Sometimes, when you look at your mother, perhaps as she is watching television or reading a newspaper, it’s easy to forget that she too bristled with your youth and harboured the promise of an exciting life once. It’s easy to assume that mothers were born looking the way they do today, saree and all. Of course, this isn’t just true of mothers. It’s true of most women who have been reduced to slaving away while their loved ones take them for granted. That’s why that haunting flashback of Subbulakshmi (Saranya), Rani (Bhanupriya), and Komatha (Urvashi in top form) serves as the backbone and the life of this film. Every time the film’s getting a tad preachy, a tad dreary, a part of the flashback returns to liven things up. It’s a tender, gut-wrenching reminder of the exuberance they once had, of the promises of an exciting life they once nurtured.
On that fateful flashback night, the three women, teenage girls then, step out of their hostel — jails, for all practical purposes, and a likely indication of the world they are growing into — to watch a film, Aval Appadithan (a film not at all accidentally chosen). A recurring idea in the film is how the characters can’t really remember the film they set out to watch. In trying to remember it, one of them asks, “Was that a Rajini film?” while the other responds, “No, I think it was a Kamal film.” The truth is, it’s neither. It’s actually a Sripriya film, for Aval Appadithan is about a progressive woman who thinks about things like women’s liberation. This constant Rajini-Kamal reference is, I imagine, director Bramma’s rap on the knuckles of every filmgoer who ends up thinking of Aval Appadithan as that Rajini-Kamal film. Rather ironically, much like that Rudraiah film is constantly remembered for Rajini and Kamal starring in it, Magalir Mattum too has been promoted for the presence of its star… Jyotika.
Cast: Jyotika, Saranya, Bhanupriya, Urvashi
In truth though, it’s about the seemingly mediocre lives that Subbu, Rani (called Ra), and Komatha (called Komes) have settled into following their marriages. Jyotika, brimming with vitality and youthful vigour even if she oversells the cutes once in a while, plays Prabha, the future daughter-in-law of Komatha, and the catalyst that brings together all these women once again in order to spark in them that fire of freedom once again. From organising husband-bashing sessions to running races, she does all she can to reanimate the teenagers in them. The first sign of this happening is when Komes learns she’s about to travel to Agra to see her long-lost friend and breaks into childish, excited giggles — not quite unlike the joyous screaming of the students she’s tutoring when they learn about the holidays in store for them.
The casting is terrific. Urvashi is a riot as Komes. Saranya can’t put a foot wrong, it seems. And Bramma’s clearly gone all out to find actors in their likeness to cast as their younger selves. The cinematography, evidenced especially in that long shot inside Subbu’s cramped house that shows her oscillating between an ill old woman and a drunk, is quite lovely.
The problem of Magalir Mattum is one of over-zealousness, I imagine. The bad men are liberally painted in black. Rani’s husband (Nasser) is a personification of rudeness. Komatha’s husband (a delightful Livingston) is a personification of alcohol. The messages are also sometimes too forced. Prabha suddenly looks down from a mountain and screams: Naanum irukken. Later, when talking about the ‘mayajaala jail’ that is marrigae, she urges for the doors to be kicked, so they either open or break down. She says that literally. A policewoman’s advice to Rani’s son doesn’t feel too organic. Later, it is said that true liberation for a woman is being with someone she loves. Well, wish somebody had said, ‘True liberation is deciding if a woman wants to be with someone’. The redemption scenes didn’t particularly work for me either. The transformation of Subbu’s husband seemed too sudden, and almost insincere. The overdramatic breakdown of Rani’s son seemed staged. But all said, I imagine Magalir Mattummust be taken as feminism 101, the lessons landed with a punch or two every now and then, so they get into the heads of some of the dull sexists.
Towards the end, there’s a tribute to the original Magalir Mattum, as a popular star makes a cameo (even if slightly ineffective) much like Kamal Haasan in the original. Just as it all seemed to be ending on a not-so-exhilarating note, director Bramma returns to the strongest part of the film… that flashback, in a beautifully conceived scene. And it seemed like poetic justice that it took a return to the three main women of the film — not a cameo from a man — that helped Magalir Mattum end well.
This review was written for Cinema Express, the cinema division of The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to its page if you’d like to share it.