ his first film ] needs a special mention for his commitment in uplifting the goodness of a story teller. Before the first saranam of Azhagiya song, there's a flute music used where a flock of sheep is shown as visual - After that group of violins emerge and in parallel a single sheep jumps out in sync with the music. The editor described that piece of sync was appreciated in his editing. VT Vijayan assisted Lenin in this movie.
- Have you ever wondered when title card say 'DESIGNS : BHARANI' ? For example, before this film's release, the poster had a photo of aswini sadly sitting sadly with her 2 kids. This design promoted the movie as an unusual film and gave a good identity to the work. The same Bharani later spoiled the work called 'Johnny'. Though Johnny was a music based film, the promotions made the posters with Rajini angrily diving with an umbrella with multiple images in colours [ remember that ??!! ] - the poster set that it was an action film and Johnny suffered because of this. Mahendran told this. [ Dei.. Unaku mattum eppadaa sonnaru :) ].
- Mahendran was introduced as assistant director to kasilingam in Kanchi Thalaivan film by MGR. MGR watched Uthirip pookkall and became emotional, it seems. He said to Mahendran that 'I'll sleep peacefully today' which meant a lot to Mahendran.
Director Vasanth [ though I don't admire him ] said he would filter 1 in 1000, 1 in 100, 1 in 25, 1 in 10 and finally just 1 best Tamil film and that is Uthirip pookkall. The impact it made on Tamil directors and writers was tremendous. The same year 1979 opened the gate for Balu mahendra for Azhiyadha kolangall, his first Tamil venture.
Uthirip pookkall is highly considered par with any of the best films made in the wolrd cinema [ except the 2 junk songs in female voices .. poda poda bokkai and one more SPSailaja song ].
Mahendran once quoted that 'Even if I try out again, I can't reproduce what I have achieved in Uthirip pookkall'. Great ! I salute this 30 years old n fantastic film.