Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Swathi Muthyam (1985) dir. K. Viswanth

I have only seen a couple of  Padmasri Kamal Hassan's Hindi movies and have so far watched none of his vast numbers of Tamil and Telugu films.  A friend recommended  Swathi Muthyam as a wonderful example of Kamal's work. Swathi Muthyam won several awards including best feature film and recognition for Kamal Hassan and Director K. Viswanth. It was also India's Oscar entry for 1986 so I thought it would be an interesting one to check out.  Swathi Muthyam probably wouldn't have made it's way onto my queue with out my friend's recommendation. So Naren, thank you, because this was a wonderful, bittersweet gem of a film that I am so glad I watched!
     The film starts with Kamal's charactor Sivayya as an old man, waiting for his sons and their families to come to visit. He seems somewhat frail and slightly confused or forgetful, not unusual for an elderly person.  When his family arrives they get him to reminisce about his deceased wife.

When the flashback starts you realise fairly quicky that the simple, slightly stubborn worldview of Sivayya has nothing to do with age. Sivayya is a young man with autism who lives with his grandmother, played by Nirmalamma. He is loved and watched out for by the people of his village.
We also find out the young widow Lalitha, played by Radhika, and her small son are turned away by her wealthy inlaws when she goes to them  to seek their assistance. She has no choice but to return to the village where she is treated as an outcast, and try to make ends meet as a music teacher.

Sivayya befriends Lalitha and her son. Being a sweet and kindly person Sivayya  is very aware of her struggles. He asks his grandmother about Lalitha in order to try and understand why she is treated so unfairly and to find a way to help her. He listens carefully and takes everything his Grandmother says literally. First he tries to get Lalitha to wash the steps of the Temple so she will be blessed. When that doesn't work he walks across fire to earn the blessings of Allah. 

When these don't work to change Lalitha's fortunes, he pesters his Grandmother again for a solution. She responds that someone nice should marry her and take care of her. Sivayya takes her literally and at a ceremony at the temple, and much to the shock of Lalitha and the villagers, he grabs the mangalsutra meant for the diety and places it around Lalitha's neck.

Now things turn ugly. The villagers are very upset that Sivayya broke a taboo by remarrying a widow. When a neighbor beats him, Lalitha moves in to protect him. She promises his grandmother she will always look after him.

They go to the city where they try to start a new life. Sivayya struggles to take on the responsibility of his new family. He gets the idea of begging to get school fees for his son, but ends up giving away what he gets. Eventually, through the help of friends he is able to find a job to support his family.
There are so many humorous and touching moments in this film as Kamal's Sivayya negotiates the situations he faces with such innocence and goodness. It is not a dialogue heavy role and Kamal uses body language and facial expressions to convey those charectoristics with subtle, sweet humor. His performance reminded me alot of Peter Seller's Chauncey Gardner from the film Being There.
  Swathi Muthyam moves along at a sweet rhythm and is filled with poignant moments. One of my favorite scenes (and one that shows the deftness of K. Viswanth's direction) is when one of Lalitha and Sivayya's friends recognizes Lalitha's loneliness and encourages her to finally consumate the relationship.

I love this screencap that I did. so photobucket, stop taking it down!
Another moment comes after Lalitha's wealthy former inlaws come back into the picture and the final 15 minutes of the film had me sobbing.

The music by Illayaraja is really nice and fits so well with the mood and tempo of the movie. Here are a couple of my favorite songs.

This one is nice because the picturization shows the developing friendship between Lalitha and Sivayya and the important role music played in their lives.

 After watching Swathi Muthyam I am bumping Kamal Hassan's films up on my "to be watched" list.

ETA: Swathi Muthyam was remade in Hindi as Eeshwar starring Anil Kapoor. As soon as I get my hands on a copy I will review it and add it to my Remakes page.


  1. Yes! I agree! Thanks for visiting Nikita.

  2. I suggest to watch following moves of Vishwanath

    Must Watch: Saagara Sangamam

    Worth Watch: Swayam Krushi

  3. Thank you Tolly, I will definetly look them up! I really enjoyed Swathy Muthyam a lot, so I wamt to look for more of his work.

  4. Saagara Sangamam is another movie which has the same team (K.Vishwanath, Kamalhassan, Ilayaraja). Wonderful with wonderful music. Still looks fresh.


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