Friday, February 8, 2019

Food for thought - a piece on food-based sequences in Tamil Cinema

As I watched ’96 for the umpteenth time, I paused at the rather lovely scene where Trisha cooks a late-night meal for Vijay Sethupathi.  What was remarkable was how utterly unsentimental the scene was.  Trisha simply asks, “Okay vaa?”  To this, Vijay gestures that it is delicious, while adding, “Enga Amma samaicha maari iruku.”  My mind went back 34 years in movie time to 1985 when the great Sivaji Ganesan says pretty much the same thing to Radha.  The situations are completely different – in Mudhal Mariyadhai, Ganesan is married to a cantankerous woman (that underutilized powerhouse Vadivukkarasi).  He finds succor in a much younger woman who showers on him the kind of maternal love that he had been bereft of, all those years.  I then racked my brain to think of a few songs and sequences where food played a role, even if tangentially or laterally. (I steadfastly refuse to devote any space in my blog to the numerous booze sequences that have pervaded Tamil cinema in recent years!)

Without further ado, here is a list of sequences that I was able to recollect.  Bon Appetit!

The “Mudhal Mariyadhai” scene:

“Athi kaai kaai kaai…alangaai vennilave…”
I am no expert on Kannadasan but he is at his ingenious best in this song, my favorite line being, “Elakaai vaasanai poal engaL ullam vaazhakai!”

“Kalyana Samayal Saadham!”
The granddaddy of all food-based songs, the highlight of this number is Trichy Loganathan’s joyous, uninhibited singing.  The most amusing part of this song is when the actor opens his mouth expecting the food to fly in, only to grimace at an empty plate!  The nonchalance with which SV Ranga Rao throws out the plate is a sight to behold!

“Nitham nitham nelluchoru!”
A foodie is asked to sing a song by her husband on the first night of their marriage.  What does she do?  She sings about food!  The livewire Fatafat Jayalakshmi was such a wonderful contrast to the demure Shoba in this movie – it’s a tragedy for not just their families but also for Tamil cinema that both of them (in their personal lives) ended their lives when they were young.  Both of them achieved immortality onscreen though with their stellar work in a limited number of movies.  “Mullum Malarum” features great performances by both of them.  Watch Jayalakshmi’s unfettered body language and gestures– they are playful but never obscene.  Watch this song also to see how beautifully Rajnikanth plays second fiddle.  The song is Jayalakshmi’s showcase and Rajni lets it remain so.

There is plenty of food…in the mind
K Balachander’s “Varumaiyin Niram Sivappu” is a deeply thought-provoking movie.  But unlike his more serious fare like “Achamilllai…Achamillai” and “Thaneer Thanneer” there is a lot of humor that leavens the film but without diluting the impact of the theme.  The scene where Kamal, S. Ve Sekhar and Dileep pretend to be having a sumptuous meal is one such.  Despite Sekhar’s funny antics, there is tremendous underlying sadness.  KB the writer walks the tightrope walk expertly, with no small help from his monstrously talented cast.  There is a companion sequence where Sridevi cooks a meal, only for an unexpected tragedy to strike.  The saying, “Kai-ku ettinadhu vaai-ku ettaama poachu” has never been brought to screen in as poignant a manner.

Click on ‘Play’ to go to the aforementioned scene:

“Ena Samayalo”
A Carnatic-based song on food?  Sounds tough?  Well, Ilayaraja is the music director.  Need I say more?  SPB is in peak form here, bringing to life hilarious lines like, “Rasam thaa…paadu vasantha!”  Chitra joins in the fun too, letting loose in a way that was quite rare for her.

“I mean what I mean"..."But they can’t be so mean!”
You, the reader, could have filed a lawsuit against me had I omitted this sequence from this write-up!  One of the timeless comic scenes committed to film, Crazy Mohan’s dialogues are done full justice to by Kamal Haasan and the inimitable Delhi Ganesh. (PS: I love the title of this youtube video: “Something fishy!”)

Begging for alms…by serving a meal
For a brief while in the early 90s, RV Udhaykumar was a force to reckon with.  He was at his best when he worked with writers like MS Madhu (“Kizhakku Vaasal”) and R Selvaraj (“Chinna Counder”) as opposed to films where he wrote the script himself (I despise every moment of “Yejaman!”)  “Chinna Counder” was an especially impressive artistic treatment of a commercial subject.  There is a sequence where Sukanya, who is deep in debt, invites the villagers to her house – the custom is that they leave money underneath the plantain leaf.  It is a strange-sounding custom and I do not know if it is indeed a practice in any community.  But Ilayaraja lifts the scene to great heights with his background score.  And the actors too play the scene with strong conviction.

You don’t lie to AGS Ganesan!
I remember reviews of “Aaha” stating that Delhi Ganesh reprised his MMKR role.  True, he plays a cook here.  But Ganesh’s character is a lot more fleshed out and has several more shades than his role in MMKR.  He has the best lines in the movie.  While my favorite pithy one-liner of his is, “Apram pul tharai puliyotharai aaydum,” this scene in the marriage hall features Ganesh at his sparkling best.  Mohan’s one-liners fly thick and fast and Ganesh catches and delivers every one of them with panache!

