This is part of the series where Silverscreen recommends films, documentaries, shorts, songs or scenes from seminal films that make a compelling watch.
MGR wears his leading lady’s skirt in this PB Srinivas song about the earth-shaking, Nature-altering powers (Yen aruge nee irundhaal iyarkai ellam suzhazhuvadhuyen) of love. Yes, you read that right. MGR, an actor who built his on-screen persona playing a certain kind of alpha male, wears a nice, flowy skirt. And, Saroja Devi wears the pants in this one.
The song is not a feminist statement; neither does it promote gender equality. It was probably an attempt to showcase MGR’s chivalry. And that, ultimately, is the point.
MGR takes Saroja Devi’s torn skirt in a bid to protect her modesty, and offers her his trousers. This gesture only ups his chances of getting to know her better, leading to this jaunty song. There’s also a scene in which MGR turns all shades of pink after catching a glimpse of Saroja’s thighs through the torn skirt.
Speaking to Silverscreen, the actress says she distinctly remembers filming the scene. “This was when my Tamil accent wasn’t quite up to the mark. I was prompted a lot, but I did work on my diction all day and night. I also hammed it up a little, I think,” she laughs.
The scene shocked Saroja Devi’s sensibilities, as MGR was a major star at the time. “I was very apprehensive about it. I did not know how the audience would react to his wearing a skirt. The director was quite confident, though, and we executed it as he wished.”
MGR did not seem too bothered about the public perception, says Saroja Devi. “He was very comfortable with himself. He was probably the most well put-together person I knew. He was very assured and said the song would inspire men and women. Extreme situations call for extreme measures, he said. And yes, fans did appreciate the gesture behind the scene. It is an example of chivalry at its best.”
Ennaruge Nee Irundhal… might be interpreted differently in this day and age, Saroja Devi adds. “You have to remember, this song was picturised over four decades ago. Times were different then. We did not think so much; there’s just so much to factor in now. There are groups and people who will get offended when things are done a certain way. So yes, the song will mean different things to different people now. But, this ambiguity has ensured it stayed evergreen.”
Ridiculing a man wearing a skirt is more the norm these days, the actress says. “That is wrong. Everybody has a heart. And, everybody’s heart is fragile. If they wish to do something, and that something is different from societal norms, who are we to comment? Usually, those who comment are the ones who want to be different but repress it.”
Whatever its original meaning, when present-day regional cinema’s representation of gender dynamics could use a little boost, this image of MGR donning a skirt onscreen might well change the narrative.
The film (Thirudathe) itself is about a small-time thief who finds redemption and reforms after a tragedy. The theme was in keeping with MGR’s love for a ‘social message’ in his films. Nestled in the overarching theme is the idea that masculinity need not necessarily be defined by stereotypes. If a leading male star could wear a skirt in the Sixties (and not portray it reductively), we can certainly bend gender stereotypes in the 2010s. The need of the hour is inclusivity, and a film or two with this social message wouldn’t hurt.