In 1994, the erstwhile blockbuster partnership of Kamal Haasan (producer in this film) writer Crazy Mohan and director Singeetham Sreenivasa Rao joined forces to bring a story that shattered the glass ceiling so to speak. Magalir Mattum starring powerhouses Revathi, Urvashi and Rohini was a pioneer of sorts as it paved way for many strong female-centric narratives in the future.23 years later, the film was reinvented by Bramma, his second venture after the critically acclaimed hard-hitting drama Kuttram Kadittal. This film can now be streamed on Zee 5. But how does it stand up against the spunky original? Let’s analyse.
Different narratives of women empowerment
Magalir Mattum (1994) follows the life of Janaki a middle-class typist struggling to support her family, Sathya an outgoing designer with a brave outlook on life, and Pappama, a timid housekeeper with a drunkard husband -3 women from vastly different backgrounds who work in the same office in different capacities. They form an unlikely sisterhood to fight and stand up against sexual harassment in their workplace mainly instigated by their leering womaniser boss, played by Nasser.
The sequel brings together a similar band of women in a different milieu who yearn to be heard and recognised. In this remake, Urvashi, Saranya Ponvannan and Bhanupriya play 3 school friends who reunite after 38 years. When Urvashi’s future daughter in law(Jyothika), a liberated documentary filmmaker realises that the women are still tied down by patriarchy, familial pressures and archaic thinking, she urges them to embark on a road trip of self-discovery and self-worth.
Trailblazing Original vs Spirited Reprise
What made Magalir Mattum(1994) a unique film was its tenacious script that spearheaded a feminist revolution during a time where the macho hero dominated in a testosterone-driven industry. Workplace harassment of women has existed from times of yore irrespective of the nature or stature of work and this film set a benchmark with its bold showcase of the travails they face. It also succeeded as it combined rib-tickling comedy and a sharp screenplay( the classic Crazy Mohan kind) to tackle these issues and enlighten viewers. The sequel packs in a good measure of pluck, spirit and fun-filled energy whilst highlighting important issues of oppression and misogyny that is still prevalent in today’s era. The script though lacks the punch and pointedness that the original film had and as a result, feels a bit too stretched towards the culmination.
The acting performances then and now are sparkling
1994’s Magalir Mattum brought together the wonderful talents of 3 top female actors of the time. Revathi, Urvashi and Rohini are a hoot and together they set the screen on fire with their ensemble performance. While the dialogues are expectedly brilliant, the women enhance them further with their body language and acting skills. In the sequel too, we have not 3 but 4 prominent leads who give competent performances. While Urvashi BhanuPriya and Saranya prove their experience and pedigree, Jyothika is sprightly and earnest but falls a little short of the right emotions, especially when pitted against her senior counterparts. Nasser is roped in to play the male chauvinist who objectifies women in this version as well and the actor doesn’t fail to make an impression.
So which is the better film?
Both films are interesting and important commentaries on women’s rights and their position in society. While the original achieved blockbuster status and deservedly so, the sequel received good responses and appreciation too. Yet, all things considered, my vote for the better film goes to the 1994 version as it was a fresh and bold experiment at a time when filmmakers were churning out male-dominated scripts. It is also a better movie in entirety with relation to the plot, dialogues and story progression. The sequel though is well made, has heart and deserves a watch.
Magalir Mattum (2017) is streaming on Zee 5