#100days100scenes: Entering the arranged marriage - the Mani mini series

Mani Ratnam Mini Series 

Although Mani Ratnam has given several commercial hits , one of the hallmarks of his work is his absolutely unique way of helming romantic relationships and their conflict in a very relatable , every day sort of way.  Indians had always had a pre-ordained way of living their post academic life. It was called ‘getting settled’. 

You go through an arranged marriage, the parents and close family provide an insurance cover and then you continue ever after. All strife is endured by all stakeholders to show hum saath saath hain. At a deep level , Indians liked this low volatility family life in a high volatility country. Movies showing family break up (all the way to Baghban in 2004) were depicted in black and white. 

Super oppressive mother in laws provided a new form of villainy in Indian movies  that would put the worst stepmom in America to shame.  Similarly daughters in law who break families are shown in a way that they have forgotten even basic etiquettes and are usually shown as orphans or from broken families thus questioning their upbringing. These daughters in law would be shown as extremely cunning and materialistic as the Chinese customer queing up for a Louis Vuitton handbag discount.

In this extremely polarized film making world, entered Mani Ratnam with Mouna Ragam. The amazing part of Mouna Ragam is the emotions that the character played by Revathy is extremely natural and hence relatable. Even her actions seem like a reaction to what is going on her mind and surroundings. Even though there is some commercial justification for he

The story backdrop is that Revathy has an effervescent romance with Karthik who is a revolutionary and dies in the politics of it.  Against her choice she gets married to a more well settled man– Mohan who is a well to do guy based in Delhi ( again untold but the security net he provides is desirable in an arranged marriage).  Even though the flashback provides a commercially viable justification for her behavior , this movie could have been made without that in Manis own words to show the emotional journey of a woman ( and perhaps man as well) as they enter an arranged marriage. 

Unable to forget Karthik , Unable to warm up to the niceness of Mohan who just wants to help her find her bearings in a new house, she goes into a zone of irritation and despair which just snaps up when Mohan asks her ‘what can I give you as a wedding gift’ and she says ‘ can you get me a divorce’.  This is the signature stamp of Mani Ratnam, short dialogues, actors who fit their characters as if it was coded and that tense pause. You don’t take sides, Revathy is just going through this phase, she finds the surroundings new especially nosy Delhi type neighbours, a creeping sense of loneliness ( hence her affection for the dog) and a husband whom she hardly has any conversation with. Her ex-association with Karthik provided the conversational chemistry which women dream for ages , the sapnon ka rajkumar syndrome. Suddenly marriage seems like a punctured balloon and an ordeal. Like in Indian marriages, long silences overcome problems rather than communication and hence the brilliantly titled Mouna Ragam ( the silent tune). 

Scene description 

Due to  the advice of office colleagues as a newly wed couple , Mohan takes Revathy for a dinner. Revathy asks him why he agreed to this marriage even though she had given indications that she was not interested . Mohan says that although he wanted to say no , he liked her and said yes. He gives an analogy that a new born child doesnt cry because it doesnt want to come into this world but is apprehensive of its surroundings. They have a quiet dinner. On the way he asks her that he wants to buy her a wedding gift since everything happened in a hurry. Stopping the car , while he cajoles her to tell her preference, she replies - can you buy me a divorce.