View Full Version : Screen-Turners II.3: The Moondraam Pirai Supremacy (Naaz)

29th April 2006, 05:10 PM
The Screen-Turners: Chapter II - Part 3: The Moondraam Pirai Supremacy



When my friend told me that Innale was best remembered for its ending, I asked him what was so striking for it to stand out so? The amnesiac girl does not recognize her husband! He exclaimed, aghast that such a horror should pass me by so unemotionally. After all, I had read Jananam, the book on which it was based.

For weeks I’ve walked around seeing “The Amnesiac Girl Does Not Recognize Her Husband!” in headline, subhead and whole paragraphs, as though it were some code Da Vinci had overlooked. You know those posters behind glassed frames that people have in their living rooms, right above the Devi bronze they picked up fifteen years ago in Bhutan or Bhubaneswar? It’s like when you are caught between those papery hallucinogens and your new age friend in the same room, and you can hear the instruction turn the corner on his tongue: If you stare at it, it will form an image? Well, that’s what happened with the phrase. And funny thing is, I did not have to look at it too hard for a pattern to emerge. It was there to see, all so beautifully angled and lighted, with just one studied glance.

Before Yaaro Ezhuthiya Kavithai crossed the border to become Innale, there was this other film, one that also featured an amnesiac girl, and guess what? Everybody just kept talking about the ending the ending never endingly. And even before that there was this other film with an amnesiac guy, and that too had an ending that was all the chatter. Or almost.

But we’ll get to that soon, right after this nifty little montage of my own memory of loss of memory as portrayed on the screen at a theatre near me. A bit of a maze that, I admit, but it also happens to be the most accurate way to put it. The trick is to catch it before it goes, becomes an engirindho vandha phrase.

Somewhere in the seventies, my dad packed my mother, brother and I in the car, and drove us to Mount Road to see a film. It was a tamil film, and my tamil was not good those days (my mother’s still is to this day) so I don’t think I could have been really too involved in the proceedings. But from what I could follow, I knew that Sivaji’s girlfriend burned herself and he went crazy and forgot who he was. There was this song Naan Unnai that went on and on, and after that I don’t know what happened. I woke up when the film was nearing its end and saw that another woman had her sari in flames. But she didn’t die. And for some strange reason the Sivaji guy did not recognize the woman, but she still kept begging him to stop the others from throwing her out of the house. On the drive back home, while my parents chatted about Sivaji’s “acting” (my father a bit effusively, for he fancied a resemblance to the star,) all I could think of that night and for a long time after, was, looking back now, the reverse of my friend’s incredulity: Another Girl Had To Burn For The Crazy Man To Be Not Crazy.

A bleeding heart, if there was one.

So you see, if at all there was a person who in later life should have grown up to be the sap for Memory Romances, it should have been me. However, that was not to be the case. The more I saw people losing it on screen at a theatre near me, the more I felt manipulated and frustrated. And, not so surprisingly, I was the only one I knew that felt that way. My friends didn’t care that we knew all about amiable amnesiacs and nothing about amnesia, the serious medical condition. The equivalent of “Oh, the players wear white” if you worship at the altar of Cricket. But Jananam’s introduction changed all that. Remember that quote about “unburdening” heaviness? It’s a scam.


A recent conversation with a Psychiatrist friend:

