An ode to Muththazhagu – Paruthiveeran’s priceless asset!

An ode to Muththazhagu, the girl who nailed Ameer’s unapologetic visualization of a lovelorn and headstrong village-belle (two tricky traits that could go either ways in an atmosphere reeking of chauvinism), exactly a decade after the film’s release…

-Mani Prabhu


Muththazhagu, the female lead of Ameer’s second film, is so disturbingly real that she keeps unsettling you on many levels. And that unsettling gnaw is one of the reasons, Paruthiveeran continues to fascinate, after almost a decade.

Over the course of the film, you could see her childhood fascination for her cousin (Veeran) eventually metamorphose into mad love.

And into this one hell of an impetuous ride, Priyamani breathes so much mood and texture that many a time, it’s easy to forget that she is a mere work of fiction.

This particular sequence, where she challenges her casteist father, face-to-face, over her decision to live with Veeran, is one for the ages.

It is late evening. Muththazhagu returns home after a tryst with her lover to see things a little ruffled at home. She guesses the obvious. Her dad, who had always nurtured a deep-seated hatred for Veeran and his family, must have seen them together.

As she walks past the man leaning back on his chair, making sure not to let her eyes linger anywhere near him, she instantly knows what to expect. The silence, that shatters the house, seems strangely familiar.

Feigning all the obliviousness that she could muster, she struts inside with a smug indifference. The clearly-seething man immediately summons her, and confronts her with the truth.

Muththazhagu, having known her father and his sensibilities long enough to realize the futility of any sort of reasoning, instinctively retaliates with a “Yes, so what?”

A prompt queasiness fills the moment. We gulp, half puzzled and half terrified. Why not a measly excuse, escaping the wrath of the moment?

But Muththazhagu has other ideas. She stands her ground, staring into her father’s eyes.

Acting out our worst fears, the man pours out all his pent-up anger, every blow landing on her with brutal force. “How dare you?” He literally stomps on her in a fit of rage. It’s savage, to say the least.

Between the pain in her gut and her ribs, and the sudden onslaught of unimaginable slurs, the sight of her father going insane, isn’t something she had definitely wanted to see. But before she could even manage to defend, the blows keep descending on her.

“Leave me alone!” Somehow Muththazhagu manages to scurry back on her feet. Inhuman and almost murderous by now, the man pushes her back to the ground. As she attempts to sit up, a verbal blame game between the father and the mother ensues.

We expect a squeal for mercy. At least, a heart-breaking imploration. We get none. Not even a half whimper.

She looks ahead, unfazed. Her face burns of an inexplicable grit. Of a deafening determination. Of an inscrutable lucidity. It’s terrifying. You could almost make a horror movie out of it.

“What the hell!” The man, exasperated with the girl’s silent defiance, slams her against a wall, and starts attacking her with an umbrella. The ‘father’ almost disappears. All you could see is a wild brute that gets more barbaric by the minute.

“For Christ’s sake, just say it aloud. Just say something, girl! What would you lose?”

She doesn’t budge an inch. Can such skanky unruliness be met with such clear resilience? It would take a Muthu to know. “I am going to kill you now!” Its gets almost impossible to keep watching. Nothing from her side other than piercing looks and deepening breaths! At some moment, absorbing all the trauma, she manages to get a hold on the umbrella and throws it away.

He spits at her face. Wiping it away, she gives him that cold stare. It’s shuddering.

Unable to take in the speechless resistance any more, the man walks away with a irate slap. It speaks a thousand more abuses.

Simultaneously she gets up, walks up to the dining mat, sits on the floor and serves herself the dinner vociferously. “Why are all you staring at me like that? I am still alive, and I am hungry!” Her helplessness resonates around the room. One look at Priya Mani – badly bruised but resolutely holding on to scattered bits of self-respect – even as she hysterically makes her grandma serve the whole of the meat, and you would know why she took home the National Award that year!


Nilavai Konduvaa: Some true-blue hormonal magic!

Random thoughts on one of the most tastefully done sensual songs of the nineties, Nilavai Konduvaa

– Mani Prabhu


Now, this is a stunner that screams SJ Surya in every passing frame.

The girl holds the reigns throughout. And that’s the bloody beauty of it.

Vaali gets down to business right away. The lady, hopelessly drunk on love, suggests every possible way to stretch the night. She craves for the moments to freeze. Its the kind of sensual jabber that permeates steamy twilight hours. We feel the high.

Her bottled-up desires start exploding into assertive commands. The man simply concurs. At least to start with. The impish subversion catches on us, like a charm.

Deva is operating outside of his comfort zone here. But surprisingly, nails it with the right blend of western orchestration and our very own music.

One moment he is playing around with suggestive percussions and the next moment, he smoothly segues into classical Hindustani. If that isn’t enough to silence the doubters, he follows it up with a textured version of ‘Kaakai Siraginiley’ from nowhere. The man, for sure, lives the aura.

But then, eclipsing many of these vivid details, two women own the song completely, making it breathe the ‘mood’ like no other.

Just listen to Anuradha Sriram’s trippy responses to Unni Krishnan’s teasing propositions and you would know,

அவசரம் கூடாது அனுமதி தரும் வரையில்…

பொதுவா நான் சொன்னா, நீ சொன்னபடி கேட்கும் சாது!

Unni retorts with a wily “இது போன்ற விசயத்தில் உன் பேச்சி உதவாது!”

But, before you could snap out of this yummy repartee, Anuradha reclaims her dominance with a tone that reeks of intoxicated passion…

மெல்ல இடையினை தொடுவாயா
மெல்ல உடையினை களைவாயா
நான் துடிக்கையில் வெடிக்கையில் முத்தங்கள் தருவாயா!

And boy, Simran! The actress plays this moment with such a bullish, sensual grace that you almost forget to blink. The kind of hormonal magic that lives up to the involuntary gape.


Poonnkuyil Paadinaal: Celebrating the Music called ‘Life’

A heartfelt tribute to the insanely talented, late Mr. Mahesh Mahadevan…

I would urge you to watch the song first if you are totally unfamiliar with it. The write-up works best when it’s read with the song playing in the background. But do remember to revisit the song again, after you are done with this.

