Saturday, August 28, 2010

SRIDEVIPALOOZA: Glittery Bras and Mermaid Outfits: Masterji (1985)

I never knew that all my favorite Sridevi movies from the early 80s were imports from Tamil/Telugu movies by the same director, K. Raghavendra Rao, until this SRIDEVIPALOOZA project, though I knew from the rustic settings of Himmatwala and Tohfa that they were most likely copies of South Indian movies. But one that I definitely knew was a remake was Masterji (1985) starring Sridevi and Rajesh Khanna, along with the usual suspects of Kader Khan, Shakti Kapoor, Asrani, Aruna Irani, etc. The reason I was aware of this was because it's original, the tamil movie Mundhanai Mudichu (1983) starring K. Bhagyaraj and Urvasi, is one of my long-time favorite movies. Naturally we were excited when they remade it in Hindi, and even more excited when we heard that Sridevi would take on Urvasi's role.

The story is a village tale, far-removed from cities and justice systems. In this setting, everything from crimes to domestic spats, is settled by the "Panchayat" - a council of village elders. The story revolves around Radha (Sridevi), the daughter of the Head of the Village Council (Kader Khan). Radha is impetuous, sassy and rebellious.

She spends her days causing mischief along with her three best friends, who also happen to be three young boys (one played by a kid that pops up VERY often in Hindi Cinema, I call him Raju, and the third being Thavakalai, better known as "Little Superstar" the YouTube sensation). Radha is openly defiant of her father, and even accuses him to his face of having a mistress. Her parents want to marry her off as soon as possible, but Radha has her own ideas about the kind of man she is looking for.

*CLICK HERE* to view the song Dam Kham Wala
While gallavanting about the village, Radha and the boys see a young man get ejected from a bus with his child. They come to find out that he's heading towards their village to meet Radha's father, and eventually find out that he's there to be the new Teacher at the village school. Radha, seeing him busy himself with the baby, assumes that the mother will arrive in town once he's found a home and settled in.

RK wears many fabulous outfits like this one, with copious chest hair exposed
The new Masterji soon becomes the target of Radha and the boys pranks, until Radha finds out that he's a newly widowed man, and is raising the child alone. Radha feels terrible about stealing from him, and apologizes profusely. Masterji covers for Radha with her father, and is very kind to her despite her antics.

Radha is shocked to find out Masterji is widowed
We quickly realize how good of a man Masterji is. In his classroom, a child is revealed to be severly abused by his stepmother. Masterji is very upset by this, and clearly thinks that he should never remarry because he doesn't want to risk his baby ever being abused by a second mother. His mother-in-law arrives to visit and urges him to marry his dead wife's younger sister so that the child can have a mother, but he refuses, saying that he alone will be both mother and father to the child.

Also when the abused child is tied up by goons and his stepmother does nothing to save him, Masterji steps in to do some dishoom-dishoom and save him. In doing so, he gets a good whack to the head and passes out in Radha's arms, getting some blood on her chest. Radha gets all swooney about this, and goes into this very psychadelic dream song.

*CLICK HERE* to watch the song "Jab Tanhai Mein Do Badan"
Much like many of the South Indian import songs of this age, there some sort of prop-motif going on. In this case, it's umbrellas.

Rajesh Khanna struggles through the very limited dance moves they put in there, but is looking like a dapper fatherly sort of dude. Sri looks gorgeous in the supremely sparkly, sequins, 80s-tastic dresses, but there is a sort of light missing in her eyes? Did anyone else feel this when they watched her in this song? The Sri spark that's so evident in her other performances is somehow flat here. I remember reading tons of Stardust articles back in the day about Rajesh Khanna and his ... ahem, interactions with his female co-stars. I can't help but wonder if something went down that wasn't too kosher for the Sri during the filming of this song. But she still looks stunning, especially in the green Little Mermaid type outfit.
Move over Ariel.
 There are several side plots woven throughout. One being a totally unnecessary battle between a blackfaced (gahhh!) Shakti Kapoor and Asrani the priest for the heart of Aruna Irani (a flower seller). Masterji also campaigns to have another teacher brought into the village to teach the elderly folk reading and writing, which is met with scorn UNTIL the beautiful, young female teacher (played by Anita Raj) comes to town. Suddenly everyone's signing up for Adult Ed and humming Hot for Teacher.

