Marmadesam: Tamil’s truly captivating nostalgia TV is coming episode-by-episode to YouTube

Ranjani Krishnakumar

Aug 01, 2019 11:37:37 IST

Serial Chiller is Ranjani Krishnakumar’s monthly column about all things Tamil television. Read more from the series here.

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As I write this column today, I realise that I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Writing stories was a childhood dream. Something about the clever use of words always captivated me. But I can’t figure where it came from. Literature was hardly the preoccupation in my family, neither did I belong to an environment that saw writers come and go. So, where from?

And then, it all came back to me. In a way.

As I played the first episode of Vidathu Karuppu — a television series first aired in the 90s, now streaming one episode at a time on Kavithalayaa’s YouTube channel — I found myself humming,

பத்திரம் பத்திரம் பைரவனிடம் பத்திரம்”.

Patthiram Baddhiram Bairavanidam Patthiram.

This riddle that leads to the unravelling of the series’ mystery was etched in my brain from the time I first watched it, when I was 11 or 12 years old. Reena, the protagonist — a writer, if you hadn’t guessed already — was who I wanted to be when I grew up.

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In contemporary television, nostalgia is a rage. Streaming platforms are buying old shows such as The West Wing, Friends and Full House, much to the delight of customers, it seems. There are also several revivals and reboots. Apparently, Netflix even has a Nostalgia strategy.

 Marmadesam: Tamil’s truly captivating nostalgia TV is coming episode-by-episode to YouTube

A screengrab from the show

We see similar trends in Tamil television as well. Three of the biggest releases on Zee5 last quarter belong squarely in this region: Auto Shankar, about a criminal who terrorized the 80s; Thiravam, about a conman from the 90s; and more recently, Postman, about a fictional postman who goes into a coma in the 90s.

While 90s kids with the chops are working hard to recreate their childhoods for the screen, the 90s kid in me watching these recreations longs for the real 90s more and more. Thankfully now, Kavithalayaa, the producers of several of early Tamil television, are bringing their work to YouTube.

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Early Tamil TV, under the influence of K Balachandar’s TV production house Minbimbangal, had a significant number of shows about women and their domestic travails — Kaialavu Manasu and Premi come to mind (Rajhesh Vaidhya, now famous for #DoYouHaveAMinute, had an interesting role). And then Anni, which was in the mega-serial league with a seemingly unending run of over 300 episodes.

But to me, what defines early Tamil television, and what still makes me long for those times, is the crime fiction. I don’t mean it in the way crime fiction is today — someone kidnaps someone in the middle of a mega-serial only for the kidnapped woman herself to beat up her kidnappers with the broom lying around conveniently for her use. The writing is a crime, surely, but the series itself isn’t crime fiction.

I mean thematic detective stories that unravel pleasurably in instalments of twenty minutes. Okay, I admit. I mean Marmadesam. Adapted from Indra Soundar Rajan’s novels, by himself, directed immaculately by Naga, Marmadesam, for me, is what nostalgia television is all about. As a young girl, hardly in her teens, what appealed to me was the thrill and satisfaction of watching a good mystery being solved. A horse running with its mane on fire, a blood-thirsty dog, riddles I could never possibly solve and women on missions — Marmadesam captured my imagination and sowed the seeds for my interest in the macabre.

Two decades later, the series continues to capture my imagination in a manner that hardly any contemporary crime fiction films do. Vidathu Karuppu, the season currently streaming, has aged remarkably well, never once making me cringe so far. The mystery is just as riveting as I remember it. The foreboding is a delight to discover. For those of us who know the ending, re-watching the show makes the clues obvious.

Reena, the protagonist is everything I remember about her and then some. Her devil-may-care attitude, unrelenting paguttharivu (rationalism), fearlessness, belief that she alone is enough, her uncompromising pursuit of the story is just as I remember. But, today, seeing her in that yellow nighty, drawstring pulled cinching her waist, I am in awe of her wearing-only-for-my-comfort wardrobe. This Reena, I realise, is someone I still want to be, even as I see how much of a city-bully she is.

Or do I want to be Paechi Kelavi — Reena’s suruttu-smoking, tradition-rejecting, foul-mouthed, evil counterpart from another time? In retrospect, isn’t Vidathu Karuppu just the conflict between these two women, Paechi and Reena, who hold similar beliefs but interpret them vastly differently.

I must admit that binge-watching 20-minute episodes — with about two minutes on either side for credits, and a few seconds of break announcements — are a pain. Kavithalayaa is republishing its series online instead of really repurposing them, which makes it a somewhat tough watch.

They too, perhaps, know that no one is watching these as an experience on its own. Marmadesam is merely a tool to invoke 90s nostalgia. Like a wise man in the YouTube comments succinctly summarised, Marmadesam is all about,

செல்போன், கம்ப்யூட்டர் இல்லாத அழகான காலம். விடுகதை, நிலா சோறு என்று வாழ்ந்த வசந்த காலம்...

Updated Date: Aug 03, 2019 09:15:24 IST