Me: “Can trauma from an auto accident lead to memory loss?”
Dr: “Sometimes. It depends on the injury.”
Me: “Can it make you crazy?”
Dr: “You mean like go ballistic?”
Me: “Yeah.”
Dr. “Unlikely. Amnesiacs tend to be internal, unusually quiet sometimes.”
Me: “Why?”
Dr: “Their fear is about not forgetting the immediate past. Their concentration tends to be on remembering things day to day, the short term.”
Me: “So they can’t remember or become who they were when they were five? Or just be five?”
Dr: “That’s a symptom of schizophrenia, not amnesia.”
Me: “You’re sure there can’t be adult auto accident amnesiacs that regress to the behavior of kids? Even temporarily?”
Dr: “I haven’t heard of such a thing.”
Me: “No kidding.”
Dr: “No.”
Me: “But there can be amnesiac pianists?”
Dr: “You referring to the Paris case? He did not regress or progress to being a pianist overnight.”
Me: “Can amnesiacs be cured? Like, fully?”
Dr: “ Trauma can only be treated, but Memory is tricky business.”
Me: “What about herbal potions that can calm and rearrange things like they were before the accident?”
Dr: “Oh, from ballistic to holistic?”
Me: “Ok, Memento or Bourne Identity?”
Dr: “Memento.”
Me: “Why?”
Dr: “The guy is paranoid about not being able to remember. That’s classic amnesiac behavior.”
Me: “And Jason?”
Dr: “Pure romance.”


A hard look at the poster, eyes fixed and unblinking, and I see the words Moondraam Pirai. The opus sealed it for Memory Romances, once and for all. There’s nothing quite in its league, before or after. Well, that wouldn’t be true, given the book turned film at hand. And the more you look at them, the films, side by side, like say, Padmini and Shobana, you see the similarities. Oh, yes, unmistakable. In how many ways shall I compare thee?

They begin with an auto accident. The victim is a young, fair girl in her twenties. The rescue team: A doctor and a teacher, both with deity names - Anantaramakrishnan and Srinivasan. How to describe the professions? Noble. The Samaritan status is immediately conferred, and that immunizes them from nary a sexual thought even though they are older male custodians of two mature women. Do-gooders, nothing less.

Moondraam Pirai even goes a step further and employs the charms of Silk Smitha to desexualize the Teacher (Kamal Haasan). Her domineering physicality (vamp) is used self-consciously to set up a fake binary between mature desire and child (woman) love (Sri Devi). But that is merely a fairy-tale construct as basic as the innocent and the wild. And that bit is entirely true of both films; they’re committed to Christian Andersen right through.

Srinivasan takes (abducts, if you want to get legal) Viji/Bhagyalakshmi from a brothel to his staff quarters in the hills, and Anantaramakrishnan dreams in duets with Lavanya. Both the films follow the previously detailed stations of predictability: Chokalingam plots to take Lavanya to the Pannai, and Viji is stalked and nearly molested by the man in the woods. The red riding hood and the bad wolf moment out of the way, both films prepare for their denouement. Anantaramakrishnan expects the arrival of Lavanya’s husband, and Srinivasan hides behind bushes awaiting the outcome of Viji’s total kashaayam recall.

All the “romantic” tenets are in play: A tragic accident and a beautiful victim. Two men of grace and goodness. Silky Baddies. But in the end love - love has to conquer all. So, if it can cancer, why not amnesia? Because that’s not how it goes with people who lose it. You might want to read the conversation transcript above (again) before moving to the next paragraph.

It is Moondraam Pirai that goes the full distance. Here’s how it wins the Christian Andersen Hall of Fame:

AromaHerbalApplication works like AHA for Viji, and she’s back to being B. Lakshmi of her grown-up, pre-subbramani /accident days. While she’s sitting in her cabin, waiting for the train to take her to another beach party maybe (she’s been missed,) Srinivasan shows up at the platform. The antics of a local politico’s entourage obstruct Viji’s view of Srinivasan, and amid the melee, the train begins to pull out of the station. Srinivasan performs segments from the duo’s recent childhood detour, but Viji doesn’t blink – actually, that’s all she does. Blink. Of course her name is not Viji.
Srinivasan bumps into a lamppost, and now blood borders his bloodshot eyes. He grins and jumps about like a monkey fetching a bucket of water, another scene from their “recent past” routine. Insane is not the word. And—you ready for this -- just as the last carriage leaves the platform’s edge, Viji throws a packet of food at Srinivasan from the cabin window, flinging it with the words, “Paavam…”

The audience lets out the drawn in breath. Adi Paavi.