Radha, seeing Masterji's hard working nature and kindness, is totally charmed and decides she is going to marry him. She proposes, which he brushes off rudely and without much serious thought. She approaches him again and again and he continues to reject her. Meanwhile her little friends fill her head with the idea that Masterji is cozying up with the sexy new teacher in town.

This is Radha's worst nightmare. Cootchie-cooing and chalkboard hearts
 When she refuses to believe it, the kids decide to demonstrate for her what they are doing - in the HIGHLY disturbing song "Galon Par Yeh Kaise Nishaan". The sets for their dream rendezvous include life-size cutouts of famous Indian lovers, tons of instruments and a tota (parrot).

*CLICK HERE* to view the song "Galon Par Yeh Kaise Nishan"

Also, Anita Raj is wearing shortie-shorts and pink fringey boots. A rose plays the guitar, apples play the tabla and her hair plays the sitar. It's all in all a very WEIRD sequence. It ends very symbolically with grapes falling into goblets of milk (or very cloudy water). I have NO IDEA what that means.

Pink fringey boots!
Also highly disturbing is this sequence ... apparently the KIDS are describing all of this to Radha. What is up with these kids' fantasies???

Anita Raj goes behind a screen to undress ...
...and toss her silver glittery bra on the tabla?
 So Radha decides it's time for drastic measures. She carefully tells the kids to pretend that she's said she was going to kill herself, and they bring Masterji running to stop her. They also arrange for the whole village, including the Panchayat to arrive on the scene. When everyone has assembled, Radha claims that she has lost her innocence, and when her family urges her to confess who she's sinned with, she points directly at who?

The next scene is very well done, although it's obviously far better in the Tamil original. Set to a score of heavy drums, the entire village is shown arguing with Masterji and Radha, fingers being pointed, Masterji having a mangalsutra thrust at him and her mother pleading at his feet for him to marry her daughter and save them from shame. I felt my gut twist a little for Masterji when they showed his mother-in-law and sister-in-law arrive on the scene and leave immediately after finding out what was going on.

Eventually the drums stop and Masterji lays his baby on the ground. He states to the crowd that he will agree to marry Radha IF she steps over the child and thereby swears on the child's life that what she's saying is true. Radha is shocked and afraid, but everyone pushes her, saying that if what's she's saying is the truth then she should go ahead and swear on the child. In a dramatic slow-motion scene, Radha does the horrible deed and steps over the child, swearing that her lies are true.

Now there is no other option for Masterji. He ties the mangalsutra on her and she moves in to his home, but that he doesn't mean he has to like it. No he absolutely doesn't accept Radha, no matter what she does. And she does a lot to try and get him to accept her, including a hilarious episode where she tries making an entire meal with drumsticks (vegetable) which is considered an aphrodisiac in some cultures. This leads to a lot of ... ahem ... *discomfort* for Masterji that night, and Radha makes it worse by singing the awful and inappropriate "Aankhen to Kholo Swami". The highlight of this song is the baby in the swami costume.

*CLICK HERE* to watch "Aankhen To Kholo Swami"
From there, the couples goes through a series of melodramatic events, some bringing them together, some driving them apart. With all of the lies and anger that Masterji feels, and with all the fear for his child's future driving him, will it be possible for him to forgive Radha. Can Radha find a way into his heart? And how far will Radha have to go to prove to Masterji that she will love his child as her own and never ill-treat him as a stepchild? And can they squeeze in a few more dishoom-dishoom scenes? Will Rajesh Khanna spend the entire movie looking bewildered about what he's doing in it?

