16 Vayathinile (English: At Age 16) is a 1977 Indian Tamil language movie written and directed by P. Bharathiraja in his directorial debut. The film features Kamal Haasan, Sridevi, and Rajinikanth in prominent roles, with Ganthimathi playing Sridevi’s mother. It marks the debut of Sathyajith, who plays a veterinarian and comedian Goundamani, who plays Rajinikanth’s friend. 16 Vayathinile’s soundtrack album and background score were composed by Ilaiyaraaja, with cinematography by P. S. Nivas. P. Kalaimani wrote the film’s dialogue.
The film focuses on the strengths and vulnerabilities of Mayil (Sridevi), a 16-year-old schoolgirl, and the challenges she faces and overcomes. The film, originally titled Mayil, is set in rural Tamil Nadu and is Rajinikanth’s first colour film. 16 Vayathinile is the first Tamil film to be shot completely outdoors; Tamil films were primarily filmed in Chennai studios. The first Tamil film distributed by a producer across Tamil Nadu, 16 Vayathinile was released on 15 September 1977 to critical praise for Bharathiraja’s script, Ilaiyaraaja’s music and the performances of Kamal, Sridevi and Rajinikanth. It was commercially successful, with a 175-day theatrical run.
16 Vayathinile, considered a Tamil cult film, is the bellwether of films featuring realistic portrayals of rural life. Making stars of its director and lead actors, the film won the National Film Award for Best Female Playback Singer for S. Janaki, the Filmfare Award for Best Actor (Tamil) for Kamal and five State Awards, including Best Film (First prize), Best Director and Best Actor for Kamal. It was remade in Telugu by K. Raghavendra Rao as Padaharella Vayasu (1978) and in Hindi by Bharathiraja as Solva Sawan (1979), with Sridevi reprising her role in both versions.
Mayil (Sridevi) is a 16-year-old schoolgirl who lives in a village with her mother, Guruvammal (Ganthimathi). Guruvammal also takes care of the limping orphan Gopalakrishnan (Kamal Haasan), who is called “Chappani” (“Lame”) by the villagers and does whatever he can to earn a living. Mayil’s ambition is to become a teacher, and she hopes to marry a sophisticated, educated man; although Chappani is in love with her, she ignores him.
An urban veterinarian, Sathyajith (Sathyajith), arrives in the village to work and falls in love with Mayil. Mayil, believing that Sathyajith is the man for her, falls in love with him, to the point of refusing an opportunity to attend a teacher-training course in Madras to remain with him. Despite loving Sathyajith, she does not allow him to exploit her sexually, which disappoints him. Never intending a serious relationship with Mayil, he proceeds to his native place to get married to another woman. When Mayil begs Sathyajith not to leave her, he says he befriended her for pleasure—not marriage.
A dejected Mayil confesses this to Guruvammal, who quickly plans to betroth her to someone else. The village ruffian Parattaiyan, alias Parattai (Rajinikanth)—who also loves Mayil—spreads rumours about her relationship with Sathyajith. Because of this, Mayil’s engagement plans are halted and the village becomes hostile to her. Unable to bear the shame, Guruvammal commits suicide and leaves Chappani to take care of Mayil.
Chappani takes good care of Mayil, cheering her up when she needs it. She warms to Chappani, making him more confident and assertive and grooming him and his manners, to the surprise of many in the village. Mayil tells him to slap anyone who calls him “Chappani” and to respond only to those who address him by his name, Gopalakrishnan. When Sathyajith and Parattai call him “Chappani” despite his request to use his real name, Gopalakrishnan slaps them. Mayil and Gopalakrishnan celebrate his newfound courage. An insulted Parattai later beats Gopalakrishnan badly. Mayil saves him, spitting on Parattai for the brutal attack.
Mayil decides to marry Gopalakrishnan, and sends him to the nearby town for buying wedding supplies. Learning of Gopalakrishnan’s absence, Parattai goes to Mayil’s house and tries to rape her. Gopalakrishnan returns to Mayil’s house and pleads with Parattai to leave her. When Parattai refuses, he kills him with a rock and is arrested. Gopalakrishnan promises Mayil that he will return, and she waits everyday for him.
Directed by P. Bharathiraja
Produced by S. A. Rajkannu
Written by P. Bharathiraja & P. Kalaimani (dialogue)
Starring Kamal Haasan, Sridevi, Rajinikanth
Music by Ilaiyaraaja
Cinematography P. S. Nivas
Edited by R. Bhaskaran
Production Sri Amman Creations
Distributed by Sri Amman Creations
Release dates 15 September 1977
Running time 133–139 minutes