-Mani Prabhu

What happens when a couple of brilliant actors battle it out with their respective, legendary vocalists over an absolute peach of a lyrical sequence?

Poonnkuyil Paadinaal kind of magic unfolds.

Two very different persons, struggling to shroud their apparent attraction to each other, loosen up over an eventful night, moving from moments of awkward closeness to those of delightful intimacy.

The beauty of it all? They bond over music.

He invites her over for a stint at the key-board. The lady starts off with a simple jingle. He takes it further with a smug improvisation. A palpable gawkiness hangs in the air.

She proceeds for a charm of a tune. He sneaks in with a couple of complementary keys. They are almost rubbing shoulders now. She responds with a brilliant refrain. He bends over to nurture the spell.

You get the drift. It’s almost like a twin ballad, her chords beautifully segueing into his, setting up the stage for something magical. It rounds off into a bewitching melody. They can’t stop smiling. Neither can you.

You have to hand it over to Mahesh Mahadevan here.  What an unprecedented grip over the fabric of the synergy! Very rarely does a prelude to a song turn out so endearingly spontaneous that it pulls the actors into the moment and lets them steer the happenings by simply being themselves on-screen.

And Haasan and Gautami effortlessly make the most of the setting. It’s one thing to share a great relationship with a co-star. But bringing alive the tricky warmth of an evolving attraction, complete to the minutest detail, is beyond histrionics.

Believe me… it entails much more than mere competency of the craft. Combined with the music, the hint at the chemistry bomb that is about to explode has to be seen to be believed! The timer has been set with aplomb.

With one hell of an intrigue that Vairamuthu pitches in style. What makes music ‘music’ and not just a jumble of sounds or noises? The duo eases into a lovely jam over the apparently intangible conflict.

And Chitra and SPB smoothly take over the reins here.

From the organised rhythm of a birdsong to an infant’s cry, the extempore musings are plain irresistible. Why does this formless ‘thing’ — at its core, a mere figment of the senses — hold such unthinkable intrinsic value in controlling the human mind?

The actors, and the singers, are literally competing with each other now. Is music in the notes, or the lingering silence in between? If ‘sound’ is required for music to exist, what form did it take in Beethoven’s mind? The vibes are alarmingly infectious.

பூங்குயில் பாடினால் நல்ல சங்கீதம்
குழந்தையின் அழுகையும் நல்ல சங்கீதம்

ஓசை எல்லாம் தீர்ந்து போனால் ஏது சங்கீதம்?
சத்தங்கள் இல்லாத மௌனங்கள் சங்கீதம்!

Especially, when Gauthami times the pepper-spray retrieval from her pouch with “சண்டையும் சங்கீதம்!”, sporting a superbly feigned nonchalance, you can’t help but grin.

But, if you think you are sold, remember that the show has just started.

Mahesh stages a strategic power shut-down to unleash one of the most fascinating musical interludes in the history of Tamil cinema.

Kamal’s ripostes continue to draw out the character from his somber mask every passing second. There is a deceptive rustle, followed by a stretch of dramatic silence. Haasan now strolls into the frame holding a lighted candle and a guitar. The picture instantly imbues the moment with an abstract sort of charm. Dramatic shoe-stomps resonate with anticipatory excitement. As he walks towards the lady’s silhouette, the lingering darkness dissolves into a muted glimmer on Gauthami’s face. She breaks into a radiant beam.

A breath-taking pause. And the heavenly guitar makes a sensational debut. Haasan’s stringing beautifully segues into SPB’s mesmerizing whistle, as the couple walk to the lawns. Everything about the setting is so freaking trippy that you could be excused for letting the high in Gauthami’s eyes slide.

The ‘stoned’ feel is understandably too much to handle. But Mahesh is in no mood for mercy. Once in the backyard, Chitra breaks into this ravishing hum, which along with the wizardry of the lead-guitar, is your straight-ticket to nadaville. Dare you resist the offer?

And before you could make complete sense of the ongoing narcosis, Vairamuthu takes over. The lyrical jugalpandi starts writing itself by the second charanam.

If relating to sounds is music, isn’t the whole idea a subjective pleasure?  If music is about structured repetition of sounds, isn’t it all encompassing -always present with us – as life goes on in the background? Is ‘intention’ a criterion for distinguishing music from noise? But again, isn’t it all about perspective?

The singers are almost on autopilot now. Everything flows.

ஸ்ருதியில் சேரும் ராகம் என்றும் கற்கண்டு…

பூவில் பாடும் வண்டு என்ன ஸ்ருதி கொண்டு!

Between accepted forms of organised intonations and free-spirited interpretations like that pollination and rains, the poetic swing ride is a delight to the senses.

With the singers settling into a cosy groove, and the misty moonlit-night nailing the mood, it’s a field day for Kamal and Gautami at work. Watch the way the man, close on the heels of Gautami, acknowledges her with a wry salute when she goes “நாங்கள் போடும் சந்தம் இன்பம் ஆனந்தம்” and then counters her with “மழையின் சந்தம் ஒன்றே என்றும் சுய சந்தம்”, springing a modest hand-fold.

But the best is yet to come. When he follows it up with an emphatic crossing of the arms, the self-assured aura it evokes easily escapes the confines of our limited language-comprehension skills. The moment is aced, Haasan style.

நேசமாக நீங்கள் கேட்பதென்ன பாட்டு?
மூங்கில் மீது காற்று மோதிய பழ பாட்டு.

The electricity is back. They amble inside. The lady’s curiosity about this man is at its peak. And so is the brilliance of the bass guitar in the background. A bookshelf that spills over into the bed and the carpet. Randomly scattered underwear on the couch. What an compelling personality this guy is turning out to be!

Vairamuthu takes it upon himself to elevate the sequence to the next level here. As Gauthami instinctively touches Haasan’s feet for her footwear accidentally brushing on him, she has absolutely no clue what she has gotten herself into. The man chides back casually.

The interplay of ideologies quickly escalates to clash on the ‘divine’. The lady revels at the way a certain kind of ethereal music establishes the omnipresence of the Almighty. Gauthami is in her element here. The pride and assertion of a strong theist shimmers in her eyes.