It's difficult not to view this movie without comparing it to it's Tamil original, which is definitely superior. K. Bhagyaraj's Masterji is much funnier and more pathetic, so you definitely feel sorry for him throughout the film. And Urvasi's Parimala is incredibly innocent as compared to Sridevi's cheeky Radha. In fact, Radha's character overall is not likeable. She's spoiled, selfish, arrogant and disrespectful. Yet somehow with all those character flaws and despite the EXTREMELY messed up way she lied to get what she wanted (which bites her in the a$$ later), Sridevi gets you to root for Radha. The overall environment has a distinct South Indian feel. The overtly sexual innuendos and situations seem more ... vulgar ... somehow, in the Hindi version. And Thavakalai, who obviously could not be replaced or recast, has great difficulty with dialogue delivery in Hindi and his lines don't have the natural humor that they did in Tamil (he's still awesome though).

I'd still recommend it for the funny moments. And though Sridevi's performance overall isn't as convincing as Urvasi's (which I attribute to script/direction and not her abilities), she still managed to get me a bit choked up in certain scenes. And look at how gorgeous she is!

Though SRIDEVIPALOOZA ended on August 20th, there are still a few entries trickling in, so check out our Delicious and Tumblr links to stay updated!

Also we're all in preparation for Neetu Singh-Along! organized by Beth Loves Bollywood, A Fairy Filmi Ending, and Totally Filmi. I've got my Neetu movies all set, so I hope you will check back in between September 13th and 20th for a plethora of Neetu-pyar.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Song of the Day: Sri's most WTF video ever (SRIDEVIPALOOZA)

Though I was a big fan of the Sridevi-Jeetendra jodi, they did perhaps peak around 1984, because some of the stuff that came out after that time was very questionable. I didn't get to watch many of their films together post 1985, and after watching this video, I'm not sorry.

This video was SO full of WTF-ery I just felt miserable for Sri that she had to be in it. From the 1985 film Balidaan, here is "Aaja Ek Hoja".

First of all, someone explain to me the big giant shower rooms with only a half-wall separating them? And then there's a convenient chunk of wall missing for Jeetendra to get his Peeping Tom on?

Also, I hope someone has seen this movie and can explain them entering these giant shower rooms with their clothes on? Sridevi seems to have a special bathing dress inspired by Satyam Shivam Sundaram on (with a faboo silver belt, I hope it doesn't tarnish!), but Jeetu is in red shortie-shorts!!! AAAGGGGH my eyes!!!

The the wall separating them disappears back into the wall?! This must be the Prefect's Bathroom at Hogwarts.

Then we're jetted off to a dream set, which is another giant shower room, but this one is tricked out with greek columns, statues, arches and stained glass windows. And of course they had to put poor Sri in a white sari.

At around 3:45 we're transported off again into a giant bubble bath of WTF. Jeetu seems to have jumped in wearing his tennis shorties, because he's still got his socks on. Looks damn uncomfortable. And inexplicably, there are showerheads running all around and above the bubble bath. I keep looking around for Helen because it looks like the kind of place she'd hang out.

It doesn't seem like any of the usual suspects have blogged about this movie, and I can definitely see why. I'm curious because this video makes absolutely NO SENSE, and this coming from someone raised on Bollywood WTF-ery. I'd definitely love to hear from someone who saw this movie that could possibly tell me about the plot points leading up to this song.

Anyway, Sridevipalooza continues though the official dates have ended! I'll be reviewing Masterji soon so keep an eye out!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

SRIDEVIPALOOZA: Sridevi the (non-Classical) Dancer

So SRIDEVIPALOOZA 2010 has officially ended, but many of us are still going. The links will continue to be posted, so definitely keep sending any Sridevi-related posts my way!

I wanted to explore something that's a bit problematic for me, because my inner-Sridevi-fangirl doesn't want me to in any way imply that Sri is anything BUT perfection. But that's not necessary as a true fan. It's kind of like recognizing your parents or loved ones shortcomings but loving them regardless. I'm Sri's unconditional fan.

