Tuesday Tamil: Padayappa, Bahubaali’s Queen is EEEEEEVIL!!!! Also, Rajnikanth

This was before Indra, right?  So the similarities aren’t a coincidence?  Or else they are both picking up on an older traditional I don’t know about. There are some Mahabharata touches to it, but the jealous overlooked woman and the vengeance in the second generation, that is oddly specific.

Yet another Rajnikanth film!  As I mentioned in last Wednesday’s “watching” post, I went to see Baasha in the theater with my parents.  They enjoyed it, but they also said on the way home that they just couldn’t understand how Rajnikanth got to be such a big star.  He wasn’t appealing to watch onscreen, his voice sounded odd, his gestures were strange, his face was unappealing, why do people love him?

I am happy to say that I have never had that problem myself!  Okay, I did have that problem before in a vague way, back when I wasn’t serious about watching Southern films, and I hadn’t seen any of his movies yet.  But the first movie I saw, Kabali, did such a great job of showing why he was a star, that it answered all my questions.  At least I think that was my first movie?  It was either that or Thalapathi, which is another great one.  Baasha was one of my early ones, but I am pretty sure it wasn’t my first.  Because it’s really not a good “first” Rajnikanth film.  And, to finally bring this back to my original point, this is not a good “first” Rajnikanth film either!  It really only works if you completely understand and buy into his Rajnikanth-i-ness.

But I do buy into his Rajnikanth-i-ness, more than I realized.  As I said in the first paragraph, this is really really similar to Indra. But Indra didn’t work for me at all because I just didn’t “get” Chiranjeevi.  Well, and also because I think this film is ever so slightly better structured than Indra.

Oh, and it also has better songs!  About song number 4, I found myself thinking “wow, these are really good songs!  Even with the kind of standard ‘let’s all look at Rajnikanth!’ choreography, and by the book visuals!”  And then I looked it up, and what do you know!  Rahman!  I wonder why?  He was already big enough by 1999 that he could pick and choose his projects, so what made him pick this one?  Maybe the director?  It looks like he has done some interesting stuff with big complicated plots and ambitious films.

I suppose this film was ambitious at the time.  And then within a couple of years, it was already out of date.  At the time, a large cast, a plot that spanned decades, multiple huge songs with a million dancers, that would be ambitious.  And then Dil Chahta Hai came out, and Jeans had already come out, and a whole bunch of others in Malayalam and Hindi and Tamil that I don’t even know enough to know about.  And by the end of all that, some big family melodrama with a lot of chorus dancers just looks kind of dull.

(Fun, but dull)

The other thing that might have been revolutionary at the time but is no longer, was Rajnikanth playing his age.  I don’t want to get in to too many details and risk spoilers, but I am just assuming based on the way the plot tries to kind of ease us into an old man version that he was going through something similar to what Amitabh before him, and now the Khans after him, are going through, figuring out a way to gently ease their audience into accepting them when they play their real age.

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This movie breaks very neatly into two parts, each part isn’t that imaginative, but they way they are connected is.  This isn’t to say they are bad, the first part is a very nice little romance, and the second is a very nice little epic revenge story.

There is also a bit of a social message.  Seeing Baasha on the big screen really made me notice how much of a political statement Rajnikanth is making and why he is beloved of the lower classes.  This film has that too, right there in the romance.  There are two women, Ramya Krishnan (who went on to be Rani Sivagami in Baahubali) and Soundarya.  One is the wealthy and educated lady of the house and one is the maid.  And Rajnikanth picks the maid.

In a different movie, like for instance Parijatham, this would be about picking her sweet simplicity and “homeliness” over the westernized confidence of the rich woman.  And it’s maybe a little bit that.  But it also feels like it is making a statement, the rich woman isn’t bad because she is educated and wants to pick her own husband.  She is bad because she thinks she is better than the poor woman.  And the poor woman is more deserving because she is poor.  Meaning hardworking, humble, aware of her own inner worth.  And Rajnikanth, when given the choice between the two, picks the hardworking humble and grounded one over the cruel and proud of herself one.

It’s not just that he picks her, it’s that he truly thinks he has to “earn” her.  He doesn’t think that just because she is a poor servant and his family is wealthy landowners she will naturally love him.  Or even that just because he is “Rajnikanth”, she will naturally love him.  He is scared to talk to her, ecstatic at any sign of approval, acting in every way like a man in love.  A man in love who doesn’t even see the gender and class and wealth dynamics which make him “better” than the woman he loves.