Now you see the manipulation, the emotional scam of the “load” shedding? It’s Mawk.

Everything has been working its way to the HOW COULD SHE NOT RECOGNIZE moment. It is only a question of decibel after this. Had the proceedings prior to the climax adhered even remotely to a shred of reality, or the memory conundrum been presented with the rudimentary medical gloss, then the exasperation would not only be neutralized, it would be moot. But when such a possibility is romanticized for tear-duct bonanza (bullets for Bourne) you always have to bear in mind that it’s not about memory or amnesia or the reality of amnesiacs and their caregivers. It is always and only about an imagination that has tragically forgotten to be reasonable.

Author (C) 2006


30th May 2006, 10:28 PM
Dear Naaz,
Screen turners Chapter II padithen.Really it is very interesting and informating.

Ennudaiya niraiya sandhagangaluku vidai kidaitha madhiri oru feelings !!! Nice going !!!!

writers ----- ivargalidam nalla story kedaikum.
Naaz --- nalla narrator, , good analyzer,still you posses something !!!!

One doubt -- Jananam by Vasandhi ? Vasandhi kadahaigal vanga, endha padhipagathai ketka vendum ? Ungaluku theiryuma? Pl help me !!

With Love,
Usha Sankar.

31st May 2006, 10:06 AM
Usha Shankar -

Thank you for the kind words. I am glad you found the write-up to be interesting. TST Chapter 2 has subsections 1, 2 and 3. Neengal Padiththadhu Chapter 2/ Section 3. You might want to browse the previous issues of TFMpage Magazine.

Vaasanthi's Jananam is published by:

Kavitha Publication
Thapaal Petti Enn 6123
8 Maasilaamani Theru
Paandi Bajaar
Thi. Nagar
Chennai 600 017

email: kavitha_publication@yahoo.com

I recommend her novel, Nazhuvum Naerangal.

From now on, I will include the bibliographic details regarding the text in my preface. Keep coming back, and thanks again!

1st June 2006, 01:53 AM
Dear Nazz,
Thanks for the response. Previous issues innum padikavillai.Padithu vittu solgiren.

Follwing message shows your perfection in your presentation !!!
" "From now on, I will include the bibliographic details regarding the text in my preface."

My special thanks for this message !!!!

Thsnks for the address,Nazhuvum Nerangal - Paditha ninaivu.Story nyabagam illai.Mudhalil indha book ai vanga vendum.Neenga sonna address il indha book kedaikuma ?

With Love,
Usha Sankar.

1st June 2006, 03:33 AM
Usha Shankar -

I recommend you first write the publishers at the email address I have provided. If you specifically ask them for a list of titles by Vaasanthi, they should be able to send you a catalogue through email.
Good luck!


29th June 2006, 02:51 PM
Naaz, interesting delineation. I have posted before on Moondram Pirai - and the primary difference between MP and the other "loss of memory" movies is the treatment and conceptualisation - you were spot-on when you observed that everything is a lead-up to that final moment. Balu Mahendra admitted as much in an interview. He used the word "fantasy" - so, naturally, I extrapolated that to read the movie as thus - the movie is just a translation of the following outline into a screenplay "Man is in sleep. Man has a dream, say, early morning. Dream panders to his unfulfilled fantasy. Well into the dream, it suddenly gets cut by a splash of water on his face. He wakes up and tries to relive the dream as it was really sweet, only to realise that thats not going to happen"

Lakshmi doesnt really exist - which is why she cant recognize Seenu.It's as simple as that. I think our audience, including a whole bunch of Kamal fanatics whom I happen to know, misinterpreted that as a real story that happened, and raved on Kamal's performance without even realising the real depth of the performance.(ppaaruda, eppadi sridevi recognize pannadadhai anguish-aa velipatuhuraaru - it wasnt really about that emotion, was it?) It is like appreciating Brian Lara for a powerful and huge sixer(appreciating the fact that it is powerful and huge), when the beauty of it really lies in the timing.