எங்கும் கடவுள் தேடும் தேவ சங்கீதம்…

SPB, on his part, edges up the drama with a retort that if music could be seen as spiritual nirvana, why can’t it be a quest for the elusive humanity? If music is a science, why shouldn’t it have been a time-worn expression of rationalism?

One look at Haasan holding a book on Periyar in one hand, while he goes “எதிலும் மனிதன் தேடும் எங்கள் சங்கீதம்!” and you could instantly feel the shiver. The goosebumps are for real.

Doesn’t the music of all life flow from the earth to the heavens and back? She knows she can speak her mind. The intimacy – the growing conviction that you would be understood no matter what – shows. He retaliates pronto by calling music as the art-form of the ‘equals’, and not only the select privileged.

தேவலொகம் கேட்கும் ஜீவ சங்கீதம்…

ஏழை குடிசை கேட்கும் எங்கள் சங்கீதம்!

The lady is not going down without a resilient brush. Picking up from where she left, she perseveres. At the end of the day, aren’t rewards the purpose of all art?

With a vehement nod, Haasan strikes back, almost nailing the true labour of love in a single line. The reflexive spurt of moisture in the beholder’s eyes! That’s the thing. It doesn’t come that easy. It needs to be earned. Every single speckle of it. And when it is, nothing in the world would come close to what the artist feels, that priceless moment. After all, it’s not without reason, this piece exists.

காசு மாலை தானே கலையின் சன்மானம்…

கண்ணின் துளிகள் தானே கலைகளின் வெகுமானம்!

FootnoteThe lyricist for this piece is Vairamuthu and not Pulamaipithan as mentioned earlier. The appropriate corrections have been made, and any inconveniences caused, regretted. 

Aasaiya Kaathula Thoothu Vittu: One Hell of a Sensual Trip

Do you know that you could go insane by continually pondering on the circumstances under which Raja comes up with tunes like Aasaiya Kaathula Thoodu Vittu

How does it work? Is it about a mysterious muse?

Is he truly and hopelessly inebriated on lust? Or is he just pretending to be?

Is he acing the moment by teleporting himself into the carnal nooks of the human psyche?

Or is he just playing God, by conjuring up emotions with a mere flutter of his fingers over the keys?

How can someone, in the real world, hit upon the idea of using this otherworldly ‘violin-bit’ for opening a supposed item-song, which in turn leads up to the such kinky percussions?

Even as you accede to Raja’s inborn knack of defying artistic rationale, Shailaja’s mesmerizing rendition builds up on a weird kind of erotic rhythm, which intertwines your reality with that of a raunchy dream.

You could almost sense the hedonic arousal now. Its a magician toying with your sensuality. As if that isn’t enough to detonate your already charged-up synapses, the simultaneous kindling of the soul and the hormones also makes you question your own amorous sensibilities. Its befuddling.

The scintillating flute, the provocative strings, and all the orgasmic-humming grace the magnificent interludes with an unparalleled fizz, further edging up the muddled libido.

It slowly starts to inch beyond the confines of ‘words’. Like being pulled into a lavish whorehouse and offered the option of bailing out, in return for a specific-something. Its a trap. An insanely brilliant one at that.

But two aspects underline the track’s uniqueness, even under the unapologetic shadow of Raja’s super-sensual orchestration. The first is the visuals that never at any moment, border on ribaldry. And the second is the delightfully minimalist choreography that lends a whole new dimension to eroticism.

When a gifted seductress like Subashini is involved, rhythmic heel-taps, subtle shoulder-jabs and piercing stares are all that are needed to bump the spectator’s hormone levels to hazardous heights

Lesson well learnt.


Kannum Kannum Kalandhu: The Tale of a Legendary Face Off

-Mani Prabhu

Can a ‘song-and-dance-sequence’ hold you in speechless raptures for a whole of eight minutes, forcing the casual blink to seem like the most arduous of efforts?

This delightful confrontation between two of the most exquisite danseuses of the era is one such sight to behold.

Padmini starts off with a stunning spree of Tavils and Naadhaswarams. The aura she evokes quickly transcends the tedium of technique. Nimble, graceful and fluid, she brings alive the character’s complicated romantic feelings by transfiguring every bit of the mundane into the sublime, with magnificent calm.  And suddenly, it all feels so transcendental.

கண்ணும் கண்ணும் கலந்து
சொந்தம் கொண்டாடுதே…
எண்ணும் போதே
உள்ளம் பந்தாடுதே!

Leela’s celestial voice, and the way Padmini carries it with the most mysterious of smiles, add an ineffable ‘something’ to the magic unfolding on screen.  The moment is almost impossible to capture in words, but in it, music and dance meet in blissful harmony.

கன்னி என்றேனடி கைகளை பிடித்தார்…
காதலி என்றென்னை கொஞ்சியே அழைத்தார்!

It’s a master dancer and a gifted vocalist nailing the portrayal of female agency like nothing the audience had seen before.

But then, in a moment of pure genius, the tables are flamboyantly turned on us.

As Vyjayanthimala joins the party, the track becomes insanely delicious with an unbelievable shift from poetic reverence to indulgent fun.  What started off as a classical purist melody suddenly explodes into this ravishing sensual delight! The audacity of the metamorphosis has to be seen to be believed.

PS Veerapa, in all excitement, goes “சபாஷ் சரியான போட்டி!” In fact he needn’t have. We instinctively hear it inside our heads.

Ramchandra’s orchestration is on a roll here. It’s almost like the song got doped on its way to the charanam. The unbolted vivacity is there to be felt.  In the foot-tapping beats. In the spirited rhythm. In every inch of the animated atmosphere.

ஜிலு ஜிலு ஜிலு ஜிலு வென்று நானே…
ஜெகத்தை மயக்கிடுவேனே!
கல கல கல கல வென்று ஜோராய்…
கையில் வளை பேசும் பாராய்!

