In the average A-list movie, the hero gets an opening song that showers him with the loftiest titles. In the Tamil film Dhool (2003), the hero gets a superlative closing song too. Madurai Veeran Thaane, written and gustily performed by folk singer Paravai Muniyamma, makes a good case for why the tribute song can work just as well when the movie is nearing its climax.

Directed by Dharani and starring Vikram, Jyothika, Vivek, Sayaji Shinde and Paravai Muniyamma, Dhool traces Arumugam’s fight to protect the river in his village from industrial pollution. Along with his childhood friend Eeswari (Jyothika) and her grandmother Tamarakolam Mundakanneswari (Muniyamma), Arumugam (Vikram) goes to Chennai to ask their elected representative for help, but he turns out to be corrupt.

Madurai Veeran Thaane marks the beginning of the end. Arumugam, Eeshwari and Mundakanneswari are on the run from the politician’s goons. They find Mundakanneshwari and thrash her in the hope that she will reveal Arumugam’s whereabouts. But the feisty old woman stands her ground and slips out in search of Arumugam with the rowdies in hot pursuit. She ducks behind a truck, walks back onto the street, a grin on her face, and heralds Arumugam’s entry.

One of the thugs hits Arumugam with a log of wood, which naturally breaks on impact. The hapless man lands instead at Mundakanneswari’s feet. She breaks out into a song that is cut to Arumugam swatting men like flies. Mundakanneswari compares Arumugam to a traditional Tamil folk hero, a tiger, a bull and a storm. An impromptu instrumental ensemble assembles on the side of the street to give her company.

The camera cuts between a grim-faced Arumugam focussed on using his fists and Muniyamma’s rousing performance. The camera too jerks back and forth vigourously to match the rustic beats. When Mundakanneshwari likens Arumugam to a storm, he whirls through the air. When she says he is like a bull, he charges at the bad guys. Tyres, trucks and cars burn in the background as Muniyamma trills away, a cheerleader like no other.

Muniyamma made her debut with Dhool. Her clever one-liners in the film, rough-hued voice and guileless personality have made her a cult figure in Tamil cinema. She also hosted a traditional cookery show, Suvayo Suvai, on television, which were peppered with songs rendered in her inimitable voice.

Madurai Veeran Thaane from Dhool (2003).