Which is what makes Ramya Krishnan such a perfect opposite number to him.  At first it looks like it will be the two women are being set against each other.  The poor humble maid who doesn’t think she deserves anything versus the proud daughter of the house who thinks she deserves everything.  But not really.  Just by thinking she doesn’t deserve anything, Soundarya is showing that she believes in the same class system Ramya Krishnan does.  It is Rajnikanth who is truly her opposite, because he doesn’t even see the class system, sees Soundarya as superior to Ramya Krishnan, and even superior to himself, because of her inner virtues.  And sees Ramya Krishnan as not even worthy of consideration because of her inner flaws.

Going back to the meta part of this with Rajnikanth’s career, it’s fascinating that this was also Sivaji Ganesan’s last role!  It was the passing of the guard in a lot of ways.  Sivaji Ganesan passing on the torch of the “old head of the family” roles on to Rajnikanth.  It’s only too bad there wasn’t a stronger young male hero in the second half so Rajnikanth could send the “young lead” torch on in turn.

But at least he did take a step up and take his rightful place, at age 49, in the father role.  The first half is his romance, which culminates in his family (headed by Sivaji Ganesan) agreeing to leave their ancestral village due to a dispute with Ramya Krishnan’s branch of the family, heightened by Ramya’s heartbreak.  Sivaji Ganesan then dies of a broken heart and Rajnikanth and his new bride are left to found a new dynasty.

This bit is very Mahabharata, the part when the Pandavas go into exile and end up building up an even better city than the city they left.  In this case, it is because the small piece of land Rajnikanth agrees to take ends up to have diamonds in it.  And so Rajnikanth and his family grow in wealth and power as the years pass.  And meanwhile, Ramya is locked in her bedroom, refusing to come out since the day Rajnikanth broke their engagement.

And now we have Rajnikanth the old man!  Grey in his hair, with two grown daughters.  The head of a household.  Again, I don’t know enough to know if this is the first time that Rajnikanth played his own age.  But I could believe it is.  And if it is the first time, or one of the first times, it is very well done.  The fans get Rajnikanth the young rebel and romantic in the first half to sort of ease them into the mature hero in the second half.  And Rajnikanth does an excellent job with his mature persona, still cocky and confident as he was as a youth, but with an added sort of comfort with himself that comes with age.

The second half works much much much much better in this film than in Indra.  It’s the same broad outlines of the plot.  The daughter of a rival family fell in love with him and he spurned her years earlier.  Our hero built up a new life with his family.  But now his female enemy has come back to take her vengeance by destroying his daughter/niece by making her be jilted just as she was years earlier.

Only in Indra, our hero and the woman who is his enemy are both supposed to still be kind of young?  I don’t know why, it’s much more powerful this way, seeing the pain of those years on Ramya’s face, and how Rajnikanth has aged so far past his youth and all these problems, so far that he has left them all in the past and doesn’t even consider them any more.

But most importantly in Indra, women are just pawns in this whole thing, complete victims of their emotions.  The Indra version, her whole revenge fantasy was just because she couldn’t marry him.  And somehow in the end she forgave everything and was in love again?  But Ramya, it wasn’t about the heartbreak for her so much as it was the wounded pride and the class issues.

And the overriding theme of this movie is that no marriages should be forced.  Rajnikanth should not be forced to marry Ramya.  And, in a greater sense, Rajnikanth knows that even poor servant girl Soundarya has the right to make a free choice of groom, and therefore he woos her and waits nervously for her answer.  There is even a whole little village legend behind it, how the chieftain must ask both bride and groom before the marriage if this is their free choice and they must answer honestly.

And this is Ramya’s evil.  To encourage her nephew to seduce Rajni’s daughter, knowing that Rajni will be honor bound to marry his daughter to the man of her choice, no matter who it is.  And then forcing her nephew to deny the match and humiliate the family.  NOT because their daughter has been fooled, but because it appears that they are forcing a person into marriage, the greatest sin possible in their village.

That makes all the difference!  I hate the movies where the plot revolves around forcing some guy to marry the daughter/sister/niece because even marrying a man who hates her is better than the shame of being publically rejected.  But in this case, no one cares that Rajni’s daughter has been rejected!  They are ready to have her marry someone else if she wants, no harm no foul.  The family shame and worry is something else entirely.

And the solution is similarly same-but-different.  They kidnap the boy not to force him into marriage, because that would still be the same problem.  But to get him away from the other forces that they believe are forcing him NOT to get married.  To make him answer truthfully and without fear of consequence as to how he feels.

And in the end, that is the triumph!  Defeating Ramya not through violence or force, but through love.  Just as Rajni fell in love with Soundarya and she with him, and therefore it was right for them to be married despite any short term consequences, now it is right for Ramya’s nephew to marry the girl he loves, simply because they love each other and for no other reason.