There is no doubt for anyone that Sridevi is a spectacular dancer. She's been touted for many years as being one of the best dancers in Bollywood. I absolutely adore Sridevi and think she is tremendously talented, but the one point that makes me a bit uncomfortable is when people state that she is a good CLASSICAL dancer. Being a good dancer, and being a classical dancer are quite different. Being the daughter of a renowned dancer and having been trained in Bharatanatyam since the age of 2, I'm quite critical when it comes to dance. Ok, I admit, I am VERY critical when it comes to dance. And I also get VERY irritated by the fake classical dance that's often featured in Bollywood, or when classical dance costumes are worn by dancers doing weird hip-shaking, thrusting moves. I feel it's disrespectful to the style that my mother, and so many others, have dedicated their lives to.

So when people try to tell me that I must like Sridevi because she's "such a good classical dancer", I bristle a little. She has openly admitted in many interviews over the years that she is not a classically trained dancer.

She's most certainly a good dancer in general! She does great at your typical Bollywood fare, and she made the odd choreography of whoever created those madcap Sri + Jeetu aerobic routines look good. That is no ordinary feat! She could take the silliest moves, and make them look classy. That's one of the things I loved about her ... the way she could pull just about anything off!

But CLASSICAL dance is different. Having a background in classical dance makes any dancer a better dancer overall. I've seen it in real life too, in the community I grew up in (the Detroit suburbs) ... whenever the girls of the community got together and danced to film songs, the ones that truly stood out were the ones with classical dance training.

So too are the best dancers in Indian Cinema the ones that have classical dance background, including Vyjayanthimala, Padmini, Hema Malini, Meenakshi Seshadri, Madhuri Dixit and Aishwariya Rai. In the South, there's Jaya Prada, Bhanupriya, Amala and Shobhana just to name a few. Even Urmila Matondkar, who I know took dance from my own dance Gurus in Mumbai (the one and only Sri Rajarajeshwari Bharata Natya Kalamandir in Matunga!), has a defined classical dance style, so much so that she sometimes looks like she's doing Bharatanatyam when doing Hip-Hop type moves. Let me clarify that I am not saying in any way that they are superior actresses or that I like them better. Sridevi is my absolute favorite actress of all time. But their classical training makes their movement more refined, more graceful and more exact. It makes a difference! You can always tell when a dancer has had classical training, no matter what style of dance they are doing.

Now before the haters go crazy, let me say another thing. I believe that Sridevi had all the potential to be an AMAZING classical dancer. Without any training, she became famous for "Tandav" dance pieces in many movies, particularly Chandni and Chaalbaaz, and did a spectacular job in the popular "Mein Teri Dushman" song from Nagina. Items like "Jhanjhanana" from Nazrana, "Suraj Naache" from Patthar Ke Insaan, and the fabulous "Naan Vanangugiren" from Guru (video below) showcase her natural talent.

She is an extremely talented dancer and I believe has the unique ability to imitate very, very well, which helped her pull off a lot of the filmi-classical numbers she did over the years. If she had classical training, she would most definitely beat out ALL of the actresses I mentioned above (ok, maybe not Vyjayanthi, but everyone else) as the best dancer in Indian Cinema, hands down. She has inherent talent as a dancer, and would have picked up classical dance very quickly and easily.

And if you watch Sridevi's interview on Baaje Payal (posted below), she makes a VERY valid point. With dance, sometimes your expressions can mask any technical imperfections. This is why classical dancers spend so much time studying Abhinaya and training our faces to convey a myriad of emotions. I always say, a dancer can be the most technically gifted person in the world and the athletic prowress to leap from one end of the stage to the other, but if they can't make me feel any genuine emotion, then I'm not interested in watching them. Indian Classical Dance is spiritual in nature, and the whole idea is to connect with the divine through dance. Abhinaya, or the codified study of expression, is CRUCIAL to a dancer's success.

In that respect, Sridevi is tremendous. Her expressions are awe-inspiring, and I think far more powerful than let's say for example Aishwariya Rai, who is indeed a technically superior dancer, but her face often freezes in an overly-bright smile. Sridevi's expressions are always genuine and certainly are a highlight of her dancing.

