'Dad' is a rather sorry figure in Tamil cinema. He is typically the hen-pecked, doormat husband hiding from his wife and pampering his daughter in secret or the strict father chiding his good-for-nothing, teenage son and in return, being insulted by him(and his friends!). Cheran sets things right and gives 'Dad' his due with Thavamaai Thavamirundhu - his ode to a father's love. It is a beautiful, emotional film that touches our hearts and reminds us of the power of meaningful, good cinema.
Muthaiya's(Rajkiran) entire world revolves around his two sons Ramanathan and Ramalingam. His only aim in life is to see them get a good education and towards this end he is forced to supplement the meagre income from his printing press with ever-increasing debts. But neither of his two sons end up the way he wanted them to. Ramanathan moves to the city with his shrew of a wife while Ramalingam(Cheran), whose lover Vasanthi(Padmapriya) becomes pregnant after their moment of passion, takes her to Chennai to attempt to start a life on their own.
Cheran has an uncanny knack of making his films seem like a slice of real life. Thavamaai Thavamirundhu is unabashedly sentimental but presents the sentiments with a quietness and subtlety that touches our hearts. There is no loud melodrama but the silence in many places has a much bigger impact than words or tears ever could have.
Tamil cinema and realism don't go hand in hand but we've still had the occasional realistic film (Kaadhal comes to mind). But Thavamaai Thavamirundhu is effective in its own way because it reminds us of our own lives. By firmly grounding his film in reality, Cheran manages to hold our hands and take us down different points in our own memory lane as his film's characters grow up. When Rajkiran takes his sons to school on his cycle, I could see my dad taking me to school on his scooter years ago. And when Cheran's daughter says that she doesn't want an injection when they are at the hospital, I could hear my daughter saying the same thing just a few days ago. It is this ability to capture real life so accurately that makes the film so special and powerful.
For a director who gave a near-masterpiece of romance in Autograph, the romance here seems to start off on the wrong foot. It feels awkward and cinematic, two words that never applied to any segment of the previous film. But the romance is pretty shortlived as Cheran and Padmapriya soon get to tackle the real world a la Kaadhal. The segment is stark and realistic in its own way but the fact that we want the film to get back to Rajkiran is a testament to the power of the portrayal of the father-son relationship so far in the movie.
Movies with a similar theme usually have the sufferer(usually parents or the elder brother) struggle until the very end or strike out on their own to teach a lesson to the people who let them down. But Thavamaai Thavamirundhu takes a different but very realistic path as Rajkiran and Saranya get to enjoy the sunset years of their life in the exact way they had wished to. This leads to an absolutely exhilarating hour of cinema. We have come to love them so much that we feel happy when they feel happy. I watched this entire hour with a smile on my lips and a tear in my eye.
This is not a movie for the impatient. It has a leisurely pace. But the slowness is necessary for the strong emotions, both stated and unstated, to sink in. This is not a movie you watch but a movie you experience. For instance, as the camera captures the intimate details of the printing process, what we are seeing is not just the process but the hardship Rajkiran is undergoing to make sure he has money at the end of the day. But at the same time, there are a couple of places where Cheran seems a little too self-indulgent. Some judicious editing could have eliminated the few places where the movie seems to be dragging its feet.
Rajkiran is simply phenomenal in the role of Muthaiya. His soft and soothing voice proves to be capable of conveying love and affection by itself and his body language is just perfect. His laughter is guileless and his sadness is heartbreaking. Saranya, though in the sidelines most of the time, provides able support. In a reversal of the usual roles, it is she who is the more practical of the two and her unhappiness with her first daughter-in-law results in more than a few laughs. Cheran is content to play a supporting role but is convincing in the role of a man who only gradually realizes his father's importance in his life. Padmapriya is more convincing as the struggling wife and the dutiful daughter-in-law than as the college girl. Most of the other characters are new faces and they do their jobs adequately.
Sabesh Murali rise to the occasion admirably. Enna Solgiraai... is a beautiful melody and both its tune and its lyrics reflect the moment. The other songs blend well into the film too.
Thank You Cheran!