Muthal Mariyathai (1985)


Muthal Mariyathai (1985)

The film begins with the friends and family of an old man (Sivaji) waiting for him to die, as he lies ailing alone in an outhouse. The film goes back in flashes through his life, especially the events following the entry of a boatman's daughter Kuyil (Radha). Unhappily married to the shrewish Ponattha (Vadivukkarasi), he takes solace in a friendship with Kuyil, which is socially awkward, and complicates things for both.
IMDb   7.6 /10
TheMovieDb    7.5 /10
Director Bharathiraja
Writer Bharathiraja
Release Date
Runtime2h 43mins
Content RatingNot Rated (Not Rated)
Awards4 wins.
CompanyManoj Creations
Sevuli (as Ranjini)
Ponnatha's Former Lover
A.K. Veeraswamy
A.K. Veeraswamy

Muthal Mariyathai

Muthal Mariyathai (pronounced; transl. Prime Honour) is a 1985 Indian Tamil-language romantic drama film produced, directed and co-written by Bharathiraja. The film stars Sivaji Ganesan and Radha, with Vadivukkarasi, newcomers Deepan and Ranjini, Janagaraj, Sathyaraj, Aruna, Veerasami and Ramanathan in supporting roles. It revolves around the relationship between an unhappily married village chief and a young boatwoman.

The story of Muthal Mariyathai was developed from two sources: an English-language film about the relationship between a young girl and an ageing painter, and a story in Jayakanthan's novel Samoogam Enbadhu Naalu Paer about the relationship between a teacher and an administrator with a strained marriage. The film was co-written by R. Selvaraj, photographed by B. Kannan, and edited by V. Rajagopal and P. Mohan Raj. Filming was entirely held at Talakadu, a village near Mysore in Karnataka.

Muthal Mariyathai was released on 15 August 1985. The film received positive reviews and ran for over 200 days in theatres, becoming a silver jubilee hit. It fetched the Best Lyricist Award and Best Feature Film in Tamil Award for Vairamuthu and Bharathiraja respectively in the 33rd National Film Awards, the Cinema Express Award for Best Film – Tamil, and Ganesan and Radha won their respective Filmfare Awards South in the Best Tamil Actor and Best Tamil Actress categories.


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This article needs an improved plot summary. Please edit this article to provide one. (August 2020)

The film commences with friends and family of an ailing village chief, Malaichami, gathered around him on his deathbed. The plot then moves along in a series of flashbacks.

Malaichami is unhappily married to his cousin Ponnatha, a shrew who always shows him contempt. Though they live under the same roof, they do not share a husband-wife relationship. Also living under the same roof is Ponnatha's daughter Rasamma, her husband, and Malaichami's orphaned nephew Chellakannu, who assists him at his farm.

Years roll by. Malaichami, the village chief, is respected by one and all. Kuyil, a young woman, comes to the village with her father looking for livelihood. They build a hut on the river bank and Kuyil works as a boatwoman with a coracle. Malaichami and Kuyil become good friends despite the wide gap in their age and social/financial status. Since Malaichami receives no emotional support or love at home, he enjoys Kuyil's company.

Chellakannu loves Sevuli, the daughter of a cobbler Sengodan, and they plan to elope when Sevuli's wedding arrangements are being made. On learning this, Malaichami berates Chellakannu. Kuyil intervenes and convinces Malaichami to get them married. After the marriage, when Chellakannu and Sevuli are alone in a field, an unseen man kills Sevuli, who managed to bite off his big toe, and leaves having stolen her jewellery. After Sengodan tells Malaichami he found a toe in Sevuli's mouth, Malaichami sees Rasamma's husband without a toe, realises he is the killer and hands him over to the police. Unwilling to live without Sevuli, Chellakannu commits suicide.

Ponnatha angrily tells Malaichami he sent Rasamma's husband to prison because he is not Rasamma's biological father, a fact Rasamma never knew before. When the villagers discuss Malaichami and Kuyil in hush-hush tones, Ponnatha becomes angrier and drags Malaichami to the panchayat, asking for a solution. Malaichami reveals that Ponnatha conceived Rasamma out of wedlock, and he married Ponnatha to save her father from disgrace. He says that there is no bonding between him and Ponnatha, and that he wishes to be with Kuyil. He then goes to meet her, but sees that she has been convicted for murder.