And Vyjayanthi, on her part, is on some serious payback mode. With each sway of her head, each twist of her torso, each semi-classical gesture, each movement of her eyes, she weaves a captivating picture of deserving envy. It’s not about unadulterated art anymore. With an unprecedented mastery over the tightrope walk between classical and cinematic facets of the dance form, an unbelievable plasticity, and a unique follow-up crackling with energy from head to toe, she makes sure that her dancing breathes as one with her singer (Jikki)’s exuberant rendering of the showdown.

ஆடுவேன் பாரடி… பாடுவேன் கேளடி…
ஆடுவேன் பாரடி… இனி அனைவரும் மயங்கிட

ஜிலு ஜிலு ஜிலு ஜிலு வென்று நானே
ஜெகத்தை மயக்கிடுவேனே!

The ‘nerve’ had been touched. The game is on.

Padmini gets back with a recital that spills of precision and elegance. Effortlessly combining art with its aesthetic articulation, she breathes, feels and walks the dance. And Leela, singing for her, continues to nail the character’s knack of feigning an air of unmistakable repose.

ஆறு பெருகி வரின் அணை கட்டலாகும்
அன்பின் பாதையில் அணை இடலாமா?

With refined gestures, ethereal foot-work and a dainty flitter of her fingers, Padmini now seems like Bharathanatyam personified. It can’t get any more monumental.

பேதமையாலே மாது இப்போதே
காதலை வென்றிட கனவு காணாதே!

Giving you no time to revel in the shrewd riposte, Vyjayanthimala stages a thandava that erupts out from somewhere deep within. Myriad emotions of prejudice, jealousy and malice reflect in her steps, as she flits across the stage. Its breathtaking, to say the least.

சாதுர்யம் பேசாதடி…
என் சலங்கைக்கு பதில் சொல்லடி!

The tasteful stomp of a heel, the charming shuttle of an eyelid, the way she stretches her arms into space… in Vyjayanthi’s every manoeuvre, a new vocabulary takes birth – a language of form that breaks every single rule of classical dance.

நடுவிலே வந்து நில்லடி…
நடையிலே சொல்லடி!

When you are competing with one of the Travancore sisters, you can never really boast of a sustained advantage. And as awaited, Padmini bounces back in her inimitable style that relentlessly bolsters the aesthetic grammar of Bharatanatyam. But mind you, the first signs of resentment now start creeping up on the lady’s hitherto composed demeanour.

ஆடும் மயில் எந்தன் முன்னே
எந்த ஆணவத்தில் வந்தாயோடி?
பாடும் குயில் கீதத்திலே…
பொறாமை கொண்டு ஆடாதேடி

Even as the bite in her retorts start to sink in, Vyjayanthi takes the game to the next level by bringing in an element of mime to it. The steps start breathing the burning conflict now. Has it become less of a battle of expertise than an unruly ego-trip now? Jikki’s rendering of her narcissistic lines reek of a confidence, almost bordering on arrogance.

இன்னொருத்தி நிகராகுமோ…
எனக்கின்னொருத்தி நிகராகுமோ
இடி இடித்தால் மழை ஆகுமோ!

What follows for the next 120 seconds is an unearthly face-off between one of the best-trained classical dancers of the time, and the one who introduced semi-classical dance to Indian cinema!

Battling out on a complex platform of dramatics and narratives, they enthrall the initiated and the uninitiated alike – by infusing art with their own unique magic – by giving the dance form a whole new delightful dimension.

It’s not without reason that it is regarded as the best dance sequence in Indian cinema, more than six decades hence. Some cite professional rivalry between the leads. I choose to go with sheer passion for the craft.

Here is the Hindi version:

Six Spectacular Frames. One Genius Cinematographer. The Name is Santosh Sivan.

Over a career spanning three decades, Santosh Sivan must have spear-headed myriad bursts of brilliance. Here, I pick out six breathtaking frames from his oeuvre that scream his name in every pixel…

Mani Prabhu

1. Thalapathi


In this debut film of Santosh in Tamil – his first ever association with Mani Ratnam – the man had to tackle the toughest challenge of all – to portray dark emotions in the backdrop of the blazing sun. The reason?

Mani was alluding to the epic friendship between Karna and Duryodhana, and Karna being the son of the solar deity, a conscious decision was taken at the script-level to synchronize most of Karna’s decisions with sun-rays. Its a tricky proposition as nuanced expressions get lost in silhouettes, when the sun is put as the back-light.

This particular sequence involves the stirring transformation of Surya into the ‘Thalapathi’, as he goes to war in a mystic silhouette against a scorching sun. Raja’s rousing theme plays in the background.

This frame speaks a lot about Santosh’s caliber as it is never easy to shoot against the sun because of dynamic limitations of film stock. A gooseflesh inciting high-contrast image is obtained, by keeping the key light low and allowing the all-commanding solar backlight to dictate the mood. Santosh actually goes on to use this ‘low-key-high-contrast’ style through out the film to get the magical Surya effect.

2. Roja


In stark contrast with the mood of his previous association with the master, this sequence in Roja required Santosh to bring to screen a soulful romance blooming amidst the astounding beauty of nature.

After a hurtful misunderstanding, love gently blossoms between the unassuming Roja and the city-bred Rishi in the alluring backdrop of Kashmir. One fine day, Rishi blindfolds Roja and takes her for a sweet surprise. At a particular spot, when Roja opens her eyes, she is in for the moment of her lifetime. She stares on, dumbfounded, at the charm of the snow-capped mountains.

There’s a momentary hint of the blue sky and the peeking sun, but it’s enough for Santosh to capture a flash of diamonds across the wide landscape, in the form of dazzling snowflakes.

It’s all pre-planned. We, the audience, are supposed to see the snow only when Roja does. And what a spectacle it turns out to be! Everything glistens. Colours are brighter against the pure white blanket that spreads as far as the eye could see.

And this particular frame, where Roja revels in a warm hug with Rishi, speaks a million words. She would be there for Rishi, come what may, till the very end. She may not be actually telling it, but we can hear her voice. Almost.

3. Iruvar


Yet another masterpiece from the ManiRatnam – Santosh Sivan duo, this time for the epic political drama Iruvar.