I tell you, Rajni Sir is so progressive!  I love him!

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30 thoughts on “Tuesday Tamil: Padayappa, Bahubaali’s Queen is EEEEEEVIL!!!! Also, Rajnikanth

  1. Margaret, this is a Tamil film. Not Telugu.

    It is Rajinikanth’s 150th film. For some reason, in India, the way Rajini treats Ramya was considered misogynistic. But one who made the devil proud by playing the antagonists in his youth, neither Rajini nor his fans cared about that. Also, people alleged that Ramya’s character was modelled on J. Jayalalithaa whose political career was opposed by Rajini in 1996. They sorted it out later though.

    Coming to Indra vs Padayappa, the former takes its title too seriously. The king of deities and very powerful, Indra had an eye for women and they were always pawns. Padayappa is just Rajini’s celebration, only more free and straight this time with zero subtlety.

    For Chiranjeevi, you can try Gang Leader or Khaidi which are action films. But if you wish to see him differently, try 47 Naatkal, Rudraveena (K. Balachander’s films), Chantabbai (subtle detective comedy) and Punnami Naagu (myth kind thriller).

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    • Thanks for the correction, I’ve fixed it.

      Interesting that it appeared misogynistic to people. I didn’t get that at all. If anything, I got the opposite. He wasn’t treating Ramya any differently because of her gender. She was his enemy and the head of his rival clan, and he treated her exactly the same way he would have treated a man in the same position.

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  2. While doing interviews after Bahubali 1 released, Ramya Krishna (no added “n”, though many Bollywood and Tamil journalists do add it, to make it a Tamil name), mentioned several times that she feels Sivagami is the most powerful role she enacted after (is it Neelambari? sorry, I forgot) her role in Padayappa. Also she said that she has never got so much appreciation from the audience and her fans after Padayappa till Bahubali.

    If you’re looking for Chiranjeevi recommendations that showcase his acting talent, I concur with all of the above (though sadly, Rudraveena doesn’t have any version with subtitles that I have found). I will add a couple more: Subhalekha (directed by K. Viswanath, another worthy director for you to explore), and Jagadeka Veerudi Atiloka Sundari, co-starring Sridevi. I (or others) might have suggested the latter to you before, as it is a very popular film. It even has Amrish Puri as the villain, speaking all his own Telugu dialogs. 🙂

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    • Thanks for the information! And the recommendations! And this really is a great role for her. She isn’t the “female villain”, she’s just the villain, straight up, the central antagonist.

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      • No one referred to her as “the female villain” here, so I wonder where you got that from. Male or female, to play the antagonist to Rajnikanth and hold her/his own against him on screen is no mean achievement.

        BTW, I can recommend another Ramya Krishna film in her older avatar — Konchem Ishtam Konchem Kashtam (Telugu). It’s an ostensible rom com if you only focus on the conventional hero and heroine. But, though she plays the hero’s mother, her role is substantive and not stereotypical. She’s opposite Prakash Raj as the hero’s father. Oh, yes, the hero and heroine are Siddharth and Tamanna (my first introduction to her), so I think it has all the ingredients to appeal to you. 🙂

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        • Sorry, it was late and I was sleepy and not clear. I didn’t mean “female villain” to be a quote of anyone in particular, just how in some movies it seems like the actress only gets to play a bad guy because the director wanted a female villain and a male villain. Like Ramya in Chaahat, she was the antagonist, but only half the antagonist, they threw in Naseerji too. But in this move, she was just the one and only antagonist! Which was really neat, that she was allowed to be the main bad guy with the scary music and low angle shots and all of that.

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  3. If you really want to get your mind blown with Bahubali connections, check out the Telugu film Adavi Ramudu with Prabhas — an early film of his. You’ll see many players from the Bahubali universe. Though Ramya Krishna only has a cameo, the interaction between her and Prabhas can be mind boggling when you think of their relationship in Bahubali. 🙂

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  4. Padayappa is my favorite Rajinikanth film! The songs, dialogues, and the mannerisms are so fun! I love the face-offs between Rajini and Ramya Krishna. I don’t think Soundarya has a meaty role in this movie but she’s one of my favorite actresses. If you want to see more of her work, I would suggest you watch Raja starring her and Venkatesh. It’s one of my favorites and it’s her best work in what I’ve seen.