When Malaichami visits Kuyil in prison, he pleads with her so that she can be rescued. She reveals that the person she killed was Mayilvaganam, the biological father of Rasamma. He was on his way to the village after serving a prison term and was planning to lay claim on Ponnatha and her wealth. As this would affect the reputation of Malaichami's family, she killed Mayilvaganam on her coracle. Malaichami is spellbound by her sacrifice and takes a vow that he will not die till Kuyil returns and chooses to stay in her hut.

In the present, as Malaichami is dying, Kuyil is brought on parole to see him. Malaichami dies after meeting her. While returning to prison, Kuyil dies in the train.


  • Sivaji Ganesan as Malaichami
  • Radha as Kuyil
  • Vadivukkarasi as Ponnatha
  • Deepan as Chellakannu
  • Ranjini as Sevuli
  • Janagaraj as the rope-spinner
  • Sathyaraj as Mayilvaganam
  • Aruna as Rasamma
  • Veerasami as Sengodan
  • Ramanathan as Rasamma's husband



The storyline of Muthal Mariyathai was developed by Bharathiraja from two sources: an English-language film about "an old painter and a young girl who is attracted to his paintings. Gradually, she becomes attracted to the person as well", and a story in Jayakanthan's novel Samoogam Enbadhu Naalu Paer which was about "the relationship that develops between a young teacher who comes to a place and a local administrator who is in a bad marriage. She becomes his intellectual companion". After Bharathiraja outlined this to writer R. Selvaraj, they both developed the screenplay of Muthal Mariyathai. According to Selvaraj, the romance between the lead characters Malaichami and Kuyil was inspired by the manner in which the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky developed a relationship with his assistant Anna. Bharathiraja himself produced the film under Manoj Creations, cinematography was handled by B. Kannan, and editing by V. Rajagopal and P. Mohan Raj.


Bharathiraja and Selvaraj initially wanted Rajesh for the role of Malaichami, but retracted after distributors objected. Selvaraj later considered S. P. Balasubrahmanyam but realised it would not be possible due to Balasubrahmanyam's playback singing commitments, so Bharathiraja suggested Sivaji Ganesan. Though unwell at the time, Ganesan accepted Bharathiraja's request. According to Raadhika, she had been offered the role of Kuyil, but she declined in favour of Swathi Muthyam (1986). Bharathiraja then cast Radha in the role because she was "dusky, slender, and tall" just like he envisioned the character. Radha's voice was dubbed by Raadhika, who Bharathiraja has stated would not have been appropriate as Kuyil because she did not match his vision of the character. Muthal Mariyathai was Radha's 99th film as an actress; she stated that when Bharathiraja offered her the role of Kuyil, she "took it with both hands".

Bharathiraja cast Vadivukkarasi as Malaichami's wife Ponnatha because of her "large eyes". Since the actress, who was then in her early 20s, was not as old as the character she plays, the makers "smeared ash" on her face. According to Vadivukkarasi, "They glued tubes to my ears to make them look different. But I didn't mind and didn't really know." This was the feature film debut of Sasha Selvaraj, who was given the stage name Ranjini by Bharathiraja, and played Sevuli, the daughter of Sengodan (Veerasami). Ranjini, who was then studying in Singapore, arrived in Madras to take a break from education. It was also the debut of Deepan, who plays Malaichami's nephew Chellakannu. Deepan, the nephew of V. N. Janaki, initially abstained from films to concentrate on his family business, but when Bharathiraja saw him and asked Deepan's uncle and Janaki's then-husband M. G. Ramachandran for permission to cast him, both agreed.


Filming was entirely held at Talakadu, a village near Mysore in Karnataka. Though Ganesan was known mainly for his melodramatic performances and powerful dialogue delivery, Bharathiraja asked him to tone them down for playing Malaichami and "just be himself". On the sets, Ganesan insisted seeing what Bharathiraja wanted first before enacting a scene. At Bharathiraja's request, Ganesan acted without wearing a wig or applying makeup, and wore only a dhoti and shirt while filming his scenes. According to Ranjini, Ganesan never coached the other actors, "but always let them try out their roles themselves." Many scenes were filmed at a tree near the Shivanasamudra Falls on the banks of the Kaveri river.

While filming a scene where Ponnatha walks angrily across a street with a broom and strikes Kuyil with it, Vadivukkarasi fainted as a result of exertion from long-distance walking. Though Ranjini hoped that filming would conclude within two weeks, it did not happen so, with Ranjini attributing it to "Bharathiraja being a perfectionist". According to historian G. Dhananjayan, filming lasted roughly 50 days, whereas Ganesan claimed that it lasted a month, and Selvaraj said the complete film was ready, 100 days after filming began. A documentary homage to Ganesan was attached to the final cut, playing before the actual film begins.


