In my review of Adhu Oru Kanaakkaalam, I included Bagyaraj in the list of directors who had been unable to change their styles to suit the tastes of the current generation of viewers. But with Paarijaatham, he makes a strong case for being removed from that list. He has applied his well-known talent at mixing sentiments and humor to a youthful love story and added enough screenplay flourishes to deliver an entertaining film that provides a nice break from the current trend of glamour and violence on the screen.
When Seetha(Seetha) moves into her new house, Sumathi(Saranya), who lives across the street with her ailing father, becomes her servant-maid. Seeing Sumathi’s good nature, Seetha decides in her mind that she would promote her from servant-maid to daughter-in-law. She plans to convey the same to her husband(Prakashraj) and son Sridhar(Prithviraj) when they join her in a few days but things don’t go according to plan.
Almost the entire first half features a story-in-a-story as Prithviraj and Saranya enact a story that Saranya narrates to Seetha. It is an interesting and novel concept though at the end of it we realize that the segment amounts to little more than a filler. Take away the entire episode and the movie is barely affected since the main story essentially starts only after this mini-story ends. But inspite of this, it is not frustrating since the segment manages to be funny and interesting.
The story-in-a-story concept points to cleverness on the part of Bagyaraj, the director. The main story in Paarijaatham is quite serious. There’s a lot of drama but because of the way the characters are placed, it provides little opportunity for romance or humor. But those two, as much as sentiments, are Bagyaraj’s strengths and so he uses the mini-story to provide them both. And it works. Prithiviraj plays the same kind of role that Bagyaraj played in every movie – one where the joke’s usually on him. The self-deprecatory humor in almost every scene leads to a lot of smiles and a few laughs as he falls for Saranya. And since the romance starts off with their engagement, it is rather sweet and avoids the clichés of the usual love-at-first-sight romances.
The second half is a testimony to Bagyaraj’s skills at penning an interesting screenplay. The ending itself is a foregone conclusion and so there is no suspense about where we are going. More important is how we get there and with Bagyaraj at the helm, it is a mostly interesting ride. Inventing a character for himself to take care of the humor, he creates enough roadblocks in the way to the climax but does so without things getting irritating and then removes them cleanly also.
With a wafer-thin story and a predictable ending in hand, Bagyaraj has had to rely on some screenplay innovations to make things interesting. One ofcourse is the aforementioned story-in-a-story technique. Taking a page from Thiruttu Payale’s book, he also employs the technique where a scene is shown first and its conclusion, usually different from what we were led to believe, is shown much later. So some disconnected scenes that give the movie a slightly disjoint feel initially end up proving their worth later.
But there are times when the old-fashioned director in Bagyaraj rears his head. A lot of things are resolved with one of the characters overhearing others talk and this looks artificial and a little too convenient in many places. Subtlety is also lacking throughout with Bagyaraj hammering things(like Saranya’s good nature) home instead of letting his visuals do the talking.
The film is a launching pad for Bagyaraj’s daughter Saranya. She’s not gonna win any acting awards but does a good job considering its her first film. Like most debutantes, she is inhibited and doesn’t let go in many scenes. No such complaints about Prithviraj though. He does the romantic hero role as well he played the villain in Kanaa Kanden and surprisingly, shows a lot of flair for comedy. His flustered expressions play a big part in the laughs generated in the first half. The huge bevy of supporting actors does their parts well and Bagyaraj shows that he retains his knack of eliciting laughs with his dialog delivery alone.
The picturization of song sequences is probably the department where Bagyaraj’s change of style is most evident. All sequences have been picturized aesthetically and have a gloss that was never part of the songs in Bagyaraj’s movies before. The sequence shot in foreign locations and the one shot in the rain really catch the eye.
Paarijaatham - Fragrant.
PS: I wonder if the letter S is a good luck charm for Bagyaraj. Every important character, both in the main story and the mini-story, has his/her name starting with S. This isn’t used to create any confusion like it was in Jery but certainly stands out.