Taj Mahal is a 1999 Tamil film directed by Bharathiraja. The film featured the director's son, Manoj, alongside fellow debutant Riya Sen in the lead roles, with an ensemble supporting cast including Revathi, Radhika and Ranjitha. The film's story was written by Mani Ratnam while music was composed by A.R.Rahman and B. Kannan handled the camera. The story of the film revolved around two clashing communities and two lovers caught in the vortex of their rivalry. The film fared poorly at the 1999 Deepavali releases box office.
Thiruppaachi and Sengulam are neighboring villages with a history of enmity between them. Maayan (Manoj) and Machakanni (Riya Sen) meet on the day of her engagement and its love at first sight. Her marriage itself gets called off when the groom and his family insult Machakanni's family and her romance with Maayan continues. But when her brother finds out about him, all hell breaks loose. The turned-down bridegroom is still itching for revenge and figuring out that the only way to extract it is to marry Machakanni, he pleads for forgiveness and succeeds in melting her brother's heart. The marriage is finalised but Maayan's friends swear to unite the star-crossed lovers. There is also a subplot of Maayan's aunt (Radhika) trying to get her daughter married off to Maayan.Manoj as Maayan
Riya Sen as Machakanni
Revathi as Maayan's mother
Radhika as Maayan's aunt
Theni K. Murugan
Bharathiraja introduced his son Manoj as an actor with the film, stating that his son should appear as an actor before fulfilling his dreams of working as a part of the crew. Riya Sen, daughter of Hindi actress Moon Moon Sen was signed on to play the leading female role. Leading film-maker Mani Ratnam wrote the story for the film, while Rajiv Menon was also involved in initial script discussions but opted out after the film became a village-centric project. A. R. Rahman was signed to score the music while veteran cinematographer B. Kannan also signed the project, ending a long hiatus in Tamil films. The team started pre-production work in late 1997 and shooting began in 1998, with the project becoming Janani Cine Arts' most expensive production til date.
During production, Bharathiraja considered giving his son a stage name of Manibharathi, but ultimately opted against doing so. An exact replica of the Taj Mahal on Marina beach in Madras for a song sequence. The film was shot across areas including Kulu Manali, Badhami, Hampi, Bellari and Poomparai.
The film was initially slated to face a box office battle with several other big films notably Kamal Haasan's Hey Ram, Mani Ratnam's Alaipayuthey, Rajiv Menon's Kandukondain Kandukondain and Shankar's Mudhalvan, but the delay of the first three gave Taj Mahal a possible leeway to become a success.
The New Indian Express gave the film a mixed review citing that it was "vintage Bharatiraja at his best", while also adding that Riya Sen "shines in spite of an alien language and the totally strange cultural milieu in which she is placed". The reviewer adds that "song picturisation is brilliant and Revathy and Radhika, both favourite ex-heroines of the director, put up an impressive show." The critic also labels that the "only eyesore is hero Manoj" and that "Bharatiraja has been a little over-ambitious here and could have edited at least 20% of the film, including many unnecessary action scenes."
The film became a financial failure at the box office and Manoj's career failed to take off despite a high-profile launch. The film was also set to be dubbed and released in Telugu under the same name, but the financial losses suffered had deterred the version.
The acclaimed soundtrack features 10 songs composed by A. R. Rahman and lyrics by Vairamuthu. The songs were noted for the extensive use of traditional instruments. Rahman introduced several singers into the Tamil music scene, the most notable being Palghat Sreeram. He sang a dappan koothu style song "Thirupaachi", which went on to become a huge chartbuster. The other songs, especially "Chotta Chotta", "Kulirudhu Kulirudhu" and "Eechi Elemichhi", also became hits.