Tribute: J Mahendran, who began his directing career with the Rajinikanth-starring ‘Mullum Malarum’

Posted on April 2, 2019


From the high melodrama of ‘Thanga Pathakkam’ to the subtleties of ‘Uthiri Pookkal’, his filmography saw it all.

Read the full article on Film Companion, here:

On the surface, J Mahendran seems to have had a strangely schizophrenic career. On the one hand, he is one of the seventies’ directors responsible for the transformation of Tamil cinema into cinema, a visual medium and not just a photographed stage play. On the other hand, you have his writing credits for, well, photographed stage plays – ripe melodramas like Thanga Pathakkam and Vaazhnthu Kaattugiren. The former, which features Sivaji Ganesan in one of his most legendary roles, is a power struggle between a father and his wayward son. The latter is the kind of four-handkerchief weepie Sujatha specialised in. She’s married to Muthuraman, who begins an affair with Padmapriya. So she moves out and turns to what appears to be sex work. As she puts it: Naan andha kaalathu ponnaa irundha, purushan kai vitta odaney aathukko kenathukko [tharkolai pannikka] odiyiruppen. Naan indha kaalathu ponnaache. Adhunaala tharkolai pannikka padukkai araiye podhum-nu theermaanam pannitten.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this line, of course. It’s the kind of stylised (and heavy) wordplay Tamil cinema has always specialised in, and it’s not easy. It takes skill, and this skill may not be available with a more “cinematic” writer or filmmaker. But here’s the thing. When Mahendran turned to direction, with the Rajinikanth-starring Mullum Malarum in 1978, it was the most artfully cinematic of outings. (See Flashback video below.) How did this drastic transformation occur? Was it due to the cinematographer, Balu Mahendra, who guided a newbie-filmmaker out of the thicket of photographed stage plays and into a new terrain called pure cinema? Or was there something in Mahendran himself that pointed to this transition?

Continued at the link above.

Copyright ©2019 Film Companion.

Posted in: Cinema: Tamil