From time to time, I revisit at least bits and pieces of films that resulted from the legendary combination of Kamal Hassan and Crazy Mohan. Tamil Cinema has had its share of immensely symbiotic pairings of actors with writers or directors such as Karunanidhi – Sivaji Ganesan, Manivannan – Sathyaraj and, most recently, Vetri Maaran and Dhanush. In that pantheon lies, without a doubt, the partnership of Kamal Hassan with Crazy Mohan. Just counting the credited ventures, starting with Aboorva SahodharargaL until Vasool Raja, they had a 15-year period where they were at the peak of their powers, individually and combined. (I am ignoring the fact that Kamal played a cameo in Mohan’s big-screen debut, Poikaal Kuthirai.) Helmed by Balu Mahendra, a filmmaker with his own stamp, the team weaves a tale that earns all its hearty laughs with elegant, healthy, intelligent humor. That it also has emotional moments that work supremely well is a reason I chose to revisit this movie.
Sathi Leelavathi is the tale of a happy family that is torn apart by a man’s infidelity. The couple in question are Ramesh Aravind and Kalpana. Heera plays the other woman in Aravind’s life. Kamal Hassan is his friend who catches him at an inopportune time, yet struggles to balance his loyalty to his friend and his respect for and responsibility towards his friend’s wife. If you read that synopsis with no knowledge of this film, you will be forgiven for wondering where exactly the ‘comedy’ in all this is, given the seriousness of the plot. Tone is something is that is difficult to achieve when a film tries to make shifts from serious to comedy or vice versa. But Sathi… manages to achieve a superb balance throughout, expertly juggling different tones, never a shift coming across as jarring. The restaurant scene with Kamal and Heera is a case in point. Kamal makes some thoughtful observations about the complications and implications of an extramarital affair. But the laughs are there too, especially with how he has a cheat sheet on his lap for reference!
Another reason Sathi… is a rarity in Tamil cinema is that it is a true ensemble drama. There has been the odd Mudhal Vasantham or Aaha. But it is creditable that even with stars like Kamal in the mix, all of the main cast get opportunities to shine in the serious and comic moments. Ramesh Aravind, Kalpana, Heera all have their moments. Chokalinga Bagavathar has a couple of rib-tickling moments too, his comparison of an underwear (“wear and tear”) and a loin cloth (“tear and wear!”) vying for the second funniest line in the film. But it is the pairing of Kamal Hassan and Kovai Sarala that is sheer comic gold. Speaking a flawless kongu dialect, the two of them are an unlikely pairing – full credit to Kamal for making a case for her casting despite Balu Mahendra’s initial, vehement objection. But they make it work and how! Right from the “Marugo marugo” song to the rip-roaring climax, the two of them share crackling chemistry. They have some of the best lines in the film. Sample this – when Kamal says to her, “Brake pudikala” she shoots back, “Ennaye pudikala…brake pudikala-na yenna poachu!” They also bring to life a couple that shares an easy chemistry, with moments such as Sarala grabbing Kamal’s glasses to prevent him from fidgeting with it.
While Kamal and Sarala hog the honors for the comic portions of the movie, Kalpana is the anchor that ensures that the emotional moments are on solid ground. She is magnificent in the scene where she asks Ramesh Aravind an array of tough but fair questions. She is equally adept in the enormously entertaining scene in Kamal’s house where she orchestrates the slightly chaotic climax. Did I tell you that the Thatha’s line took second place for the line of the film? That’s because the funniest exchange belongs to Kalpana and Kamal:
“Andha Priya-va oruthan bayngarama love panraan nu vechukunga…”
“Adheyn ondra purusan…”
“Ondra purushan aavadhu, rendra purushan aavadhu, kandraavi!”
That is the master of puns Mohan in his element, aided ably by the actors delivering the lines! (It is sad that neither Mohan nor Kalpana is alive, both going way too early.)
There may be other films in the Kamal Hassan – Crazy Mohan combination that might be loaded with bigger laughs. But Sathi Leelavathi is an undisputed comedy classic that makes us feel for its characters too. That is because this film is not just full of laughs but is also full of heart.