Another great point she makes is that she loves to dance and enjoys it, and that might be why everyone likes her dancing. That is absolutely true. When someone genuinely loves what they are doing and expresses that joy outwardly, it is impossible not to enjoy watching them. That is one of the reasons I much prefer watching Sridevi to many of the other classically trained dancers, like Jaya Prada or Hema Malini. Sridevi's joy and exuberance is unbeatable!

For more SRIDEVIPALOOZA posts, visit either my Delicious or Tumblr links! There are many more Sridevi-themed posts to come!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

SRIDEVIPALOOZA: Is Emotional Cheating still Cheating? - Meendum Kokila (1982)

When I was younger, I never really recognized why I was able to connect to certain movies so well and others seemed like a different world. I wasn't aware, you see, of the many divisions even within what's considered a single culture in India. I knew we were Tamil, and yet, we were different from so many other Tamil families that we knew. And then we were from Bombay, which further separated us from the Madras Tamilians we knew (not to mention Sri Lankan Tamils, Malaysian Tamils, West Indian Tamils, etc.). But there were even further divisions that I didn't recognize till much later. Now I know that we are Palghat/Palakkad Iyer Brahmins, a sect of Tamilians that emigrated to Kerala, and picked up nuances of the language Malayalam.

When my husband, who hails from a traditional Tamil family deep in the Thanjavur District of Tamil Nadu, told me his family was teasing him for marrying a Malayalee, I was surprised and insisted that I was Tamil, not Malayalee. He said, "But you're from Palakkad," and I said, "And?" ... with a deep sigh he said, "Palakkad is in Kerala!" --- I'm an idiot. I never realized that Palakkad was in Kerala, I had no idea! I thought it was perhaps right on the border with Kerala, and I knew our Tamil was mixed with Malayalam, but didn't know our ancestral village was actually IN Kerala. So Tamilians don't consider us entirely Tamil, and Malayalees don't consider us Keralite.

I went and asked my mom after this conversation, "Mom, are we Tamil or are we Malayalee?" and she answered, "Yes." So I tried again, "Nooo, Mooooom, Are we Tamil or are we Malayalee?" and she thought for a moment, and told me, "We are Tamil Malayalees."

Thanks, Mom.

Anyway, Tam-Brahms as we're sometimes called, aren't often portrayed in Cinema ... our dialect is too affected and difficult for many actors, and our culture has so many particular practices that I imagine many people cannot relate. There are some portrayals, such as Vikram's role of the Iyengar "Ambi" in the tamil movie Anniyan, or the mother-in-law played by Julie star Laxmi in the tamil movie Rhythm. Songs like "Iyengaaru Veetu Azhage" (Anniyan), "Madathile" (Veera), "Kalyanathaan Kattikittu" (Saamy), and "Ennathu Solvennungo" (Sivakasi) highlight the Brahmin background of the characters.

Then of course, there's "I am Krishnan Iyer M.A." from Agneepath. Oh, Mithun.

Anyway, few movies delved into the everyday life of our community vs. displaying Brahmins as evil/greedy/ultra-conservative/stupid/weak or getting jollies off the idea of a Brahmin girl running away from her community for the love of a non-Brahmin man, like Trisha's character in Saamy (incidentally, Trisha is a Palghat/Palakkad Iyer like me, as are Vidya Balan and Priyamani).

Two movies that come to mind immediately when I'm thinking of just normal, everyday, fun portrayals of Brahmin families are both Kamal Hassan movies. The first is the HILARIOUS Michael Madana Kamarajan, and the 2nd is Meendum Kokila (1982), in which the story doesn't revolve around their Brahmin background at all. The story could have taken place in any community. For this story, they just happen to be Brahmin, that's all. It's not to create caricatures or devise elaborate costumes for humor.

Meendum Kokila is the story of Y.R.S. Mani, a young lawyer looking for the right opportunity for his career to take off. He is married to the beautiful, young Kokila (Sridevi), a Brahmin housewife that wears the traditional 9-yard sari called "madisaar" (I wore one for my wedding, and let me tell you, it's a doozy. I can't imagine wearing one every day like my great-grandmothers did!).

