Telugu non-Brahmin girl, Swapna (Saritha), and Tamil Brahmin boy, Balu (Kamal Haasan) are neighbours in Vizag. Their parents, actually her mother and his father, are at constant loggerheads. Though the two do not know each other’s languages, they fall in love. Of course, all hell breaks loose when their romance is discovered. It is decided to keep them apart for a year and then if they still love each other, they would be married. Balu goes off to Hyderabad where he works with his father’s friend. There he meets a widow, Sandhya (Madhavi), who teaches him dance and Telugu poetry. Swapna’s mother gets a distant relative over in the hope of making her forget Balu and marry him instead. Even as Swapna eagerly awaits Balu’s return, thanks to a misunderstanding, Balu believes Swapna to have betrayed him and he proposes to Sandhya…
Maro Charithra is probably one of the most famous love stories ever in Telugu cinema. The film, based on a love story between a non-Brahmin Telugu girl and a Tamil Brahmin boy breaking through barriers of culture, caste and language, is one of K Balachander’s most popular films ever.
Perhaps, my take on this undoubtedly classic film is likely a tad unfair. For I have seen its Hindi re-make Ek Duje ke Liye (1981), which looked at the romance of a Punjabi girl with a Tamil boy, first. Ek Duje is practically a faithful scene to scene copy of Maro Charithra and hence one must give the original film its due. Also, having been made 3 years later, the Hindi version is comparatively a more polished product whereas Maro Charithra’s making suffers from the archaic techniques of the 1970s, in particular, some awful, awful use of the zoom lens, easily 1970s Indian cinema’s most abused toy.
That said, Maro Charithra’s biggest asset is its story and screenplay and the characterizations of its lead pair – that is where the film really scores. The romance overcoming the language barrier is done extremely well with the lovers exchanging ‘dialogues’ and sweet nothings over washing clothes or banging on books or through switching on and off of their bedroom lights. What’s more, the love story has an intensity that was rare till then in Indian cinema as the lovers here are openly defiant about the expression of their love towards their opposing parents. This and their agreement to separate for a year to prove the strength of their love fired up the imagination of youngsters, in particular, young lovers of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. The screenplay is well-worked out and events and characters well-linked making sure it flows smoothly enough through to its tragic conclusion.
The tragic ending in Maro Charithra and consequently Ek Duje ke Liye has always been a source of constant debate. Many felt after all the lovers had gone through, a happy ending was needed. After all love had to overcome its obstacles and win. But K Balachander stuck to his guns and while one may or may or not agree with his decision, there is no doubt the ending gives the film a solid emotional wallop and brings a lump to your throat. More so when you connect to the opening sequence as you go through the empty ruins and ‘hear’ Balu’s and Swapna’s romance.
The film has several memorable moments but the most famous act of defiance remains the scene where Swapna mixes the ashes of the burnt photo of Balu into her coffee and drinks it down. Another great sequence is where she takes her opposing mother to those spots where she has the fondest memories of her romance with Balu. Saritha’s expression as she recalls those moments is simply brilliant. The main argument scene between the lovers and the parents done as a series of freeze frames was also regarded as being amazingly innovative in its time but looks dated today.
The central performances are spot on. Kamal Haasan shows why he is regarded as one of the finest actors in the country as he captures every shade of his loverboy role expertly. Saritha makes a stunning debut. Though extremely ordinary in looks, she scores with her performance – in the more emotional and dramatic sequences she is simply superb. It is hard to believe this is her first film. One wishes she could have been styled better though – she simply cannot carry off western clothes. Madhavi brings great depth and dignity to her role as the widow who falls in love with Balu and who eventually does the right thing, sacrificing her love.
There are glitches in the film too, no doubt. The characterization of the cousin, for one, is cardboardish, clownish and a total caricature. You know Swapna would never take this joker seriously. An interesting situation could have been created with him being more flesh and blood as was done in the angle with Sandhya and Balu. The two main warring parents – the mother on the girl’s side and the father on the boy’s side are loud and irritating. You also feel the central love story develops too fast. It needed some more interaction between Balu and Swapna to make its progression that much more believable. The end climax leading to the lovers’ death is executed tackily and betrays a lack of cinematic technique. And while the film is an intense love story no doubt, the film does rankle you with Balachander’s refusal to take a stand and maintain a status quo instead. The lovers of different backgrounds get united only in death while a widow will not re-marry.
On the technical side, the making has not held up well and the film reminds you of those archaic 70s techniques. The sound design is often jerky and while musically, the film is more than adequate and the songs did prove to be popular in its time, it has to be said the Ek Dujesongs do hold up better. Also, SPB’s English rendering is unintentionally funny and care could have been taken about this. In fact, as mentioned, it is the content and acting that makes Maro Charithra the film it is and not so much its cinematic craft. This proves that if your content is right, it helps you override everything else, especially so in Indian cinema.
The film has been re-made again in Telugu in 2010, but failed to have the impact of the original. Which just goes on to prove that a classic is indeed a classic and is best left untampered!
Telugu, Romance, Black and White
Ek Duuje Ke Liye songs better because they were written beautifully by Anand Bakshi.