    Speaking of Indra, I’ve heard that it’s just a mixture of many films put together. I’ve never seen Khaidi but that’s the movie that made Chiranjeevi a star so I would suggest that you watch that. I’ve only seen parts of Jagadeka Veerudu Athiloka Sundari but like Moimeme mentioned, it is a fun movie. My personal favorite Chiranjeevi movie is probably either Shankar Dada MBBS (remake of Munnabhai) or Bavagaru Bagunnara.

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    • Soundarya really didn’t have much to do here. She was a lot stronger as a character in the second half of the film, but she had less to do in that half than in the first one where she was just standing around waiting for Rajni. But I liked her in the second half! What little we saw. Nice to know that I was right, and she is a good actress, this film just didn’t really give her a chance to show it.

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      • Soundarya was an excellent actress, and usually picked non stereotypical roles. She was also a lovely human being (she came to an event I was at). Usually you can watch her films unhesitatingly, knowing you will be in for a good story and a strong character. I second the recommendation of Raja. Also, another great film of hers, but one where the dvd doesn’t have subtitles (maybe it will be on youtube with subs) is Tommidi Nelalu. It also has Vikram in a Telugu film. It’s about surrogate pregnancy. She plays an uneducated village girl in this. I am always bemused because in real life she was a trained doctor before she came into films.

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  5. Have you heard of the Telugu socio-fantasy film Ammoru? Negatives first – It has some problematic elements and the gory portions might not be for everyone. (Parts of it still terrify me) But it features both Soundarya and Ramya Krishna at their absolute best and some fantastic CGI way ahead of its time.

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    • I remember watching Ammoru as a scared kid who could not face the goddess’s idols in temples for weeks just because they held weapons in their hands. Today, I find it like it has strong structural issues but the actors pulled it off, especially the sorcerer.

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  6. Pingback: Hindi Film 101 One-Off: The Importance of Ratnam-Rahman and the Director-Composer Relationship – dontcallitbollywood

  7. Rajinikanth in his early career played many movies as an anti-hero that gave scope to display his potential.

    Netrikkan (third eye of Lord Shiva) is one such movie where he played a womanising business man father-in-law in a dual role as good son / bad father.

    I enjoyed Rajini movies till he started action roles mixed with humor (he is bruce-lee rather than jackie-Chan) but full-scale comedy such as thillu-mullu also worked very for him because he perfectly captures the badmashi(naughty boy) spirit of the role.

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    • Oh, that movie sounds interesting! I’ll have to see if I can find it with subtitles.

      On Sat, Apr 29, 2017 at 3:11 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

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  8. What I saw as underlying message for this whole movie with two parallel story lines (story of Rajinikanth’s uncles and Ramya) are two morals. He mentions it right away.
    With ramya it is this : No matter how big you are or how great you are you should always be humble when it comes to love. Love can only be conquered by love. Ramya always thinks (it is in the song she dances in front of crowd during engagement ceremony) that she is like mount Everest and people should feel lucky to be with her and scale her peak and pride themselves. She doesn’t understand that there is a whole huge population who just doesn’t want to scale Everest. They are happy with their life already. When she gets a taste of rejection or uninterest she gets furious, mental and turns into a huge mental agony. One phrase from the song I mentioned translates into ” I have given you an opportunity to comb my hair, drink my left overs. I am like sky who is now bent on helping you pour soul, you only need to beg”. That sums up her character.
    Complete contrast is Rajinikanth’s character. He is huge but he stays so humble as you mentioned. When it comes to love he himself goes to love and doesn’t expect love to come to him though he could do it if he wanted. He may be really charismatic but he likes to be common man when loving someone. He thinks love is something you should reach out for, or is the thing that is worth reaching out for. Nothing is more worse than waiting for it to come to you.

    With his uncle it is this : Luck comes with hard work. It needs to be earned. Fortune is to be earned to enjoy it. Virtue is the means of measuring your eligibility for holding fortune. If you don’t have such virtues fortune disappears as soon as it comes.

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    • Hmm. Interesting. I like your idea of the two concepts of love, Rajnikanth may be in love with a “lowly” maid, but he is humble and nervous as all lovers are. Ramya is in love with an important person, but she is confident and demanding.

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  9. I can only recall this one scene where he clearly cuts her down to size with his definition of what a woman should be like that is soft spoken, calm, god-fearing, patient etc

    Funny how almost no woman here has all those traits together :p oh what will Rajni think!

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    • I think there’s I reason I liked Kabali Rajni better than this Rajni. Anyway, isn’t his daughter divorcing in real life? I think he’ll be fine with us.

      (plus, following your earlier theory, he will always like me because I am super super fair, as are all his heroines. If he complains about me, I’ll just wave my white arm in his face until he is quiet)

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