What are man’s primary needs? Food, Shelter, Clothing? Everything else is secondary. That is what, is taught to us in school, right? But isn’t the objective of nature for every individual, man, plant or animal to pro-create and take their species forward? And for that to happen, nature has designed individuals of opposite sexes to be naturally attracted to each other, indulge in sexual pleasure to satisfy their urges, and at the same time, sow the seeds for the next generation?
In a cultured society, a man or a woman can steal if they are hungry. Remember the classic verse ‘Thani Oru Manithanukku Unavu Illai enil, Jagathinai Alithidu’.. There have been several movies based on the social inequalities of people who lack food, clothing or shelter ( Veedu) .. But what about sex?
During my 9th standard, I remember my Biology teacher defining marriage – ‘Marriage is a license given by society to a couple to indulge in consensual sexual activities, bear and raise their children responsibly, so that their species continues to survive.’ ( Or something in similar terms..) But is sex not an activity that people would prefer doing within 4 walls? Is it not a basically private activity?
The previliged ones, have the privacy of 4 walls that cover their bedroom. But what about the underpreviiged? There are very few movies that tackle this issue. Recently, a movie that starred ‘Prabhu Ganesan and Abirami in the lead roles reflected on this issue ( Middle Class Madhavan). The movie was heavily dramatised. There is another instance in the form of a dialogue, in the movie ‘Aarulirundhu Arupathu Varai’, when Rajini and FataFat JayaLakshmi have lost all their wealth, including their house. Rajini has been betrayed by his siblings, and he along with his wife and his young baby are now living off a one bedroom hut, possibly in a slum area. One fine day, the child is sleeping on the Thottil, and Rajini is rocking it slowly, when his wife Fatafat asks him, how would they find privacy, when the child grows up? In his imitable style, Rajini answers saying, that he would ask the neighbour ( pakkathu veetukkaran) how he manages this problem, and we can follow the same. The tone is funny, but it reflects some bitter truths.
Subathinam too takes on this heavy topic. The movie, does avoid most of the gross over dramatization and heavy monologues of the 60s and is subtly made. Each character is well etched. It was made by a new Director Shrikanth. When i asked Film News Anandan, who this director was, he told me that it was a Telugu Director, an assistant of the legendary L.V.Prasad.
The movie is a close to reality based on the difficulties faced by the urban poor who struggled to find accomadation in the larger cities, where they came looking for a better life, and either ended up in cramped one bed room houses, poorly lit chawls or lived their life off the footpaths of the city. It also tries to expose some of the practical realities and the struggles faced by some of these people who are forced to be deprived of what we consider normal human necessities. The movie also tackled a problem of a ‘taboo-ish’ nature, the lack of privacy for a married couple, to have normal conjugal relations in accomadations that could not offer them the normal privacy of 4 closed walls.
Raja Badar (Nagesh) is a happy go lucky Rickshaw hand-puller ( He pulls the rickshaw himself, instead of horse driven tongas.) One day, he meets Iyer Saami ( Nambiar) and his wife Gayathri with their brood of half a dozen children. They have decided to move to a new accomadation and have packed up their house hold items, only to be shocked to see that for some reasons, the new house, which they were supposed to move, is not available to them. With not much left, Raja Badar takes them to a place, where millions of people like him, live. He takes them to a small locality, and asks its current owner ( a bachelor) to vacate it, for the sake this large family. Although initially hesitant, Iyer Saami and his wife settle in their new home. Soon, they become a part of the community that lives there including Raja Badar, his lover, Vadivu and his Thatha.
One day, RajaBadar meets a village girl, who has come looking for her husband. Her husband had promised to pick up, but hasn’t turned up for over 5 years. RajaBadar searches for her husband, but without any luck, brings the girl home to Iyer Saami and his wife, who promise to look after her, until her husband is found. Raja Badar’s best friend is NeelaKandan. Neelakandan (MuthuRaman) and His lover Saroja, who works as a nurse decide to get married. He marries Saroja, but on the eve of their wedding night, Neelakandan’s old Mama ( V.K.Ramaswamy) and his wife Swarnam turn up, uninvited at their house. They have no children and had brought Neelakandan up. Without any common sense, they accomadate themselves, in the single bedroom, where NeelaKandan and his newly wed wife, Saroja were supposed to be spending their wedding night. With little option left, Neelakandan curses his stupid Mama and Athai and leaves to Iyer Saami’s house.
On the very same day, RajaBadar gets married to his lover Vadivu. On seeing the earning ( yekkam) face of the poor girl, whom he brought home to Iyer Saami, RajaBadar feels bad. He walks out of the small wedding night celebrations made by his wife. He promises to be celibate, until he finds the girl, her husband.
As months roll by, NeelaKandan and his wife Saroja find no privacy at all. The Mama and Athai continue to stay in their one bed room house. A desperate husband and wife try to go find places of privacy like a Train and a Hotel Room, but their bad luck continues and for some reason or the other, their marriage remains unconsumated.
NeelaKandan has introduced RajaBadar to his friend, Vijay in the past, a man with a notorious reputation of being a womanizer. Co-incidentally, he turns out to be the husband who abandoned the poor girl. He initially refuses to accept the girl, but eventually, comes through. As a starkling irony, NeelaKantan’s Athai, a much older women gets pregnant, a fact that a much older couple had no common sense to respect the privacy of the youngsters.
Nagesh, as a firebrand characters holds the movie on his shoulders. He is ably supported by the wise Iyer Saami, played by M.N.Nambiar. While, I have seen characters depicted as Horse Tonga Drivers ( SuruliRajan in Oli Pirandhadhu) and Cycle Rickshaw Pullers ( Delhi Ganesh in Pasi), this is the first instance, that i see of a hand Rickshaw puller. I have never seen such a thing in my life, although I have heard that such people earn their living in and around Calcutta. It is possible that such a profession existed in Madras in pre 1960s. Although, MuthuRaman is technically, the hero of the film, Thankfully, the movie director has tried to avoid to provide hero worship and has touched upon a topic hardly spoken in Tamil Cinema.