Friday, November 14, 2008

Vaaranam Aayiram

Behind every successful man is a woman... so goes the famous saying. Vaaranam Aayiram, a self-confessed tribute from director Gautham Vasudev Menon(the middle name was added to his name after his father passed away) to his dad, showcases a man whose life could be used as an example to alter the aforementioned proverb to say 'Behind every successful man is his father'. Gautham's familiar style dilutes the movie's emotional impact somewhat but it is an honest, heartfelt story that would've probably made his father happy.

Krishnan(Surya), who married his college sweetheart Malini(Simran), is now the proud father of a son Surya(Surya) and a daughter. Surya, while in college, realizes that it is high time he repays all that his father has done for him and finds himself a nice job. During the same time he meets Meghna(Sameera Reddy), who is all set to pursue higher studies in the US and vows that he would wed her. With his dad's backing, he travels to San Francisco to get the woman of his dreams. His life from then takes several unexpected turns but his dad is always there to guide him through them.

The film is an ode to the Dad and in that goal it is similar to Thavamaai Thavamirundhu. But while Cheran's film had the dad as the central figure, Vaaranam Aayiram illustrates a father's importance by keeping him in the background. Though the film begins and ends with Surya, the father, it is Surya, the son, who is at the forefront of the film and it's the twists and turns in his life that we are witnesses to. But we get to see the pivotal role his father plays in all stages of his life. It's his dad who inspires him to choose his career; its his dad who pushes him to grow his romance; its his dad who helps him recover from a big personal tragedy; and its his dad who supports him when he finally realizes his life's goals. By choosing this approach, Gautham manages to convey a message but avert the problem of the film turning into a documentary.

The film's other key relationships are also portayed well. Surya and Simran, inspite of not having a lot of screen time, create a screen couple whose love for each other has only grown over the years. Surya's dogged pursuit of Sameera paves the way for a romance that is both cute and convincing and Surya's reaction to its end is one of the genuinely touching moments in the movie. The Surya-Divya romance doesn't quite have the same impact but that is as much due to the inevitable comparison with the Sameera track as it is due to the widely different circumstances. There is some nice symmetry(like the way Surya and Divya travel far to woo their respective beaus) between the two romances but Gautham does well to not overstress it.

The film works well at the macro level. It is engaging, emotional and effective and succeeds in creating an interesting protagonist and charting an interesting course for his life. But the facade starts to crack if we dig just a little bit deeper. The finer details - whether its in the supporting characters or the period sets or the story transitions itself - are a little flimsy. Like, for instance, the segment that is set in the 60s. The film posters and the wig(for Simran) and the costumes are in place but the whole thing looks and feels like it was done on a set, without much effort going into recreating that time period. The feeling is greater since it wasn't too long ago that we saw Subramanyapuram, which pretty much transported us to the 80s. The character of Surya's sister is another sign of the lack of importance to the smaller details. Starting off as an important character as she helps Surya support his family, she is pushed to the sidelines and turned into a mute spectator (about whom we learn precious little) as he goes through all his crises and crusades.

The film is built on relationships, sentiments and emotions and so the detours into action seem like speedbreakers. These segments - like the kid's rescue and the army mission - are brought in quite cleverly and do constitute an important part in Surya's growth. But inspite of that, they feel cinematic due to their very nature and so they feel alien to the movie.

Gautham really needs to delegate the script-writing to someone who is more in tune with the characters in his movie. Considering that its Gautham who shaped those characters, that may sound a little strange but the problem is that he employs dialogs that he is familiar with and probably uses but they don't fit the characters or settings. While its the characters saying all those things on the screen, its Gautham we hear talking. So it sounds rather incongruent when we hear a middle-class man in the 70s address his son as "kiddo" or the same man's wife speak spontaneously in English when her husband has just coughed up blood in the bathroom. This was a problem in Gautham's older movies too but its more pronounced here since the story is more emotional. There are some genuinely effective lines that are heartfelt(like a father's desire to mend his son's fate), funny(like Surya's question to Sameera about her confidence in taking the next step in her career) and natural(like Divya revealing her feelings to Surya) but these are the exceptions rather than the rules.

Surya carries the movie on his shoulders and shows himself to be fully capable of that difficult task. He is able to slip easily into all the stages of both the characters and gets the body language and the expressions just right for all of them. Simran looks old, especially when she tries to pass off as a college girl, but proves to be the perfect foil for Surya once they grow old. Sameera Reddy grows on us by virtue of her character while Divya doesn't show much variety from her previous roles. Harris Jayaraj once again comes up with a fantastic album that offers a lot of variety. Adiye Kolludhe... is the pick of the numbers with some light but energetic choreography and wonderful locales. Mundhinam Paarthene... is a great number but its modern sound is also one of the reasons for the 60s segment not being too convincing. Ethi Ethi... features superb lyrics and some uninhibited by Surya.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Ilamai Oonjalaadugiradhu

A slightly delayed tribute to Director Sridhar...

Whenever we think of director Sridhar, the images we conjure up are usually those from old, black & white films with previous-generation actors like Sivaji Ganesan, Muthuraman and Devika. Ilamai Oonjalaadugiradhu is proof that he was just as adept at directing a movie with young actors whose careers were just taking off. And as always, his trademarks of strong characters and a great soundtrack are present here too, making the film an interesting, engrossing drama that has aged very well indeed.

The remarkable thing about the film is how fast-paced it is. It has only a handful of characters but with a mature story that packs in so many basic, human emotions like love, friendship, trust and betrayal, it keeps things moving with the kind of pace that would make a thriller proud. The screenplay is lean and Sridhar, who created one of Tamil cinema's most enduring comedy tracks with Thangavelu in Kalyaana Parisu, doesn't even have to resort to one here. The songs could be considered unnecessary but with numbers like Ore Naal... and Ennadi Meenatchi... from Ilaiyaraja, one can't really complain.

The film works because of its characters. The four key characters are fully fleshed-out, complex individuals with their own positives and negatives. They all have their weak moments and they all make mistakes that they have to deal with. Its these mistakes and their repercussions that drive the movie. Jayachitra, in particular, plays a very interesting character - a woman whose openness about her repressed sexual urges might get her painted as radical even today (though she could have toned down being so vocal about it, especially when using it as a reason with her manager when asking for a vacation!). Sridhar establishes the characters early and well and guides the story along based solely on the dynamics and relationships between them.

As the relationships between the four central characters change, the movie creates some interesting knots and generates suspense about how they will be untangled. But the unravelling of the knots is a little disappointing. After springing a big surprise - and the biggest complication - with the result of the liaison between Kamal and Jayachitra, the movie resolves it with a deus ex machina plot development that paves the way for a clean resolution. Once this happens, the rest of the story is a little predictable and there are no surprises.

This is one of those movies whose impact is increased because of how things are now. With the positions Rajni and Kamal have attained, it is fun seeing these two icons clash even if it was a long time ago. The traits we've become so familiar with - Kamal's romantic playfulness and natural intensity, Rajni's style and unique dialog delivery - are firmly in place even at that time and that makes their encounters, like the climactic one where Rajni demands to know a secret and Kamal steadfastly refuses to divulge it, close to explosive. Sripriya has the most dignified role in the movie and lends her role the required seriousness. Jayachitra hams it up a little bit as usual and makes her character a wee bit more cinematic than required.