ARANGETRAM Part 3: The Movie


“ARANGETRAM” (aka The Debut) sort of came and changed the trend of Tamil Films… This is not a review, but just an interpretation.

IMHO, the main problem was not with the movie, but the goverment’s decision to promote it as a message oriented movie to show the importance of Family-Planning… I doubt that was KB’s intention, but of course,as a director he didn’t mind the free publicity… I mean the only family planning message in the movie came in the form of wall poster displayed for a split-second…


In “ARANGETRAM”, KB tries to give a twist to an old thought from Vatsyayana:

“Poverty is not a virtue. It is an obstacle, not only to pleasure, but also to ethics and virtue. Morality is a luxury which very poor people can rarely afford”

But since our own  Intellectuals added spiritual meaning to some poems, censored others and labeled some poets as people obsessed with sex, also labeled everything Vatsyayana wrote was about sex… The man gave some real interesting philosophical thoughts

Vatsyayana was a poet, the only thing a poet asks for is the freedom to express his raw thoughts… Some of it had to do with reality, while others were just poetic exaggeration…

“ARANGETRAM” is all about characters and their attitudes, also how they react to different situations… Though, there is only one major character, all the minor characters are equally important to the movie…


sash.jpgThe first character is Ramu Saastrigal (S.V.Subbiah), a poor orthodox brahmin making a living by performing rituals for other brahmins… But Saastrigal is a man of orthodox principles and mocks brahamins who don’t follow principles; he even tells them atheists are much above the brahmins who don’t follow rituals… In a small village with only about 12 brahmin families, he has managed to offend 8 families… And Saashtri has a real big family (8 children – 5 girls and 3 boys) and two extra members in the form of a sister and her daughter. The whole family runs on his income…

Is he a bad man? No, just a man who wants to follow principles, but can’t understand why people who don’t follow rituals, but yet wear that white thread as a caste symbol are succeeding in life…

This character passes a few interesting anecdotes… So in case you decide to watch this movie, pay attention to Ramu Saastrigal…


This is Visalam (M.N.Rajam) aka Mrs.Saastrigal… As the finance minister of that house, she often makes suggestions to reduce poverty, but only to have them rejected by Saastrigal using anecdotes…

She tries to convince him into sending the eldest daughter to work, but he wouldn’t bite that vaadai (now known in the west as Spicy Donuts)… He is worried about his image…

As an obedient wife, Visalam never tries to argue with her husband, eventhough she prefers a life with less principles and a bit more money…

The Visalam character, is  a caring mother worried about the future of her eight children…


Then we have Thyagu (Kamalhasan), the eldest of the male off-springs with an ambition of becoming a doctor… Often has arguments with Saastrigal over his career choice… Dad wants him to follow his footsteps…



Lalitha (Pramila) is Saastrigal’s eldest child… This character begins as a carefree prankster, not bothered by poverty or the future…


Then in Phase two, which occurs after witnessing her mother’s plan to commit mass suicide… She becomes a caring mother… Saastrigal’s anecdotes gets defeated by Lalitha’s logical arguments… And Lalitha starts working…

In Phase three, which occurs after being raped by a man in the city, she puts that incident behind her and continues working at an office…

In Phase Four, she chooses prostitution as a part-time profession after carefully thinking about it and takes full responsibility for her choice (shown using dialogues between Lalitha and her clients)…

Pram02.jpgAnd in the Final Phase, she finally  comes back to the village after successfully lifting the family from poor to middle-class status… At home, everything seems fine… Her sister was getting married, her brother has become a doctor and her ex-lover who already knows about her secret life  is going to marry her…

But her dreams of starting a new life in the village gets shattered as soon as the family finds out the source of her extra income (something they weren’t bothered about when the actual money was coming in)…

The mother who once planned a mass suicide because of poverty, today kicks Lalitha out… What turns Lalitha insane after her marriage ?  (a) Guilt about  her past life style?  (b) How society views her now? or (c) Her family’s rejection?

Now lets look at a situation which was considered as controversial both in the press then and at some of the discussion boards now….

Controversy : KB’s decision to use the word ARANGETRAM as a title and to run an actual arangetram parallel to a rape scene…

Arang001a.jpgAragentram within the popular culture of early 70’s and even now is the term used to refer to the performance of a student who has mastered the classical dance known as Bharatanatyam… After completing the Arangetram, he/she can become a teacher…

But Bharathanatyam also happens to be a term given by E.Krishna Iyer to a former dance routine known as Dasi Attam performed by Devadasis (aka God’s Servants)… All this happened back in the 1930’s…

E.Krishna Iyer (A Lawyer) was more interested in preserving the Art form performed by Devadasis, than the actual life style (often linked to Temple Prostitution)… He also wanted to give a second life to these women and an alternate form of earning income… He cleaned up the dance (which simply meant replacing songs with instrumental music) and had the devadasis perform it on stage for middle and upper-class audience… And also wanted the dance to become part of South Indian culture and continued on by Middle & Upper class families…

A sample of Devadasi songs… Most popular songs were from Ksetrayya’s composition, so here is a song from his treasure box…

The song is titled “Perubada” composed using the raga natakuranji… It’s about a devadasi talking to her friend and expressed thru the dance…

When will I get married to the famous Mannaru Ranga

A daughter’s life in a lord’s family

I wouldn’t wish it on my enemies

Some days pass as your parents do the thinking for you

Some days pass brooding and waiting for the moment

Some days pass pondering caste rules

Meanwhile the bloom of youth is gone
like the fragrance of a flower, like a thick of fate

I wouldn’t wish it on my enemies

Some days pass without any pleasure from your husband

Some days pass in mere courtesies

Some days pass in the pride that we are palace women

looking for quality

It’s a pity all this high passion is like moonlight in a forest

I wouldn’t wish it on my enemies

Some days pass shilly-shallying, knowing and not-knowing

Some days pass ignorant of the ways of experience

Some days pass listening to friends’ stories of lovemaking

Alas, womanhood itself has become my enemy,
and I’m tired

I wouldn’t wish it on my enemies

KB uses the term Arangetram propably as it relates to dasi attam… In the Deva dasi culture ( I don’t even know if you can call it a culture, it was simply men taking advantage of some women using myth), Arangetram was the formal celebration of the debut recital after the completion of dance training.

Here KB tries to link dasi attam arangetram with a rape of a woman in the contemporary society of the 70’s… In a society, where folks are obsessed with a woman’s virginity and rarely care how she loses it,  always seem to find a reason to blame her…

As I said in my previous post, KB’s movies are more about social commentaries than about messages…

The problem started when this movie became a box-office hit… Had it been a flop, it wouldn’t be controversial movie…

Let me end  Arangetram  with this thought from Vatsyayana:

“Without eroticism, the mind becomes restless and unsatisfied… Without Virtue (ethics), the conscience goes astray… Without spirituality, the soul is degraded”



Filed under Simpleton "The Critic"

6 responses to “ARANGETRAM Part 3: The Movie

  1. Wu Sangui

    Lovely stuff. Unique and utterly riveting. Keep writing dude.

  2. Pingback: free fairy clip art

  3. TVK

    Excellent commentary on the film.Keep writing

  4. one of the nice movie by bala chander i like it most.
    and actor kamalhassan expression was so good in this movie

  5. Sathish Archana

    Really super

  6. shua

    it’s her brother and father who kick her out….her mother actually supports her..but she does not turn insane in the end( i hope)…she just goes to thank her friend thangam. but lovely and realistic movie

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