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:
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: