Article Tamil

25 years of Thevar Magan: Revisiting Sivaji Ganesan and Kamal Haasan's masterpiece

From casting and direction, to acting and music, Thevar Magan raised the bar in every department in Tamil cinema. Here's why it's still a delight to watch the film 25 years after it first hit the screens in 1992.

Manigandan KR

On 25 October, one of Tamil cinema's finest films, Thevar Magan, completed 25 years since it was released in 1992. The film was special for a number of reasons. First, it had a number of brilliant actors including two stalwarts of Tamil cinema, Sivaji Ganesan and Kamal Haasan, matching each other's spectacular performances, move for move. So fantastic and overpowering were the performances of these two gentlemen in the film that even exceptional performances by other members of a really gifted cast were made to look ordinary in comparison. As a result, many of the other fine performances in the film did not get the attention they truly deserved.

Take for instance, the role of Vadivelu as Esakki in the film. His performance was nothing less than outstanding. Be it the beginning of the film, when he welcomes Sakthi and his girlfriend Bhanu to Koovathur or be it the place where he loses an arm as a result of choosing to break open the lock of a temple, or the time in the climax where he offers to take the blame for Maayan's death, Esakki is loyalty personified. And Vadivelu played Esakki so convincingly, that even today, 25 years later, the name of the character brings to mind the face of the artiste.

Another, exceptional performance that didn't get its due recognition came from Kaka Radhakrishnan as Chinna Thevar. It was a mind-blowing performance to say the least! Playing a stroke-afflicted patient, who has lost the use of his limbs is no easy task but Kaka Radhakrishnan depicted to perfection a character so difficult to portray. Imagine having to sit on a wheelchair and forgo the usage of your right side. Add to that the fact that he had to distort his lips to indicate facial palsy. Just remaining in this posture without having to deliver a dialogue would by itself have been a huge challenge. But Kaka Radhakrishnan had to go on to showcase a range of emotions with this difficult get-up.

From arrogance, when Sivaji asks Haasan to greet him in a panchayat scene, to a sense of wicked joy when his son Maayan plans a destructive activity to sadness at the loss of his elder brother, Kaka Radhakrishnan played all of those emotions to perfection, even delivering dialogues just the way a person afflicted by stroke would deliver them.

Another little known aspect about the film is the manner in which the sport of silambam (stick fighting) is showcased in the film. Prior to Thevar Magan, silambam showcased in films was exaggerated to meet cinematic needs. However, in Thevar Magan, the traditional sport of Tamils was showcased in all its glory without exaggeration, instantly inspiring a considerable number of youngsters to take up the sport after the film's release.

In the fighting sequence, azhavu paarthal (measuring a stick) and salam varisai (The respectful bow to a guru using the stick) are showcased in the film as is the furious manner in which silambam competitions between experts are held, deep inside the heartlands of Tamil Nadu. Sunnambu pottu vaithal (the practice of placing a slaked lime mark on your opponent's forehead using a stick) was showcased in the film for the very first time.

Just like how towering performances from Sivaji and Haasan garnered all the attention, unwittingly paving the way for other good performances to go relatively unnoticed, the songs scored by Ilayaraja for the film were all so brilliant that they vied for attention. Every single song in that film was a masterpiece. However, while songs like 'Potri Paadadi Penne', 'Inji Iduppazhagi', 'Saandhu Pottu' and 'Puthiyathu Pirandhadhu' became chartbusters, two other masterpieces, which were no less in beauty or mellifluousness, 'Manamagale' and 'Maasaru Ponne Varuga', were ignored, at worst, and not celebrated to the extent that the other four were, at best.

'Manamagale', in particular, was mindblowing. Based on the Shuddha Saveri Raaga, the song comes when Shakthi, with no option left, has to wed Panchavarnam (Revathi). It has deep meaning, and with the intense score, comes across as a haunting melody that tugs at your heartstrings. The other song, 'Maasaaru Ponne', which is based on the Carnatic raaga Mayamalava Gowla, is a song glorifying Goddess Shakthi.

From casting and direction, to acting and music, from cinematography to editing, the film raised the bar in every department in Tamil cinema. Probably, that is why it is such a delight to watch even 25 years after it first hit screens and that probably will be the reason why it still will be a delight to watch even 25 years from now.