Ankur Agarwal reviews Bharathiraja’s debut film, 16 Vayathinile (1977), one of the most intense Indian films ever made.
A truly great film, Pathinaru Vayathinile (or 16 Vayathinile) is about the vulnerability of a woman, and yet her strength: at the same time, she can change the life of a man through her love, and she can mar her own life by falling for the wrong man in the first place.
The film’s charm lies not only in three brilliant actors, who were all raw at the time–Sridevi, Rajnikanth, and Kamal Haasan–but also in the minimalistic style the film has been directed.š The focus has largely been on the characters, there’s hardly anything else. And of course the film stands upon the shoulders of Mayil (Sridevi) for that: she can spit on Rajnikanth as disdainfully as she can laugh with joy on receiving a slap from Chapani (Kamal Haasan), thinking of how hard hit must be the vet doctor who jilted her.
Set in rural Tamil Nadu, the film absorbs the landscape in the story, rather than extraneously focussing on the village scenes, as so often many films make the mistake of doing (for example, Paruthi Veeran). Which is why one moves in a continuity, one moves with the characters to the story’s climax. Speaking of which, it is again one of the rarest and best ever seen: maybe, much oftener seen in Tamil films. There is no sweet, contrived ending as so often in Hollywood or Hindi films; and yet, it has something of a hope left. Even if Chapani is maybe going to be sentenced to death, there was always that love for which Mayil would wait for ever; and nothing can discount that. One of the highlights of the film by the way is the lovely drawl in which Chapani takes Mayil’s name: mentally retarded, yes, but his intonation of Mayil’s name has that special quality; which is how probably you get the measure of Kamal Haasan.
One of the rare greats of Indian cinema, the slow yet tenuous movement of the film’s story reminded me of another great Indian film, Girish Karnad’s Cheluvi.