Eventually through some connections, Mani meets a famous actress named Kamini (Deepa Unnimary) who hires him as her lawyer, giving him his first big case. Mani gets increasingly besotted with Kamini and begins lying to Kokila and spending all his time in the actress's company. Eventually his lies are exposed and the happy marriage is threatened.

Right from the start the film breaks the fourth wall and begins speaking to us, the audience, saying:

Essentially Mani is waiting for his big break ... he has yet to book a big case. They also introduce us to Sridevi's character Kokila right away:

They show the couple in pretty normal domestic scene at home, Kokila bringing Mani some coffee. Very quickly, though, they expose Mani's greatest downfall ... his extreme fetish for the exposed skin of a woman's waist that shows when they wear the madisaar!

When Mani sees this, he just can't contain himself. A special, themed mridangam and kinnaram (South Indian Carnatic drum and cymbals) music starts playing, his nostrils start flaring, and before he knows what's he's doing, he's reached out to grab & pinch!

So the narrator takes us on a journey back to when they first met ... the special "bride-viewing" or Ponn Paarkkal as we call it. Having seen this movie as a child, I spent years planning and practicing various songs to sing at my own Ponn Paarkkal someday, really believing that this situation was going to happen for me. My husband and I ended up being a love marriage (gasp! SCANDAL!) so I never had a Ponn Paarkkal and no one ever wanted me to sing. If they had though, I would have been ready!

So at Kokila's Ponn Paarkkal, they ask her to sing, and a veena is brought out, her brother pulls out his mridangam, and she sings the lovely "Chinnanjiru Vayathil" which is equal parts sweet and funny. Kamal Hassan provides the funny, Sridevi provides the sweet. As Kokila, Sridevi is wonderfully innocent and demure. Her eyes convey a million messages in this scene, especially at the part where she forgets the lyrics - her discomfort is evident without a single word! Finally Mani joins in the song to save her, and the slow, sweet smile that creeps onto her face is absolutely breathtaking. You can see how charmed she is by him, and he in turn gets to be her dashing knight, saving her from embarrassment.

We come out of the flashback and learn more about their home life, which is a very normal, middle-class living. Mani is inexperienced in his career and waiting for his first big break, but refuses to take a post as a junior lawyer. Because of this they are being supported by Kokila's family. You can automatically see the tension between the couple from this arrangement. They also have a lovely little girl named Manju, who softens much of the tension (whether actual or sexual) between them with her timely quips, my favorite being when they are standing close to one another and Manju yells "M for Man! L for Lady! K for Kiss!".

In Mani's quest to be with the "right" crowd to get himself ahead in his career, Kokila is dragged along to situations in which she feels very uncomfortable. She was raised to be a housewife and only minimally educated, so when they are invited to dinner by a colleague of Mani's, she worries that the other guests will come doused in fancy perfumes and even worse:

She's right to worry too. At the dinner, the men are being typical, passively sleazy men. They ogle at a random ugly aunty simply because her sari falls down to expose her bosom. And poor Kokila, in her attempt to eat with a fork and knife, accidentally sends her food flying directly at the lady's bosom. Sridevi's expressions in this scene are adorably pathetic. The only actress who has come close to such a sincerely touching performance that I can think of is Kajol in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, in the scene where she tries to wear a skirt and make-up to look like Tina.

So Mani attends Actress Kamini's film shooting along with his colleague, who is working as her auditor. The scene is a royal Swayamvaram, where all the princes and kings of the land gather in a court and a Princess garlands the husband of her choice. There is lots of GRATUITOUS BODY SHOTS of Deepa Unnimary (one of my favorite Tamil item girls!) as Kamini before we finally see her in all her glory.

When she has been fully exploited by the cameras, we finally meet Kamini!