Thamizhselvan is married, but is irreversibly smitten with Senthamarai. The scene reflects the complicated emotions of the two, as they succumb to their lethal attraction, all the while silencing the howls of their conscience.

As the back ground score begins with an apparent hissing of bats, Tamizhselvan and Senthamarai are lying on the floor, having consummated their relationship, her hair in tangles and their clothing in a mess.

The camera slowly zooms in to capture the rapture in their eyes, spilling out through layers of fear and guilt.

As we look upon the couple from above, from a God-like position, the camera starts rotating, starting off in a gentle gyration.

This particular frame is a stunner, with Tamizhselvan’s face caught in a reflective sense of calm, while Senthamarai looks more disturbed. We could see through her gnawing  and deep-seated torment at the moment.

The frame starts spinning a bit faster, catching us off-guard at the amount of emotions, being thrown at us by the stunning lyrics. The sound of a ticking clock adds on.

As Tamizhsevan fondles Senthamarai’s cheek with his touch, Santhosh edges up the pace of the gyration, soulful humming with stunning percussions hitting on us in the background.

At one point, we are so poignantly muddled, that indecision takes over. The man truly starts playing God here. Is it the frame that is spinning? Or the ground? Or our thoughts? The questions get only stronger. Heights of emotional blurring!

4. Thuppaki


An age old action-masala motif was being staged. The sister had been kidnapped.

But wait, we aren’t that worried. At least, about the fate of the girl. Why would we be? We have seen too many of these to even manage a false-gasp. We are familiar with the ploy. And the fact that the hero would make a fitting appearance in the scene, any moment now.

If at all, the staging of this age-old action motif lacked something, it was the element of anticipatory surprise.

What fun is it then? What was the need to keep us in the loop all along? As we wait for the inevitable to pan out, we even start dwelling on the ifs and whys for a micro-moment.

But before we could exercise our sensibilities any further, there is a hushed silence. Everyone in the scene stops mid-action, with the man-in-charge trying to make sense of the disturbance.

We hear something like a distant canine sound. Is it? The camera slowly arcs around the room, taking note of the shocked expressions and pans further to reveal an empty hallway, half cloaked in some sort of factory vapours.

The aura of the frame is staggering. We get the first hint of the brilliance that is still kept in clever wraps. As we stare ahead forgetting to blink, a dog casually trots into the frame.

We know the inevitable, but yet, the setting almost grabs by the collar and refuses to let go.

A gun shot is heard. And the man holding the knife to the girl’s throat collapses simultaneously. The camera records this, and then instinctively pans to explore the sound source.

It sure seems like the edge of a wall at first sight. What next?

None at sight. Just a lone lantern, lighting up the corner.  Curls of vaporous smoke, lingering from the firearm shot. The vapours hang on for a split moment. We are pulled into the scene, all mouths gaping.

An illusory reverie. That’s what Santosh makes it look like. Somewhere, as the sumptuous, milky haze writhes around, the heart misses a beat.

And slowly, fingers of light poke through the misty mesh – filtering down the interstices of the clearing smoke – revealing what is probably one of the finest ‘mass’ moments in the history of star-vehicles.

The image of Jagadish, with that killer-stare, pointing the gun at our forehead emerges, constructing itself like a self-solving jigsaw puzzle.

The man had elevated yet another scene to a different level.

5. Raavanan


Mani had set his eyes on the Ramayana next. The film-maker’s vision was singular – he was attempting to blur the thin line between – what is perceived by the world – as good and evil.

Veera plays Raavan – the demon – the unpolished and boorish tribal leader. Dev plays Ram – the privileged ‘all-powerful’ – the resolute encounter-specialist. Veera eyes Dev’s wife, Ragini aka Sita, and kidnaps her. The motive? Veera’s sister had been tortured and brutal raped by Dev’s men. So who is the demon again?

While holding Ragini captive in the forest, Veera subconsciously starts falling for the lady. Ragini is angry and hurting, but soon softens up a bit, as she starts seeing the real Veera camouflaged within layers of apparent barbarism.

This particular sequence happens in the backdrop of a spectacular waterway, when the love-torn Veera questions Ragini about her love for her husband. Mani here seeks the help of Santosh Sivan to showcase Veera’s rugged yet striking abode. A huge stone effigy of Lord Vishnu in the ‘lying-down’ posture breaks into the rivulet, fragmented at the hip.

Initially, when Ragini equates her husband to God and all things righteous, Veera is seated on the leg fragment of the Lord himself. The supposed monster realizing his stand at the feet of the supposed divine. Rains start lashing out.

“Is your God the embodiment of all things good? An archetype of the ideal husband? Is he the most virtuous? Does he err ever? Does he love you unconditionally” As Veera relentlessly picks on Ragini’s mind, she seems to nod in concurrence. But wait, as the focus shifts to her face, the torment of missing her husband muddled by a hint of growing affection for her captor, is readily evident.

This particular frame, where Santosh contrasts Veera’s painful envy for Dev – for the things he can only dream of – with the pervading beauty of picturesque goodness, will go down in his repertoire as one of the very best.

 6. Dil Se


A lead character from the heart of India. Another one from a politically and socially-sidelined peripheral state. Bundles of contradiction in the eyes of the law and the society. In Dil Se, Mani Ratnam had ventured to take us through the leads’ tumultuous journey, as they pass through the seven stages of love – attraction, preoccupation, desire, worship, surrender, fatal obsession and immortality – as laid out in literature.

Amar irreversibly falls for the mysterious Meghna, the moment he sees her. Meghna’s obliviousness is obvious, but the more she starts brushing him away, the more he gets obsessed with her.

He relentlessly pursues Meghna and questions her coldness. In a fierce altercation, she reveals to Amar, that as a child, she had been raped by a few soldiers and that her soul seeks liberation through her suicide attack on the Indian army and the President of India. She insists on her duty to represent her people and their unheard voices.

This particular sequence, which represents the zenith of love, happens in a dilapidated fort, which Santosh brilliantly uses as a backdrop to depict emotional isolation, the dread of an impending disaster and a hint of patriotism.

