Metti Oli (The Final Episode)
I'm just watching the final episode. I haven't seen the the actual episode, which airs at the end. Right now, they have a round-table discussion and calls from the public. Done very innovatively, the characters play themselves, and answer questions all about the show. Terrific answers and discussion, revealing how each character views and realizes their own role. Tirumurugan comes across as a sophisticated director and storyteller. More about this later.
The actual episode consists of little. The wedding, which is mercifully short. Manickam listens to his mother in silence as she goes on about the lonely state of Selvam and Nirmala, and urgest him to do something. He calls Nirmala and gives his usual speech. She is set in her reluctance to be pushed. Ditto with Selvam, until he reminds him that Chidambaram would have said something similar had he been alive. Selvam recalls Chidambaram's urging him to seek a life companion. Recall that Chidambaram said this to Selvam at the grahapravesam, i.e., the last day of his life. Selvam breaks into tears at the memory. Then he harshly tells Manickam, "I want this to be the last time either you or Sakti raise this issue with me.". Calling Sakti, who happens to be standing in the background distributing sweets to the kids, he merely looks at her in a fond sort of way, which commuicates his intension. She drops the plate she is holding, in joyful shock. Beautifully done! Only then does he speak -- telling her to ask her parents to fix the wedding day. She runs off.
Manickam and Selvam embrace in joy. They go down, where a group photo is being taken. Manickam announces that Selvam has decided to marry. No reaction from mother, although others are congratulating him, and the elders (other than Rajam) are wiping away tears. Bhavani starts weeping. Gopi realizes that she is remembering her father. He goes and fetches a huge photo of Chidambaram and shows it to her, and places it in the middle of the group photograph. As the photographer readies himself, Nirmala detatches herself from the group and walks out, carrying her daughter. She comes up to Ramesh, who is not in the group, and invites him to join her. Again, nice touch. And to indicate that this is not mere courtesy, she hands the daughter over to him. Everyone applauds.
Nandri appears on screen.
The question-answer roundtable was probably one of the most novel and unusual techniques I have seen in the closing episodes. Like a Larry King getting together the cast of Seinfeld, some SunTV fellow was moderating, but the great thing was how the characters played themselves. You could see that Rajam was a fine actress, because she sounded nothing like the fiery mother-in-law. Actually, come to think of it, there were two sets of people. Manickam, Ravi, Ramesh, Sakti, Vijji and Gopi's father really still behaved as characters, while Saro and Leela were giggling with some kind of fatigue induced by relief. Chidambaram was laconic and seemed oddly uncomfortable. Perhaps he felt that he should have been given greater focus, which was being showered on Gopi. Just an unkind guess.
Metti Oli was realistic, but in the end, rather a simplistic tale. Its attaction lay in the fact that it portrayed lower-middle-class Tamilnadu, rather than the unrealistic palaces and lifestyles shown in brain deadening shows like Kanavarukkaga, Annamalai or Selvi. As social commentary, Metti Oli was not particularly ambitious. It never tackled caste. It never touched upon social mobility. It reduced women's uplift to freedom from crude wife-beating, and worse, pretended that all problems could be solved by the gruesome death of a good man (most the questions during the calls were forgettable, but one caller, Shanti Kannan, raised something along these lines -- they did not answer the real question, preferring to address it in its narrowest connotation). Even this good man had bad messages -- that his daughters go back to their husbands even if they were cruel, suspicious, vicious, tyrants. In these respects it was not only shallow but also retrograde. But I thought it was also realistic -- money brings its own morality (I can do anything), and lack of money too does the same (kattuppadu, live-with-your-husband-no-matter-what). We are each of us creatures of our experience and circumstance. Metti Oli also showed that wealth brings only money, not necessarily a change in attitude. The wealthy Manickam or Ravi are no different than their poorer selves. Nor ar the womenfolk different. Leela alone shows some evolution. Bhavani is a disappointment -- for all her exposure, first to college in Madras, and then university and cosmopolis in Singapore, still takes pride in harking back to Alagarpuram like a broken record. Tirumurugan asks her this in the roundtable, and she gives a fine answer-- that is the Tamilnadu ideal -- you can take the girl out of Tamilnadu, but you cannot take the Tamilnadu out of the girl. Whether this is something happy or sad depends on your perspective.
I also couldn't help but notice that, while all of Tamil Nadu tuned into Metti Oli for three years, not one of the households shown in the serial itself featured a TV set (other than Manickam seeing something on TV and beating his wife for that). The fact that such a serial scored so high shows how thirsty Tamilnadu is for good fare, and how bad is the field.