“Metti” is the Tamil word for the toe-ring that married women wear. Metti is a poignant and heart-rending tale of a splintered family that has its share of trials and tribulations. The movie is directed by J Mahendran who can be called the Shyam Benegal of Tamil cinema. Mahendran never bothers to explain many things explicitly and expects the audience to assume things. This can be identified as the main weakness in his movies.
Metti is clearly a low-budget movie as both the heroes (Sarath Babu and Rajesh) appear in the same dress throughout the movie. Both the heroines (Vadivukkarasi and Radhika) have acted sans any makeup. The film has its strong moments though. This is perhaps one of the movies where comedian actor "Vennira adai" Moorthy has more screen time. Remarkably, Mahendran has given a wonderful supporting role to Moorthy. Moorthy, on his part, has done complete justice to his character.
The background music is haunting; however, music by Ilayaraja is just about passable. Mahendran wrote the story and got it serialized in a Tamil magazine called “Chaavi”. The movie, when it was released in 1982, won critical acclaim. Mahendran tried to shock the audiences – a la K Balachander- with a tragic and melodramatic ending and thus the climax is hardly disappointing. Sometimes, showing a semblance of positivity towards the end of a movie is not a bad idea after all.
The story is quite straightforward but there are lots of loose ends that Mahendran conveniently forgets to resolve. The characterizations are also edgy as some of them seem to be taking impulsive decisions contrary to what one would expect of them. The comic relief is provided by Moorthy, Kumari Muthu, and Haja Sheriff – but the comedy is decent and tongue-in-cheek.
Kalyani (played by veteran actress Vijayakumari) is a woman who is separated from her roguish husband Shanmugam (played by Chenthamarai – an actor who hams a lot in the movie). Kalyani was Shanmugham’s second wife and he has a first wife and a son (Pattabhi, played by Sarath Babu). Why did Chenthamarai drive his second wife out is something that is never explained in the movie. Surprisingly, Vijayakumari who is often known for her weepy roles in Kollywood is much subdued here. She has delivered a stupendous performance – far removed from the melodramatic mother roles one has often witnessed in movies.
Fed up of his father’s waywardness, Pattabhi walks out on his family (based in Mayavaram, Tanjore) and lands in Chennai. Providentially he gets accommodation in the same house where Kalyani lives along with her two daughters (Sulekha played by Vadivukarasi and Preetha played by Radhika). Within moments after they get introduced, Pattabhi realizes that Kalyani is his step-mother. When Kalyani was driven out of their home by her husband, she was already pregnant with her second daughter. But the neighbours believe that Kalyani who had taken refuge in a Gujarati gentleman’s home is having illicit relations with the gentleman and that her second daughter Preetha is born to the Gujarati gentleman.
Kalyani confides in Pattabhi about the mental turmoil that she faces on account of all these baseless allegations against her. The local tea stall owner and the broker Thangam (Vennira adai Moorthy) lend good support to the family. When a wily neighbour (Thambaram Lalitha) poisons Kalyani’s daughters’ mind they question their mother about all the allegations levelled against her. A war of words results and Kalyani commits suicide. This part of the movie is way too ambiguous and hazy and is a big let-down considering the fact that the opening scenes in the movie show a great bonhomie between the mother and the two daughters.
After the mother passes away, the daughters are still aloof with their stepbrother. Shanugham often visits the place and creates a ruckus and the characterization of Shanmugham is sketchy causing more irritation than anger. The ugly ruckus between Pattabhi and his father on Kalyani’s death manages to shock us, though. The elder daughter’s vitriolic attack against her father (it is perfectly justified) is commendable. Actress Vanitha Krishnachander makes a fleeting appearance in these scenes and one wonders the reason why she accepted such a 1-minute role.
Soon after her mother’s death, Sulekha, the elder daughter, marries her colleague (whom she had spurned earlier). Mahendran doesn’t explain this hasty decision on Sulekha’s part. Supposedly, Sulekha shifts to Mumbai with her husband only to be tortured by him. Pattabhi is incensed on hearing about this and he brings her back home. A writer Vijayan (played by the dark but handsome Rajesh) falls in love with the second daughter Preetha but she spurns his advances for vague reasons. Eventually, Vijayan decides to marry Sulekha much against the wishes of Pattabhi and this leads to a duel between Vijayan and Pattabhi. Then after some time a reconciliation happens and Pattabhi rushes to buy a pair of toe rings for his step-sister. But before he returns home, Sulekha is sick and is paralyzed. Hmmm… way too melodramatic and unbelievable for sure.
Pattabhi longs to hear the sound of the toe rings again in the home that is struck by one tragedy after another. He fixes the marriage of Preetha and then on the eve of the marriage rushes to buy toe rings for her. As he is speeding on his bike, he sees his father desperately calling out to him for help and when he turns towards his father, he meets with a fatal accident. The last scene of the movie shows a teary-eyed Preetha – who has almost gone insane- fiddling with the toe-rings that her stepbrother has brought for her.
The performances by all the actors are avant-garde but the problem is with the script. Using tragedy to shock audiences is something that will definitely not go down well with the audience today. We don’t need additional negativity in our lives from the silver screens, do we? With a taut script, the movie could have won several awards. But the edgy characterization and loopholes in the plot make it a one-time watch. Vijayakumari has delivered a good performance and it is sad that she did not do as many character roles as other actresses.
The names of the characters are also strange. Pattabhi is typically a Brahmin name. Names like Sulekha and Preetha are not names that are so common in Tamil families. Though Mahendran does not make any oblique references to the caste angle, the narrative is indeed a big disappointment. Notwithstanding this, the movie has its good moments. It is a kind of neo-realistic movies that Tamil cinema in the 80s was known for.
However one wonders, what the hype was all about when the movie received more than its share of critical acclaim on its release. If the attempt was to do a Satyajit Ray in Kollywood, then Mahendran's efforts fall flat on their face.
(After working in the corporate world for close to two decades, Bhagyalakshmi Seshachalam started her second career innings as a head-hunter. She is passionate about Hindi movies and loves retro music. When her family shifted to Chennai in the 80’s, Bhagya had a taste of Tamil cinema too. In the long term, she plans a book on two of her favourite directors – Guru Dutt and K Balachander. She travels across the country on work and is based in Mysore.)