Knowing Megha’s resilience, Amar realizes that it would be tough to make her abort the mission, but he can’t give up on his love yet… can he? As Meghna proceeds for the suicide attack, Amar confronts her midway and frantically attempts to hold her back.

Santosh here alternates between the master shot fixed at mid-range and stirring close-ups to bring the insane tension alive. The dripping love in Amar’s eyes cannot be missed, even though the glimmer of hope had vanished. He knows he is the only person in the world who can stop her. He forcibly embraces her and pleads her not to go away.

There must be a million thoughts running in Meghna’s mind that moment. And Santosh resorts to over-the-shoulder shots for capturing the conflicting emotions. Amar seems to be still deconstructing her mind, which seems to escape all definitions. But the blatant nervousness had given way to a calm resolve. Meghna struggles for a few minutes, torn between an unflinching love and an apparent existential crisis.

This particular frame, where she stops fighting back after a while, eventually giving in to the passionate cuddle, is so haunting that you just can’t look away. When was the last time a cinematographer thematized the entire movie in a single frame?

The explosives tied to Meghna’s chest go off, with the couple breathing into each other. Amar drowns his body in Meghna’s soul. The couple sleep in the lap of death.

Iraivi… A fascinating ‘character’ contrast-study of the people from Mars and Venus.

Heavy spoilers ahead…

What happens when a film-maker who revels in the art of startling his audience, decides to raise his game by not feeling the need to have everything spelt-out, or in a way, settled? The starkly polarized responses to Karthik Subbaraj’s Iraivi seem to suggest that all hell would surely break loose. Never before in the recent past had a work of art so emphatically split the viewer’s perspective of it into the farthest extremes, with almost a non-existent middle ground between the two! This urge to jump to knee-jerk conclusions probably stems as the outcome of our industry’s relentless training in making its audience view films at momentary face value. We are so obsessed with one-word-verdicts that a film like Iraivi, which drags us into its world and asks us to make sense of it by projecting ourselves on-screen, almost catches us off-guard. And so, with such films, it becomes imperative to take apart the totality of the film ‘experience’ and interpret the kind that was actually intended and assembled. And that, exactly, is the purpose of this piece.

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Karthik opens the film with a black screen and what seems like the sound of a light shower. Over the course of the opening credits, the splashing slowly intensifies to the point of becoming unmistakable. We know that the action, when it begins, would be set against the backdrop of the rains. But what comes as a sweet surprise, and probably sets the tone of the film, is the way this backdrop runs as a common thread through quite a few unconnected spatial events, seamlessly stitching them together. This is where we realize that the rain might become a recurring leitmotif through the course of the narrative. Three very different women are introduced in a series of brilliant intercuts, each of them reacting to their situation in a distinctive way.

Ponni (played by Anjali), a small-town girl who had learnt to adapt to her milieu and find happiness within her confined walls, is discussing the future with her classmates. She understands well that the concept of ‘love’ is beyond the limits of the society she lives in. But however, she has her version of ‘love life’ all planned out. An arranged marriage which doesn’t come across as a compromise, a loving husband who romances like crazy, three kids, and an owned house is her idea of a lifetime of happiness. Doesn’t she have any aspirations outside of a utopian family life? Clearly not… but who is to judge her? We all harbour desires and she happens to be representative of a particular ‘invisible’ female kind. The kind which wants to get on the ground to ‘relish’ the rains, but eventually stays inside fearing the consequences. A cycle topples over in long shot, setting up a chain reaction in the pack parked in the playground. It might not be Ponni’s.  Hers might not the last one falling either. Her cycle is sandwiched somewhere in the middle. It had been toppled. It might topple a few more.

Somewhere else, in the same temporal frame, Yazhini (portrayed by Kamalini Mukherji) is feeling accomplished. She is all set to marry a filmmaker – the love of her life – after quite a struggle. She is visibly thrilled, but as far as first impressions go, she doesn’t seem to be in Ponni’s league. She appears far more independent and self-focussed. She doesn’t seem like the one who will take the easy way out. Challenges seem to excite her. She has a career of choice. She speaks fluent English. And for her, marriage and kids don’t seem to be the end of the road. In her own words, she hates to be locked up within a template existence.  She looks upon her life-partner as someone who would support her ambitions and help her grow.. Don’t we see a Yazhini almost every day in our lives? A friend. A colleague. A classmate. A relative. Isn’t she ubiquitous? At the brink of entering a new phase of life, she is sure that her future holds quite a lot in store. She nurtures tall dreams, and she is confident she can ace them all. For now, she puts her hand out through the window and enjoys the splashing drops. Does she harbour a desire to get all wet like Ponni? May be or maybe not, but at present, she is content in watching it from a distance.

Meanwhile, in another household, an elderly woman (lived by Vadivukkarasi) is on the verge of breaking down. She had been again treated badly by her husband in front of her relatives. It was not her fault. It had never been.  For the past 45 years. And it had almost become the norm now. Her marriage at the age of sixteen was not by choice. Neither did she have a say in deciding the man she was going to live with for the next few decades. All that she prayed for were a little understanding and minimal self-respect. She got neither.  She had always wanted to be treated like a life partner – the friend, the companion, the confidante.  But over years, she had seen herself being reduced to the soft-touch mother and the submissive wife, more like that of the family’s punch bag. She had to silently bear the brunt of their outbursts in the interests of her family, but the price she had to pay for that was downright cruel. Hasn’t she lost herself in the process? Someone asks her to stop complaining and come out before she gets chided for being late. With a heavy sigh, she wipes her tears and puts her hand out of the window to feel the rain. What is she feeling? Probably, nothing. Her desires have been systematically killed over time. For her, and the kind she represents, the rain merely means a couple of things; saving the clothes in the terrace from getting wet, and reminding her family members to take the umbrella while going out.

The screen fades out. From here on, Karthik explores the journey of these women by focussing on the men, they had willingly or unwillingly let into their lives. The beauty of this exploration is that he just lets his characters be, without meddling too much with their inherent personality traits. They laugh, they dream, they cry, they disappoint, they hurt, they react, they lie, they blunder… and through these contrasting sensibilities, they bring to screen some of the most fascinating yet grounded character-studies in recent times.