Muthal Mariyathai deals with "social tensions arising out of caste and community in Tamil society". Bharathiraja described the film as "the voyage of a man from house to home".


The music was composed by Ilaiyaraaja while the lyrics for the songs were written by Vairamuthu. Both did not like the film after viewing its rough cut because they felt it "wasn't youthful", but Bharathiraja insisted that Ilaiyaraaja compose the score. According to Ilaiyaraaja, when Bharathiraja saw the finished cut after composing was complete, he asked Ilaiyaraaja how he was able to deliver such wonderful music even for a film he did not like, and Ilaiyaraaja replied it was because he could not do injustice to his profession. The song "Antha Nilava Thaan" is set in the Carnatic raga Natabhairavi, and "Poongatru Thirumbuma" is set in Kharaharapriya. The tune of "Antha Nilava Thaan" was later used by Ilaiyaraaja in "Mujhe Bahon Mein Bhar" from the Hindi film Mahaadev (1989).

Track list
1."Antha Nilava Thaan"Ilaiyaraaja, K. S. Chithra4:31
2."Poongatru Thirumbuma"Malaysia Vasudevan, S. Janaki4:52
3."Vetti Veru Vasam"Malaysia Vasudevan, S. Janaki4:28
4."Yeh Kuruvi"Malaysia Vasudevan, S. Janaki1:16
5."Raasave Unna Nambi"S. Janaki4:32
6."Hey Kiliyirukku"Ilaiyaraaja1:08
7."Eratha Malai Mele"Malaysia Vasudevan, S. Janaki2:08
8."Naanthaaney Antha Kuyil"S. Janaki0:28
9."Poongatru Thirumbuma"S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, Asha Bhosle0:28
Total length:22:54

Release and reception

Muthal Mariyathai was released on 15 August 1985. The film received positive reviews for its realistic portrayal of an elderly person's love and sacrifices. On 8 September 1985, Ananda Vikatan said that when detractors were talking about the end of Ganesan's era in Tamil cinema, Bharathiraja proved through an intense script and character that his saga was not over yet. The reviewer also applauded Radha's performance and Bharathiraja's direction. Though Vadivukkarasi received acclaim from critics for her performance, she was the subject of vitriol from fans of Ganesan due to her character's antagonistic nature. The film ran for over 200 days in theatres, becoming a silver jubilee hit.


At the 33rd National Film Awards, Muthal Mariyathai won in two categories: Best Feature Film in Tamil, and Best Lyricist for Vairamuthu. Radha was a strong contender for the National Film Award for Best Actress, but was disqualified since her voice was dubbed by a different actress. At the 33rd Filmfare Awards South, the film won in two categories: Best Tamil Actor for Ganesan, and Best Tamil Actress for Radha. It also won the Cinema Express Award for Best Film – Tamil.

Home media

Muthal Mariyathai is included alongside other Sivaji starrers in the compilation of DVD titled 8th Ulaga Adhisayam Sivaji.


Muthal Mariyathai became a landmark film for Ganesan, Bharathiraja and Vadivukkarasi. The film's opening phrase narrated by Bharathiraja, "En Iniya Thamizh Makkale" (My sweet Tamil people) went on to feature in many of his later films. Bharathiraja described his 2020 directorial venture Meendum Oru Mariyathai as a tribute to Muthal Mariyathai. In a comedy scene from Thalattu Ketkuthamma (1992), Goundamani's character sings "Poongatru Thirumbuma" to impress his wife (Vijay Chandrika), His nephew (Prabhu) completes the lyrics after the former has forgotten the lyrics. In Rajakumaran (1994), a milkman (Goundamani) tries to impress a girl whose face he has not seen by providing the milk. The song "Poongatru" with different lyrics is heard as background song for the scene. In Parambarai (1996), Kannayiram (Senthil) is seen singing the lyrics "Medhdhai Vanginen" from that song. In a scene from Unakkaga Ellam Unakkaga (1999), Kundalakesi (Goundamani) lifts a huge stone similar to Malaichami's technique from Muthal Mariyathai to impress his lover. In Mozhi (2007), Ananthakrishnan (Brahmanandam) will be seen watching "Poongatru" in television before getting disturbed by a cockroach. The dialogue "Enaku oru unma therinjaaganum" (I need to know the truth) spoken by Veerasami's character became popular. A TV series named Muthal Mariyathai, unrelated to the film also directed by Bharathiraja, aired on Kalaignar TV.