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Revathi: Divya was a lot like me

Days after the 30th anniversary of Mouna Ragam, a nostalgic Revathi tells me that she feels like the movie was just shot recently

Did you realise 30 years have passed since the release of Mouna Raagam?

I had no idea. I also didn’t realise that people have started celebrating anniversaries of films. I had a person calling me to empathise about nothing being done about the anniversary. I said that as long as people are still watching the film, it doesn’t matter.

Does this passage of time make you feel… old?

An actor never truly ages in her mind. But having said that, I feel my age.

When I look back, Mouna Ragam still feels fresh. When I meet Mohan or Mr. Mani Ratnam, it still feels like we were shooting for the film only recently. Also, I did Mouna Ragam at a strange juncture in my life. It was just before my marriage.

Surely, you didn’t face the same tribulations that Divya (the lead character of Mouna Ragam) does post-marriage?

(Laughs) No. I married the person I fell in love with. It wasn’t the same thing at all. But Divya was very close to the person I was. She believes in living life to the fullest, and I was like that too. There’s a scene in Mouna Ragam that has her walking out of a conflict, mumbling to herself. I used to do that too!

Did you suggest that scene?

No, but my mother always suspected that he must have noticed me do that. Sometimes, when I’m furious, I don’t want to say something I’ll regret. Divya was like that too.

The film even begins with shots of your childhood photos.

I didn’t even know they had them! The first day of the shoot was at P. C. Sreeram’s house—due to budget constraints—and I was asked to set up my room. I was arranging the room like Divya would, and looked up at the wall… to see my photos! I had never wanted them to be shared. After much interrogation, my mother finally confessed to sharing them with Thotta Tharani. She had thought I wouldn’t feel bad about sharing them for a Mani Ratnam film. Mouna Ragam meant a lot to me even then; so, I didn’t really kick a fuss about it.

I find it interesting that Mani Ratnam and Thotta Tharani let you fashion Divya’s room.

Maybe Mani knew I’d enjoy doing it? I want to ask him some day.

I think I really, really understood everything about her, including her middle-class values. That’s why, in the first rain song (‘Oho, megam vandhadho’), if you notice my wrist, you’ll see that I’d have safeguarded my watch by tying a handkerchief around it. I felt Divya’d do that. I didn’t think she’d be the sort of person to remove the watch before stepping out into the rain.

When you get as close to the characters you play, do some of their traits rub off on you?

I think they remain as memories within. For instance, the rural character I played in my first film, Mann Vasanai, was nothing like the person I was. I grew up in cities, and in an army background. But today, if I have to live under a thatched roof and drink koozhu, I can do that. That’s only because of that role.

But I don’t believe Divya affected the person that I was. She waspractically me, after all.

So, you must have sided by her choices always?

Not always, no. In one scene, she tells her husband, “Neenga thottaa kambilipoochi oorraa madhri irukku.” I didn’t think she needed to hurt him so much.

In an interview, Mani Ratnam explained that the line was based on how he thought Divya’d feel on her first night.

That’s what amazed me about Mani—that a man could think about these things. It’s not easy. Even when my friends got married, I didn’t think about this. None of us do. We raise women by telling them, “Frock-a podu. Sariyaa okaaru. Kazhuththa moodu.” And then, we ask them to suddenly go and spend a night with a strange man.

Before her first night, Divya asks, “Rendu naal munnadi, enna indha madhri anuppirpingala?”

Exactly, and I loved that line! It affected me a lot. I wasn’t sure how to do that scene. I remember that we shot it in the house of Mani’s cousin. Also, since I was in love and about to get married, that was when I realised how I wouldn’t ever have thought about this, had it not been for Mouna Ragam. I was very quiet that evening after reading this scene.

That situation hasn’t really changed much, has it?

No, not really.

But you’re not against arranged marriages?

I’m not. But you should remember that Mouna Ragam was from Divya’s perspective. She was brought up with a lot of freedom. Do you remember that opening scene that has her pouring water all over her brother and his wife?

Yes, but surely, we want that freedom for all women?

Absolutely. My parents allowed me that freedom. Though I hail from a conservative middle-class family, they let me get into an industry that was considered quite taboo then.

But arranged marriages have changed since then. Today, they let you meet in coffee shops, and give you time to interact before the wedding.

All under the pressure of knowing that the longer you take, the harder it will be to say no?

Yes. But I know women who have said no. They are not as many as men, of course.

From Divya’s perspective, there was no saying no to either man. Both (Karthik and Mohan) were thoroughly charming in different ways, wouldn’t you say?

But you did find such men then! I’m talking as a 45-year-old here. Relationships were different then; you made bonds for life. Hailing from an army background, I met many, many men who were like Mohan. There weren’t too many Karthiks though.

Mani Ratnam has mentioned that Karthik’s character was a late addition to the film.

When I first read the script, his character wasn’t part of it, but I guess at the end of the day, you want people to see your film.

Did the addition of his character somehow make it seem like Divya was moving from one man to another, when the main idea perhaps had more to do with her imminent loss of independence?

I haven’t really thought of it that much. But I guess if you overthink, all classics will begin to seem unacceptable. Also, remember that we’re looking back at a 30-year-old film.

Which of the two character do you think you’d like today?

I guess I’d have to say… Karthik. (Laughs) Things change, and you want your life to be an adventure with somebody.

Somebody who’d not hesitate to stall traffic for you?

(Laughs) Not really. But somebody who’d be open to, say, going on a bike ride to Leh, Ladakh. When I was 20, I didn’t think about these things.

Would you say there’s still a bit of Divya left in you?

No, she’s done. I’m a different person today. My career is also in a different place. I’m doing just a film or two every year. The 80s was a golden period when films were made because we had good scripts. I enjoyed doing films a lot more then. Suhasini, Radhika, Radha… all of us did powerful, women-centric films.

So, when you read Mouna Ragam’s script, Divya’s role didn’t seem particularly revolutionary?

Not really out of the norm, no. Mani told me the gist of the story when we were doing Pagal Nilavu. I decided immediately that I’dhave to do the role.

From Pagal Nilavu to Mouna Ragam, had Mani Ratnam changed as a director?

I don’t think so. He always did what he wanted to. Perhaps it helped that Mouna Ragam was his brother’s production, and there were no creative interferences. It also helped that he was backed by a great team. P. C. Sreeram, Ilaiyaraaja…

The songs were something else, weren’t they? Do you have a favourite?

That’s a real tough one. (Pause) Maybe ‘Mandram Vandha’? I remember when Raja sir and I were watching Cheeni Kum, and I noticed that he’d used the tune in the film. I asked him, “How could you give this song?” I was quite possessive about the songs.

When you think about Mouna Raagam, what comes to your mind immediately?

That Delhi house. It was in Kilpauk, actually. I still remember being awed by that door that swings on its pivot. The house was a character by itself. Divya and the house evolve together. I also remember our one-day trip to Agra for the ‘Pani vizhum’ song.

Was that the first time you saw the Taj Mahal?

I’m an army man’s daughter, remember? (Laughs) I’d seen it before. But I’d never seen it across the Yamuna like that. When I got off the car, I ran towards the river and sat, absorbing the view. Mani wanted me to do exactly that in the film. He knew how to get the best out of his actors. Divya’s character also made it all enjoyable. As the years have gone by, I have realised the role’s value more and more.

Many actresses today would kill for such a role.

Well, what can I say? I’m sorry. I got it. (Laughs)

 

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