As Tamil film Magalir Mattum completes its 25th anniversary today, actor Urvashi recounts her working experience and explains why the film is still relevant
Urvashi takes a brief time to warm up to the fact that Magalir Mattum (1994) has completed 25 years since its release. “It feels as if we were shooting yesterday,” she laughs. When Urvashi got a call from Kamal Haasan’s office, she was super excited. “He (‘Crazy’ Mohan) narrated the script, but didn’t reveal my character. Instead, he said: ‘Kamal sir asked you to choose the one you’d be interested’,” remembers Urvashi. Though all the characters were well-written and had equal scope, she was initially drawn to Paapamma (played by Rohini) as it was something she hadn’t done before. “I liked Paapamma’s rawness that stems from her family situation. But I settled for Janaki because she’s a character that audiences relate to.”
That was during the first day of the shoot, but Urvashi was far from being nervous. Having worked with Kamal Haasan and Singeetham Srinivasa Rao in Michael Madhana Kama Rajan, she understood how the duo operated. Recalling the shoot, she says that a new office-setup was created at Chandamama Building, where they had to rehearse a couple of scenes amidst Haasan. “That was the only time he (Haasan) visited the sets,” she says. Urvashi firmly believes that the film wouldn’t have worked without her friends, Revathi and Rohini, who, according to the actress, deliberately underplayed their characters just to elevate Janaki’s performance. “The beauty is that none of us had any ego issues. Since all of us were friends, we had a ball during the making. They could have easily changed or said ‘no’ to some scenes. But they didn’t. This shows their self-confidence. In fact, I missed them while shooting for the new Magalir Mattum (2017),” she says, adding that they embarked on a journey that continues till date.
Years of memories flash in her mind, admits Urvashi, who finds it hard to think of scenes that they had most fun while shooting. “Be it the karuvadu scene, or the lorry sequence, where I crack an egg and say, ‘Aiyoo konjum vaila poiduthu de,’ there are so many good memories. I have to appreciate Revathi’s courage to ride the Bullet without a dupe,” she laughs. About the scene where the trio have a quiet moment at a hotel, Urvashi makes an interesting revelation. Apparently, it was during the making of the film that Urvashi had first stepped into a hotel, “I come from a conservative family. Going to a hotel was a rarity. I had never gone to a hotel alone. When I mentioned this to Revathi and Rohini, they immediately took me to Gangotri.”
The protagonists of Magalir Mattum — Sathya, Janaki and Paapamma — are representatives of three different classes. Was that part of the script? “Of course. The idea was to show that women, irrespective of class difference, face the same problems in a patriarchal society. For instance, my character exhibits a typical middle-class mentality. Paapamma is in stark contrast to Janaki and carries a bold and brazen attitude. Sathya is an independent woman who’s very precise about things.” Nasser, who plays the flirtatious boss, is as important as the female leads, something that Urvashi acknowledges. Talking about the idea behind giving Nasser the nickname ‘mookan’, she says, “Women have the tendency to come up with names for people they despise.” She adds, “Nasser was supportive through the making of the film.” Magalir Mattum is still popular for the scene in which Nagesh plays a dead body. Urvashi opines that nobody could have done as much justice to that character as Nagesh did. “I recently shot a ‘death scene’ and found it very difficult to perform. But Nagesh did it effortlessly. While shooting, he literally behaved like a dead body and we had to carry him around. Plus, he had a sardonic half-smile over his face and I used to lose it every single time. Tamil cinema fails to celebrate great artistes.”
Urvashi did have a bittersweet experience with lyricist Vaali, who had written the song ‘Karavada maadu moonu, kaala maadu onnu’ in the film. “I found the words, ‘karavada maadu’ a little degrading. The news reached Vaali and he called me to explain why he wrote those words, and I was somehow convinced.” Following the release of Magalir Mattum, Urvashi says she got a call from Vaali, who informed her about a popular song that featured in Kadhalan. “He told me that the song was ‘Take it easy Urvashi’, she adds.
Magalir Mattum, in many ways, was ahead of its time. It was set in a milieu and spoke of workplace harassment and male gaze. Urvashi credits Kamal Haasan and Singeetham for its success. “To produce a project that tells the story from a woman’s point of view was an audacious attempt. And, he (Haasan) selected actresses who are not known for their glamorous roles,” she explains.
What makes it relatable even today? “It told the sufferings through comedy. Had it been a serious film, people may have rejected it.” The film ends on a positive note, reaffirming faith in times of trouble. From 1994 to 2019, have things finally changed for women? “Definitely. Which is why women are boldly coming out with #MeToo stories. Perhaps films like Magalir Mattum paved the way for such movements.” Though the film was populated by female characters, Kamal Haasan makes a cameo appearance toward the end. “Initially, the script had a female character. But we all wanted Kamal sir to play that role,” she says.
Even after all these years, Urvashi aspires to do a sequel, in which all characters are well-settled. “I’m curious to know if they will have the same spirit,” she smiles.