Readers Write In #302: Samsaram Adhu Minsaram, and how age changes how this movie is viewed

Posted on November 18, 2020

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(by Sudharshan Garg)

The movie bug bit me hard when I went to the first Laurel and Hardy movie as a 5 year old. Back then the Blue Diamond hotel (RIP) was the Satyam Cinemas of our day, talking about 1985-86. My uncle a lifelong movie aficionado (he was the room mate of Ravi K Chandran, if you want some movie trivia, and they did and continue to talk endlessly about movies) introduced me to my love affair with Cinemas. By 1990 I had graduated into my own tastes, which was chiefly war movies and my signature calling card, bad movies.

By the mid 90’s I had branched out into world cinema, action movies, political thrillers but my guilty pleasure remained bad movies. It is one such movie that was firmly in my “bad movies” list that I must have rewatched and mocked dozens of times that I had the opportunity to watch again last week and was blown away by the sheer genius of Visu. The movie Samsaram Adhu Minsaram.

As a teen, the movie’s premise was ludicrousness itself, a father son fighting over money? Drawing a line in the hall dividing the house used to crack me up every time. Whenever my mom / dad and I had a mild argument, I would threaten them (jestingly) that I will draw a line and divide the house.

Last week though, fully grown man that I am now, I got back home and my mom was super excited, she told me that some channel had one of my most favourite movies and that I was in for a treat…and it was SAM! Excited, I got stuck right in, thinking that as always I would mock and laugh at the stupid premise, stupider OTT dialogues. Some 2 hours later, after having fully watched the movie, in complete silence, I was blown away by how subversive Visu really was. How he truly captured the essence of Indian middle and lower middle class families. He exemplifies the petite bourgeois far better than any political film like an Anbe Sivam.

His greatest achievement though was in how he pulled the rug on us (subversive as the D&D the show runners of GoT liked to say). Till the interval portions, the real protagonist was not even present for the most part and her turn was unexpected, I am referring to Lakshmi’s brilliantly portrayed Uma. Even the conflict, over money which was something I had rubbished as a teen, have now seen destroy utterly entire families. Why, even my father and I would get into arguments every time I purchased anything that cost more than a thousand bucks as my father’s core ideology was “save” and lets just say I don’t entirely agree and we have had quite a few semi serious arguments over money. So many bourgeois families living in 1 or 2 BHK  homes have the same problems Siva and his wife have which is where do you have the time and space to be intimate when you are working all the time and share your bedroom with 5 other family members, all of this struck home like the points Uma / Lakshmi makes in the climax.

The real subversion and bold themes of Visu the screenwriter come through in the climax. In less than 5 minutes he upends the standard patriarchy trope (of the family elder, mostly male resolving conflicts) found in Indian cinema. Even worse, he makes bold to lay the claim that real life is not cinema, once trust is broken, it stays broken. You can’t magically make a happy joint family once it is unmade and Uma drops her final nuclear bomb, lets not be a joint family ever again. I was yelling at the screen by this point as this goes contrary to every single “shubam ending” we have been conditioned to in decades of these family cinemas.

The joint family as an institution has been shown very artificially in most movies, the Hindi ones are the worst offenders, showing a giant party circle for a family, a few Tamil movies like Ahaa come close to depicting inter familial conflicts but they are rooted in ultra wealth, which takes away many of the conflicts and resolutions that SAM brings to the table. Can you imagine the super rich family in Ahaa arguing about the Rs 25 in laundry bills? Or the after shave lotion costs in the monthly grocery bills?

I always wondered why this movie was such a big hit, and I wonder no more. The next time I rewatch it, it will be with the seriousness and respect it deserves.