Click on ‘Play’ to go directly to the wedding hall scene:

Food is a matter of…comfort
One of the lesser-known sequences in this list, Prithviraj and Gopika are absolutely brilliant in this scene.  An aspiring director is married to a once-famous actress and is taunted by the film fraternity for exactly that reason.  As he offers food to his wife, he shares his sorrows in the sweetest manner possible.  There is something inexplicably comforting about food during moments of anguish and this film understands this and delivers a truly moving experience.

Click on ‘Play’ to go to the dining table scene:

I realize that this is not an exhaustive list but if you recollect other sequences where food played a role, please share them in your comments. 



Anusha said...

Hi ram
Nice article....A movie called un samayal arayil nicely portrayed by prakash raj and sneha can be included in your post....Nice summing up of the movies...

Zola said...

Good one Anusha !

Actually that reminds me of the SONG Un Samayal araiyil ina Vikram starrer (forget which one) beautifully rendered by Unnikrishnan.

Wonderfully sumptuous list Ram !

Manasu 'nerainjurukku" LOL

Trust you to come up with innovative lenses and angles to look at Tamil Cinema.

Each item in the virundhu list took me back years. And ofcourse you didnt miss the Meen !!

Anonymous said...

Excellent article Ram
You have done a lovely collection
Thank you
(Suresh Krissna)

Ram Murali said...

Anusha - thank you! Yes, Un Samaiyil Araiyil was a mature, delightful love story. Prakashraj and Sneha aced their parts, I thought.

Zola - "Manasu neranjuruku!" That is such an apt thamizh cinema line you used to react to an article on food:) :) Nandri pala!

SK Sir - thank you so much for reading and sharing the post. I am glad you enjoyed it, esp. since one of the movies was created by you :)

Rahini David said...

Aren't lists so much fun? Here are my picks. I notice that you have avoided restuarant scenes. Not sure if that is deliberate decision or not.

Here are mine.

Non-Restaurant Scenes
1) Thalapathy: Deva and Surya are having lunch and Mrs.Deva is serving food. She asks about this girl who sings well and dances well and likes Surya a whole lot.

2) Kanni Rasi: Epic Lunch Comedy. Revathy serves Prabhu all the Mango pieces and serves Goundamani (her father) the big fat seed. And he asks "Unna pethathukku ennaku ithu thaana ma micham?"

3) Manathil Uruthi Vennum: The scene in which Kamal comes back after saving a bunch of burning huts and Gemini is judgemental. Gemini leaves the dinner table and Kamal has a terrific monologue

saying he is too hungry after saving lives to bother with his father's behaviour. But finally he is unable to take even a mouthful of food as emotions get the better of him.

4) Budget Padmanaban: "Discovery Channel ea inga sethu kedakathu"

5) Minnale: Vegetarian Madhavan pretends to be Non-Vegetarian Abbas and has to pretend to like chicken.

6) Kaadhal Devathai (Jagadeka Veerudu Athiloka Sundari): Sridevi is a celestial being who has no experience with human food and finds brinjal curry too spicy for her taste.

7) Munthanai Mudichu: Urvasi cooks a rather murungakai intensive dinner for Bakiyaraj.

8) Petta: Rock-hard Mess Idlies

9) Nadigan: "Puliyotharaila muttaiya vecchu mutta biriyaani nu yemathuriya"

10 Mannan: It is embarrasing to eat a sumptuous meal when your husband is hosting a hunger-strike just outside the house.

11) Not sure about the movie's name: Ramarajan is an unwelcome relative who eats a lot.

Ramarajan: Rasatha yean anga vechurukureenga?
Goundamani: Veshatha anga vechurukanum. Maranthu poi veshatha anga vechutta.

12) Gilli: Vijay needs to provide food for Trisha without the family realising that there is an extra mouth to feed.

13) Boys: "Knowledge is power" says the very wise Sentil.

14) Avvai Shanmukki: Shanmukki maami prepares a VHS video of the servant girl who steals stuff and plays it at breakfast time.

15) Suryavamsam (?) Devayani impresses her father by making Idli upma with leftover idlies.

16) Kadhalan: Prabhu deva is force fed terrible food with cockroaches as torture. Nagma pours food over herself in protest.

17) My Dear Marthandan: The royals have a loooog dinner table. They send messengers to talk to each other.

18) Chinna Thambi: Goundamani as the master chef of Kushboo's family.

19) Jeans: Visu exchanges lunch plate with Madhumitha as a sign of romance. Ramu wishes to do the same with Vaishnavi.

20) Kadhala Kadhala: Prabhu Deva buys food from Saravana Bhavan in a food carrier and then pretends cook it. "Ippadi career-ea carrier aagumnu nenaikala"

Restaurant Scenes for tomorrow.

Ram Murali said...

Amazing list, Rahini. Thank you so much for posting your list!
I wanted to write about the poignant Unaal Mudium Thambi scene that you had cited but wanted to avoid a Kamal overload :)

Re restaurant scenes, avoid pannanum nu illa. Nyabagam varala except for the hilarious sathi Leelavathi scene. Even in that it didn't feel like food played a big role. Which is why I didn't post it...

Can't wait to see your restaurant list though :)

Ram Murali said...

Rahini - thank you so much for highlighting this particular clip.

Zola said...

ROFL Rahini !

Really enjoyed your list and your caustic touches between the lines :)

Small correction - The Kamal Gemini scene is from Unnaal Mudiyum Thambi and not Manadhil Urudhi Vendum