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We are first introduced to Arul (played brilliantly by SJ Surya), the promising film-maker who had married Yazhini with truckloads of celluloid dreams, seven years before. He seems to have everything in life – a loving wife, a peach of a daughter, supportive brother, understanding parents, and loyal friends – but he is not happy. When an altercation with the egoistic producer casts a shadow over the release of his dream film, the man is crushed beyond words. How would it feel to have years of passion and hard work washed down the drain one fine day? To see your film – the baby you had so painstakingly given life to – lying useless in the lab?  After the initial shock, the realization that his creation might never see the light of the day grounds Arul from his imaginative self to modes of escape from the mounting pressure to prove himself to the world.  With rumours and ridicule escalating by the day, he starts to take solace in alcohol.  This is something, many of us would find it difficult to relate with. Being labelled a loser is one thing. Getting a handle on the emotional repercussions that such a fact incites among your near and dear is entirely a different ball-game. Over time, you tend to look for distractions from the whole bloody mess. And for a creator who has been denied his applause, it’s all the more compelling.

Yazhini understands her husband’s frustration, but his growing fixation with alcohol disturbs her. Balancing her career with her responsibilities at home, she tries to keep herself busy. A sick mother-in-law in the hospital (Vadivukkarasi) to tend to doesn’t make things any better. On one hand, she wants to be supportive, standing by Arul as they tide over the tough times together. On the other hand, she is exasperated by her husband’s stubbornness in not moving on to fight the next battle and refusing to empathize with her struggles in keeping the ‘home’ afloat. Caught between the two, she holds on to the hope that the film’s release would return Arul back to his confident self. Consider the sequence where she confronts Arul who is stealing a quick drink in the bathroom. A poignant folk song is heard in the background. If you missed the train I’m on… You will know that I am gone… Indeed!  The painful lament of the ignored and ashamed artist is striking. The man would never be the same again. When she tries to make him see sense, he argues that if it was possible to disown something that dear so easily, he would have done it long back. Among the film posters in the backdrop, that of Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa looms large. What better way to showcase the turmoil of a struggling artist yearning for recognition!


Karthik meanwhile introduces four new characters – Arul’s dad (played with a signature restraint by Radharavi), Michael (Vijay Sethupathi in terrific form) the son of Radharavi’s long-time assistant who continues to help out in the family’s sculpture studio, Michael’s friend Malar (portrayed by Pooja Dewariya) and Jagan (played by Bobby Simha) the younger brother of Arul – everyone of them affecting each other in some way.

Arul’s dad, who realises his mistake when his wife goes into coma, after having turned a blind eye to her sentiments by treating her like a housemaid for almost five decades, is almost representative of a generation soaked in patriarchy. What took him so many years to understand his much-conspicuous apathy? Was it his wife’s sudden physical absence? Had he taken her so much for granted that he had almost forgotten to acknowledge her existence when she needed it the most? Even now, he doesn’t voice his regrets. The cry for absolution is there, hanging on his face, day in and day out. The realization almost reduces him into a silent shadow of his own self. What at all could atone for a life-time of chauvinistic mistreatment? If only special ward care in multispecialty hospitals and countless nights of silence at her feet would.

Michael, having grown up with Arul and Jagan, had always considered himself a part of the household. He is there, ever ready to help, when either of them needs him. Michael gets attracted to his friend Malar and begins a relationship with her. What starts off as a casual acquaintance turns physical over time. When we first see the couple in bed, we hear Vairamuthu’s “Unnaithaane thanjam endru Nambi vandhen naane” in the background. We smile at the aural hint. Michael expectedly falls head over heels in love with Malar. But the girl is in no mood to reciprocate. Having lost her husband, whom she had loved and married, Malar seems to be clear-headed in her choices. “Sex is a physical need, and that’s why we are in bed together. Why does a physical relationship necessarily entail commitment?” she asks. This is a powerful statement about sex, and it’s tossed off in the most matter-of-fact way. What is that which makes Malar take decisions with such confidence and authority? Is it her education and financial independence? Is it her upbringing? Or is just her inherent character trait? Whatever it is, the fact that something this candid, this controversial is voiced out through one of the female leads happens to be Karthik’s finest punch of all.

And so we get the scene where Michael is forced into an arranged marriage with Ponni. That night, when he tells Ponni that he could never be the affectionate husband that she dreams of, we know that he hasn’t moved on from Malar. Why then did he agree for the marriage, at least in a passive way? Why did he overlook the emotions of the girl involved? Couldn’t he have convinced his folks to give him the time needed to come out of his complicated feelings? Before we could make sense of the contradictions, we are exposed to some age-old hypocrisy, when the next morning, the entire elderly female neighbourhood starts advising Ponni on her responsibility in bringing her husband into line. Why the counselling to the wife, when the conflict is with the husband? If only we had answers!

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The action shifts back to Arul, who now finds his alcoholism spiraling out of control. Yazhini tries to intervene almost every day, with little success. She sees her life crumbling before her own eyes like a stack of cards, but she keeps convincing herself that it’s all just a passing phase.  And so, when Arul lands up in the police station after getting involved in a drunken brawl with her colleague, she decides on a whim that she has had enough. Arul is shocked out of his wits, but he is also not in any position to defend himself. And here, Karthik smartly captures the oscillating mind of Yazhini in walking permanently out of Arul’s life. Consider the sequence when the divorce talks are initiated between the two families. A lot of arguments happen and all of a sudden, the kid sleeping in the room winces. Both Arul and Yazhini, having instinctively gotten up from their chairs, stare at each other for a moment. Cut to the next morning, when Yazhini and her father-in-law find themselves in the producer’s office, attempting some sort of a resolution. Was it the child that held the couple together? Or was it Yazhini’s inability to imagine a life without Arul? Probably, it was the sum total of the two.