Kkamini from Salaam-E-Ishq ain't got nuthin' on you honey!
The shoot is interrupted when Kamini throws her garland and it lands directly on Mani. They meet and Mani makes an impression with his wit and humor. From then on Mani spends increasingly long hours in Kamini's company, playing pool and talking. When a newspaper prints negative and false rumors about Kamini, she immediately hires Mani to take up a case against them. This is cause for great celebration for Mani and Kokila, but little do they know that it's the beginning of all their troubles.

The scenes where Mani is doing his first appearance in court are sweet and funny. Unlike most Indian films where the hero is perfect at everything, Mani is nervous and bumbling in court, dropping papers and addressing the defendant as "Your Honor" instead of the judge. But as he goes on, he gets his bearings and begins to gain confidence.

This movie is both endearing and disturbing. I'm definitely not a person that takes cheating lightly, even in fiction. I didn't enjoy movies like Sindhu Bhairavi, Chinna Veedu, or even KJ's Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, no matter how much the filmmakers try to make you sympathize with the cheating husband (or wife, in KANK's case). It's strange because in Meendum Kokila, there isn't technically cheating going on ... they are just very good friends. There are moments where he still shows great love and affection for Kokila, and even tries to romance her, most notably after he attends another one of Kamini's shootings. Kamini is performing in a rain scene, and the pretty, albeit slightly raunchy "Ponnanameni" inspires him to go home and try to re-create the scene with his wife.

This is a MUST-SEE scene, particularly starting at 2:22 when he goes home. So funny and sad all at once.

But then there are clear signs that Mani is besotted with Kamini. In one scene he's trying to cuddle with Kokila at night, and she is irritated with his efforts and pushes him away. He rolls over and immediately starts imagining Kamini lying next to him, and fantasizes about cuddling with her.

Another great Sridevi scene is when Kamini has to play the role of a Brahmin woman in madisaar, and none of the costumers on set know how to tie the madisaar for her. Mani immediately goes to bring Kokila to help tie the sari for Kamini. Her expressions of distaste and discomfort when she learns that a man usually dresses Kamini are amazing! Subtle, but they convey so much! Then once the sari is tied, we hit trouble. Remember Mani's fetish? Oh yes. He reaches out and grabs. Right in front of his WIFE. Needless to say, Kokila is FURIOUS.

He manages to convince her that he did it because he was imagining HER in the sari, not Kamini. It takes a while, but she eventually forgives him after he emotionally blackmails her and pretends he is going to kill himself if she doesn't believe him. V. annoying, but in the very next scene there is a wonderfully funny dream sequence with the song "Radha Radha Nee Enge".

Still his emotional affair with Kamini continues. She invites him along for a film shoot in Bangalore, and he lies and tells Kokila that he's going for a friend's wedding in Bombay. In a very cute parting scene, she packs and gives him three huge boxes of homemade snacks to give to all their relatives in Bombay. In Bangalore he and Kamini become even closer.

These scenes were definitely disturbing to me, because even if he wasn't physically involved with Kamini, the intimacy between them grows very strong. For him it's particularly unforgivable, he's lied to his wife and is traveling and sightseeing with another woman, as shown in the song "Hey Oraayiram" (in which Deepa is dressed in the MOST unfortunate outfit for her body type. I should know, it's pretty close to mine. That darned Mallu booty!). And even if they aren't romantically involved but he's fantasizing about it and spending so much time with her, isn't it still cheating in a way?

Even for Kamini, who is mostly portrayed as a nice person in the movie, at some point don't you have to question why a married man is spending so much time with you. Mani lies to her when she asks about Kokila, and tells her that Kokila is thrilled that he's spending time with Kamini. But honestly, you KNOW when you're overstepping boundaries, and I saw Kamini as a lonely character who allowed herself to be swept along with the flow of their friendship and didn't question it too much because she had too much to lose.

While gallavanting about Bangalore, they end up running into some excessively rowdy fans of Kamini's that end up attacking her. Mani is forced to call upon his ancient martial arts lessons, and his memories of Bruce Lee movies, to fight off the goons. This is a particularly memorable fight scene because the hero isn't naturally a fighter, able to fight off multiple rowdies single-handedly. He falters often, which makes for wonderful comedy. He ends up with a broken nose, but is able to save Kamini.

