16 Vayathinile: Intense

By Editorial Team • Published on October 19, 2008

Ankur Agarwal reviews Bharathiraja’s debut film, 16 Vayathinile (1977), one of the most intense Indian films ever made.

16 Vayathinile (1977)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.


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8 Responses to “16 Vayathinile: Intense”

  1. Aniruddha Basu says:

    I had vaguely heard about this film, but do remember that the film is pretty obscure despite the presence of three superstars. That’s why, it would have been more helpful had you elaborated on the plot since I have no idea what the film is about. After all this is not some Nayakam whose storyline is known to everybody.

  2. Bikas Mishra says:

    Agree with you Aniruddha. Have noticed in some of your recent reviews as well Ankur, like Flight of the Red Balloon and Boy Meets Girl. I think it will really help us if you can give basic plot outline and can also introduce the filmmaker.

    I would admit my ignorance, haven’t probably seen any of Bharathiraja’s films and don’t know what he’s remembered for. You mention him only in the blurb. Had you written a bit about who he is and what films he’s remembered for, your article could have opened windows to Tamil cinema. Now it only prompts me to open IMDb and wikipedia in new windows.

  3. I approach reviewing a little differently. Thanks for observing my propensities and pointing this out, but I actually hardly like introducing a director or the film plot. I want the reader to do open new windows (though not necessarily of IMDB or Wiki), which he or she will do only if my review does interest him or her that far.
    I don’t want to become an information capsule for a reader: that he or she reads my review, then goes to a drawing room in the evening, and discusses very “knowingly” the film with other such similar guests. I am sorry to say, but I hate such necessary artificialities, and conventionalities.
    “Boy Meets Girl” was a brilliant review in my opinion, Bikas … even though I myself wrote it. I would hardly add anything to it or subtract anything from it.
    I hope that I have not been again obscure in expressing what I meant to say.

  4. nitesh says:

    I think Ankur is right if all he wants to do is write ‘ reviews’ product wise, and if that has nothing to do with film criticism. The Fligh of the Red Ballon, Boy Meets Girl, or even this review is just like the small synopsis one read in popular magazine; it may give information, but definitely it no piece of film criticism or critic.

    Beside, if some ass reading a well informed piece of film criticism goes about barking about the film, without having seen it, than, its his problem, and the problem of the large group of people who agree with him, in becoming a bank of pesudo-intellactuals, and not questioning the guy and his motive itself. This is a major problem with ‘ art’ and espcially ‘ cinema’.

  5. Srikanth says:

    Ok, I will do the”artificialities and conventionalities” then…

    Bharathiraja, the new wave of Tamil directors, followed the wake of triumph of the utterly minimalist Balachander and Sridhar (Tamil cinema was known for its extravagance too at that time, not to mention the influence of Ford’s westerns). Closer in spirit to Eisenstein than any world filmmaker. Bharathiraja’s characteristics include the age old montage and on-location shooting. Incidentally 16-vayathinile was the firstIindian film to be shot entirely outdoors.

    Also, his penchant for social commentary was remarkable. His shattewring film Vedham Puthithu still remains potent to shake us. Not that he is stuck with village subjects but that is what he believed in. He silenced his critics who told that way with the pathbreaking film, Sikappu rojakkal, I guess remade later in Hindi with Rajesh Knanna in the lead. Sikappu Rojakkal was by far the most advanced film that time and established Bharathiraja’s prowess as a strong director.

    He went on to make more cult films such as the cross religious Alaigal oivathillai and the Tamil version of Lolita in Muthal Mariyathai. His later films many of which still remained in villages, did not go down well with the audience. We’ll have to see how his bilingual Bommalattam starring Nana Patekar shapes out.

  6. Bikas Mishra says:

    Srikanth, thanks for the wealth of information, really opens new windows for me :smile:
    Somehow, haven’t seen Tamil cinema (except those which got remade in Hindi) and vaguely had heard about Bharathiraja. You make me anxious to look for his films, next time I venture out to a library.

    Ankur, thanks for sharing your views on film review. Think could be another interesting issue to have a discussion on.

    Nitesh, do read Ankur’s some of earlier writings before making an opinion:


    I think, he’s experimenting with the form / structure of film review, lets hope something nice comes out of it.


  7. Saravana says:

    I understand the curiosity of u guys here.
    I am also anxious to watch Satyajit ray’s movies (Hope I pronounced the name right).
    But due to my limited reach for good films, I am unable to do so.
    16 Vayathinile is a very rare film. The best thing in the movie is Kamal Haasan and Sri Devi’s potrayal of Chappani and Mayil. And of course the evergreen songs. The sad ending haunts me till today.
    Sometimes I think why good movies have sad endings. Probably, that’s why we still remember these kinda films.

  8. Probably the ending haunts us Saravana since it’s not that simply sad, is it? Yes, it’s sad, but also so much based on what has gone before. I read Exupery’s “The Little Prince” yesterday (have you read it?), and though it’s exactly difficult for me to pinpoint what calls on the association in my mind, I will still endeavour to do so.

    Once you have experienced something, you hardly forget it, do you? Even though with the final sentence on Chapani, their love wasn’t vain, they still got something, though not maybe something to show in the years to come when Mayil, a lonely village woman, would have to struggle with this world. For when we love something, that thing has “tamed” us; even though there were five thousand roses of the same size and shape, the little prince still loved his rose on the planet he came from, and for which he sacrificed himself to the snake, the wisdom.

    Lovely post, Saravana. Though hardly an admirer of Satyajit Ray, I would not dissuade you. But after having seen him some day, I would like to hear what do you think of Ray.

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