Divya (Revathy) is a young, carefree and vivacious college going girl. Her father arranges her match with an eligible young man, the manager of a company in Delhi, Chandra Kumar (Mohan). She initially opposes the match but relents when her father, who was very keen on this alliance, has a heart attack. The couple go to Delhi but Divya refuses to accept Chandra Kumar as her husband and asks him for a divorce. She tells him about her past when she fell in love with a small time gangster, Manohar (Karthik), but their romance was brutally cut short when he was shot in front of her even as she was waiting for him outside the registrar’s office to get married. Chandra tells her her past is immaterial, he is only concerned about their future. But she refuses to relent. The couple apply for divorce but are told they must live as man and wife for a year before it would come through. They go ahead with the proceedings and live separate lives under the same roof. Even as Divya slowly warms up to Chandra, he keeps himself aloof from her since it was she who wanted this divorce. And when Divya finds herself finally falling in love with the kind, sensitive and considerate Chandra, their divorce comes through…
Mouna Ragam is looked at as Mani Ratnam’s breakthrough film and though somewhat dated in places in terms of both content and style, the film has some of his finest moments. The film, his third in Tamil and fifth overall, maturely deals with the man-woman relationship and remains one of the best in the genre.
The strength of the film lies in the way both the key relationships have been treated – the major Revathy-Mohan one and the shorter Revathy-Karthik one. While the major one is gentle, subtle and nicely built up with moments of introspection not just for the characters, but for the viewer as well, the shorter one is young, playful and often brings a smile to your face, being full of vintage ‘Mani Ratnam’ moments. What’s more, the film is treated in a sophisticated and restrained manner and is refreshingly free of melodrama and this style is maintained throughout the film. Ratnam sensibly avoids milking the potential dramatic scenes such as Karthik’s death and Revathy’s reaction to it. What’s also interesting about the whirlwind Revathy-Karthik romance is that her family never even knew about it, again refreshingly free from the cliché of the parents opposing the romance, fights over it etc.
The film has its share of memorable moments like the scene where Revathy is trying to feed Mohan after he’s back from the hospital. When he refuses, she asks him if he has a problem with her touching him and he says he has no problem but on touching him, she would feel like bugs are crawling on her, a reference to her telling him this earlier. She is as stung by this remark as he was earlier. The scene before she is supposedly leaving for good outside the train station and where she declares her love for him even as he gives her the divorce papers is another one handled extremely well by not just the filmmaker, but by both artists as well. The film sees also certain trademark Ratnam elements like the rain song with Revathy in the beginning. Girija was introduced in Gitanjali (1989) with a song in the rain as was Aishwarya Rai in Guru (2007). The use of back light in most frames was further developed as a slick technical style by Ratnam and his cinematographer, PC Sreeram, in all their forthcoming films.
Still, for all that works and works mighty well, the film has its share of little glitches. The father’s heart attack to get Revathy to marry is an old trick the film is unable to avoid. The smaller comedy tracks don’t really add anything to the film and you do question why Revathy chooses to spend time with Mohan under the same roof instead of going back to her father’s place if they are going to divorce anyway. Maybe she is unable to tell her parents the true picture of her marriage especially looking at the circumstances she has got married in, but still… Mohan’s character too appears much too nice and sweet. He too is human and would have his shades of sadness, anger and frustration at her rejection and humiliation of him. Even when he remains aloof from her after they’ve decided to separate, or is indifferent to her parents when they visit, it is for her sake as he feels then they would blame him for the separation and not her. In fact, he is too good to be true and you do feel that making him a little more well-fleshed out and three dimensional would have given the film another layer. Ratnam cleverly tells us about the Karthik-Revathy romance at a key point after Revathy and Mohan are married. Hence you buy the vivacious, young Revathy forced into this arranged marriage. But you do question yourself after the flashback that wasn’t she too normal and unaffected at the beginning considering the enormity of what had happened in her life.
The performances cannot be faulted. In a career full of memorable acts, Mouna Ragam has to ranks as one of Revathy’s best ever. She is simply the life and soul of the film. Be it the young, carefree girl swept off her feet by the small time hood, or the reluctantly married woman coming to love her sensitive and caring husband, she is spot on in every scene. Seeing what a nice man Mohan is, Revathy walks the thin line of being unreasonable and not very likeable at times but she manages the balancing act perfectly and is simply outstanding. As the gentle, kind and patient husband, Mohan is not bad even if as mentioned, he is too good to be true. Karthik lights up the screen in his short cameo as the small time gangster who woos and wins her before being gunned down in front of her. His extrovert and likeable personality is the perfect foil to Mohan’s introverted one. The scene where he talks with her father in the restaurant even as she is hiding in fear is a scream! The supporting cast is efficient enough.
Technically, the film is more than ably lit and shot by PC Sreeram, the first collaboration between him and Mani Ratnam and one that would continue with brilliant work in films like Nayakan (1987), Agni Nakshatram (1988) and Gitanjali before they split up and then re-united with Alai Payuthe (2000) and O Kadhal Kanmani (2015). However, some of the shot taking, while being typical of the time, has not held up well particularly the overuse of the zoom lens. Ilayaraaja’s music goes smoothly with the flow of the film, while the rain song at the beginning and the romantic one, once Revathi realizes she is falling for Mohan, are nicely picturized.
All in all, Mouna Ragam is well, well worth a watch even today. It was re-made in Hindi as Kasak (1992) with Rishi Kapoor, Neelam and Chunky Pandey but the film fai
Tamil, Drama, Color