Naturally this kind of celeb news will not escape the papers. The news comes back to Kokila in Madras that her husband was involved in a scuffle with goons defending Kamini in Bangalore. Together with her brother, they confront Mani with the news article when he returns, still claiming that he was in Bombay. He covers up the story, claiming that he went to Bangalore for one day only to work on Kamini's case, but still Kokila is angry. She tasks her brother with following Mani about town, and of course, finds out just how often he is visiting Kamini's house, and grows more and more stressed, angry and sad, driven half-mad by her suspicions.

Eventually Kokila is driven to go directly to Kamini and (in a heartwrenching scene) beg for her husband back. Kamini seems genuinely shocked and upset by Kokila's request. In a confrontation with Mani, she claims that she had grown close with him thinking that she had finally met someone intelligent, with whom she could truly have an innocent friendship, but she is disappointed and hurt to know that he was besotted with her just like so many others in her life. With a heavy heart, she tells Mani she doesn't want to be the cause of a family breaking apart and throws him off her set and out of her life. Mani is dejected and begins wandering the streets aimlessly.

Meanwhile Kokila is dealing with something far more serious. Baby Manju has developed a high fever, and Mani is nowhere to be found. Will it take something life-threatening for their child for Mani and Kokila to work out their issues? And what role will Kamini play in Manju's illness? Therein lies the climax of the film, which ties a neat bow but still leaves me unsatisfied.

I found myself troubled by Mani's obvious fixation with Kamini and his lies to his wife, while at the same time it seemed to me that he was still genuinely in love with his wife. Then again, perhaps this is the more life-like tale, showing how people CAN be in love with their spouse and still have a crush. So then is it ok, is it just human nature? Is it forgiveable as long as one doesn't act on it?

Can a man and a woman just have a platonic relationship? And if Kamini REALLY saw their friendship as completely innocent, why didn't she ever ask Mani to bring Kokila along to spend time with them too? Did her loneliness influence her to ignore the warning signals in her own head and move freely with Mani despite the fact that he was indeed a married man?

Personally I've battled with these questions a lot - watching how one by one I seemed to lose all my male friends after getting married, or trying to preserve friendships when underlying feelings made it virtually impossible. I'm of the opinion that you can't really go past a certain level of friendship if you want to remain respectful of your spouse. I would probably be far more upset if my husband had a close, intimate friendship with another woman than if he had a physical tryst. And when I meet the girlfriends or wives of close male friends, I KNOW that I must go out of my way to befriend them and make them comfortable with the fact that I am no threat to their relationship with their boyfriend/husband.  If Kamini truly wanted to maintain an innocent friendship with Mani, shouldn't she have befriended Kokila too? What on earth could have made her think that it was appropriate for him to leave his wife and child at home and travel to all her location shoots with her?

A problematic film in that it doesn't answer these questions or really give any consequences to Mani's actions, but it certainly pieces the elements together in a way that one can really enjoy. Kamal Hassan embodies the role of Mani with mastery, showing weakness and folly, his intentions and his actions, all convoluted so much that even he himself probably doesn't know what he wants. Deepa too brings a sympathetic angle to Kamini, and you want so much to like her, particularly in the final scenes when she tries to do the right thing. But the reigning queen of this show is definitely Sridevi as Kokila. Her range of expressions, her descent into jealousy and rage, and her transformation from innocent and trusting to the emotionally ravaged person she is at the end are tremendous. It is no wonder she received the Filmfare Best Actress Award (Tamil) for this film. She is a revelation in it, and you cannot help but love Kokila and cheer her on and want to clock Mani for hurting her so much.

Worth seeing for the lovely songs, the subtle comedy scenes and for Sridevi's incredible performance as Kokila. It also forces you to ask yourself a lot of serious questions! No matter how disturbed I am by Mani's behaviour in this movie, it still remains in my favorite movies list for the lighthearted moments in the first half of the film!