indian cinema heritage foundation

Sirai / Chirai (1984)

  • Release Date22/11/1984
  • GenreDrama
  • FormatColour
  • LanguageTamil
  • Run Time125 min
  • Length3926.99 meters
  • Number of Reels14
  • Gauge35 mm
  • Censor RatingA
  • Censor Certificate Number5117
  • Certificate Date15/10/1984

Based on a short story by Anuradha Ramanan, a popular writer in Tamil, this film was about the priest of a Hindu temple and his wife. It had created quite a controversy with Brahmin organizations clamouring for a ban. Antony, a landlord, and a hard-drinking bully fancy the priest's wife Bhagirathi, and under the influence of liquor, rapes her. The priest refuses to live with her. As she wanders around aimlessly, a policeman tells her that she should not meekly accept her circumstances when the guilty man goes about as though nothing has happened. Convinced by his argument, Bhagirathi walks into Antony's house and declares that she intends to stay there. Antony takes care of her and over the years, she develops secret respect for him. But they do not have any physical relationship. When Antony dies, she realizes what he had meant to her. On the same day, the priest returns and implores Bhagirathi to come back to him. She spurns his offer and declares that she would rather be known as Antony's widow than be the wife of the man who rejected her.

Though iconoclastic in theme, the film had all the trappings of a run-of-the-mill commercial movie—a cabaret type dance, duets, and a fight sequence along with clichéd devices like using obesity for comic effect. These diluted much of the film's impact. A totally irrelevant, parallel story—of a farmhand, courting the daughter of a local politician—served as an intrusion. The music was unobtrusive and appropriate, with ambient sounds woven in. Much of the film was shot in authentic locales, keeping sets to the minimum and the lush, outdoor shots brought out the tenor of village life quite well. The manifestation of corrupt political practices at the village level, particularly the nexus between the police and the politician was ably depicted. Antony's shotgun, through the barrel of which he first sights Bhagirathi, was used as a symbol of his manhood. But neither the metamorphosis of his character nor his death was convincingly explained. Also, the passage of years that Bhagirathi spent in Antony's house was not depicted visually at all.

The high point of the film was the powerful and convincing portrayal of the wronged woman by Lakshmi;  her Brahmin accent was very authentic. The fact that she spoke the lines herself (different from the now common practice of having another artiste dub for the actors) added to this effect.

[from the book The Eye of the Serpent by S Theodore Baskaran]