OTOH, we had stupid critics who claimed logical holes like "how can someone hide a girl for so long" etc. Simple, man, it was just a fantasy.
MP must be the most misread movie in Tamil Film History.

10th July 2006, 12:47 PM
rajdes -

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on MP and BM. I have not read the BM interview regarding the "fantasy" context. Do you know when and where it was published?


12th July 2006, 03:51 PM
Naaz, that was a TV interview around 1992-93 in DD Metro. I cant find transcripts, I guess. But he sure did say it was about "every man's secret fantasy" - rest of it is my reading of the movie and it makes a lot of sense to me especially the non-recognition of Seenu in the end by Viji. While it is spot-on as the reaction of a just-cured amnesiac, it is also well logical as a splash of water on a morning dream. You are not going to be able to continue the dream, are you, no matter how much you "azhidhu porandufy"!

13th July 2006, 06:36 PM

Thanks for the fantasy part. On recall, the movie would have been much more interesting/believable if the main core of the story is Kamal dreaming the whole thing and then waking up at the end and wants to prove to himself that the whole Viji-incident did happen.

However, I would not have understood then and so would many many tamil film lovers and the movie would have become a super-flop.

Thanks, I wish BM had taken a director-cut on the fatasy lines


15th July 2006, 11:23 AM
rajdes -

Balaji effectively articulates my own discomfort: It is not enough for the director to have the "fantasy" concept in his head; for it to work on screen there has to be a visual context. Moondraam Pirai has no such presaging for an awakening in the aftermath. The film strives for "realism" throughout, and as such, the "dream" remains an abstraction exclusively of and in BMs head.

But here's where I part ways with Balaji politically: My discomfort with this justification is doubled when I unpack the (supposed) "fantasy/dream" metaphor. For one, it is an out and out patriarchal cliche: Heterosexual man dreaming of an idyllic love life with child-woman (Kamalhaasan as "guardian" and Sri Devi as "ward")
Taking this "fantasy" further into a realm of perversity is the depiction of the "child-woman" as an amnesiac, a mental state that deprives her of the most basic agency - the ability to say "No." Just as an exercise in reversal, let's try this: How would the film work if the man was the amnesiac child-man and the woman the guardian/romantic prospect? It would have been amavaasai at the box-office. Hence, in my view, it is not enough to say "fantasy, dream, that's all" and move on. It is absolutely essential to deconstruct not just the dream, but who is dreaming (it up,) and what makes such a dream socially (and cinematically) acceptable.


16th July 2006, 07:56 AM

Agree with you. Can we ever accept a Woman verison of "Autograph"? This is where believe some American/European film have the artistic freedom to express woman's point of view. Having said this, Hollywood made Mel Gibson in "What a woman Wants" instead of say Jennifer Aniston/Julia Robers acting in a "What a Man Wants?".

Wasn't siipikul muthu address some of the reciprocal roles of a strong woman and childlike man?

Naaz, great wriet uP!


16th July 2006, 10:47 PM
balaji -

Thanks! I am glad you enjoyed the piece.

"What A Woman Wants" was exclusively (never mind the Woman in the title) from a Man's point-of-view. It was, to borrow BMs quote from rajdes's post, "every man's secret fantasy." So, in actuality, it was "What a Man Wants." And if my memory serves me right, the girl who plays Mel's daughter sums up his character (and the movie) aptly: "A jerk."
If Moondraam Pirai attempts an indigenous answer to the question of "What A Man Wants" (secret fantasy) then it would be a chirpy but clueless "lolitaesque" girl who would tease his carnal instincts and entrench his paternal authority. Amnesiac would be a definite plus. (Kannadasan's "Kannae Kalaimaanae" distills all of this in verse.)

I gave up on K. Viswanath films after Shankarabaranam (which was, in my reading, a load of schlock.)