Karthik goes on to explore the situation that makes Michael get over his craze for Malar in an interesting way. Consider the scene where he goes to her place attempting an explanation. Malar dismisses him hurriedly, with a parting advice to be a good husband… but not before faking some sort of a closure. Michael now returns to Ponni keen on making amends for his erstwhile indifference. Why did he need that ploy to realize his cold-heartedness towards his wife? Was it  his idea of getting back at Malar? Or was all the anger and disappointment being projected as new found affection? Nevertheless, Ponni is truly elated. It’s the first time Michael was making her smile. She breaks the news to him that she is carrying. The look on her face says it all. But not for long… as Michael is immediately called upon to keep an eye on Arul, who had supposedly gone mad over a nasty altercation with the producer. When Michael and Jagan reach the producer’s place, they find Arul on the verge of getting killed.

We are led into this incredible scene, cleverly transposed into Michael’s head and made to buy his fatal impulse.  As Michael pounds the producer to death in a fit of rage, it’s almost impossible to comprehend what he is going through. He says the bloody sight of his master – someone he considered as his brother- lying battered and helpless, got to his head. Why didn’t he spare a thought for his pregnant wife, who is waiting at home for him to return? What then to make of his apparent reassuring words just a few hours back? If Ponni could stay calm over months of mental agony in the interests of the family, why couldn’t Michael stay calm over an adrenalin moment? Or was it a testosterone moment? As Michael stands before the court premises, after being sentenced to seven years of imprisonment, the camera pans and looks at him through the circular window of the police van. Here was a man who made himself his own target.

The film captures Michael’s emotions from the inside as he longs to see his wife and then his daughter in jail. Subsequently, we get the beauty of the scene where Michael, having been released on bail, goes to Ponni’s village to meet her. Michael’s daughter, having never seen him until then, addresses him as ‘uncle’. Ponni is left reeling in anger and a peculair sense of relief, one emotion indistinguishable from the other. She is visibly upset over her husband’s misplaced priorities, but she also wants to start afresh. By forgiving the man who had let her down not once but twice, is she settling for a compromise?  As Ponni gets ready to leave the village with Michael, we hear Vairamuthu’s Unnaithaane song with a smart twist…  “Ennaithaane thanjam endru Nambi vandhaai maane!”  This time, we sigh at the same aural hint.  If only we could read into Ponni’s mind!

Arul, having recuperated at an addiction centre, visits Yazhini at her home. Still completely unconvinced, she just asks him to finish off the divorce formalities without further delay. But her words seem to come more from the mouth than the heart. Arun instantly knows that she needs more time to start trusting him. And he decides to keep his distance from Yazhini and Michael for a while. However when he gets an offer from the producer’s family to purchase the film and release it himself, he approaches Michael with Jagan’s plan to smuggle one of their father’s sculptures for the money. Was he being selfish in asking Michael to dance to his whims and fancies, hinging onto his loyalty? Michael who had just turned a new leaf, hesitates at first, but eventually agrees to do it for Arul. Meanwhile, in the foreground, the toy which Jagan had got for Michael’s daughter topples over. And so, would Michael’s life, forever.

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When Micheal realizes during the course of the burglary that he had been framed by Jagan, he feels betrayed. The fact that Jagan did it for the sake of Ponni further disillusions him. The sequence that follows when Michael confronts Ponni over this unexpected revelation is one of the boldest celluloid statements ever made in contemporary Tamil cinema. Ponni initially responds with the truth that Jagan had indeed proposed to her when he was in jail, and it had disturbed her. But she doesn’t stop there. She even accedes that she was tempted to say ‘Yes’ for a moment, but had eventually left without giving him an answer, probably unable to bring herself to break the marriage. Karthik aces this complex scene by completely humanizing his female lead. After all, why wouldn’t she aspire for true love and a better peaceful life? Why then didn’t she go ahead? What was that which emphatically influenced her to stick on to the capricious Michael? Love? Fear of social ridicule? Hope? Or was it the ideology that she had been perennially force-fed with – to make peace with destiny, come what may?

It’s not over yet. When Michael asks Ponni if she had slept with Jagan, she refuses to answer him. We get to know that she was well aware of Michael’s attempts to get back at Malar; but why then did she decide not to rake up the issue before? Did Michael really need to know the answer to live with her in peace? Was it the only thing that determined the strength of their marital bond? What if Ponni asked him the same question? The camera slowly pans to view the couple between the two arms of the cradle, as they decide to put the past behind. Again, more than passionate love, it was the child that was holding them together. Michael, for now, conciliates to the fact that some things are better left unsaid. Or so it seems!

The character of Jagan is easily the most intriguing of the lot. He is the feminist who constantly chides his father and brother for not giving their wives the life that they deserve. In college, he is the one who comes up with the toughest questions. Sample this. “If Kannagi had returned to Kovalan after a lustful extramarital affair, would he have accepted her for what she is?” But then, when it comes to his own love, his ideologies get grossly misplaced. He attempts to ignore Ponni after she gets married to Michael, but her sufferings keep tormenting him. He wants to see Ponni happy, and for that he goes to the extent of framing Michael for theft. Does he realize that Ponni wants to derive her happiness from Michael?  Or does she?

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And thus, Karthik Subbaraj sets up his final act. All set to release his film, Arul goes to Yazhini’s home to set things right once for all, but finds Yazhini in the company of a prospective suitor. Seeing Arul at this moment probably affects Yazhini in a complex way. A gush of memories, both good and bad, come flooding nack. Rushing in to hug him, she pours her heart out pointing to the toughest decision she is being asked to take. Why is she again stranded on middle ground? “Neither can I forget nor can I pretend to ignore what you have always meant to me!” she cries. When Arul promises never to go back to his alcohol ways, Yazhini decides to call off the intended alliance. After all, wasn’t this the thing that she had always wanted?

And now the pandemonium begins. Michael wants some money from Arul to set up a new business, but he is no mood to get into an argument with Jagan. But when Jagan unexpectedly incites him by asking him to take good care of Ponni, he simply cuts loose, unable to take it anymore. He might not have foreseen the consequences, but what made him react in such a brutal way? Was it a visceral impulse or was it just years of pent up guilt bursting over? What stopped him from pausing and thinking for a moment? What made him forget his family for the second consecutive time? Was his subconscious self fuelling his need to remove Jagan from the equation, before he could make any peace with Ponni. But, wouldn’t any kind of happiness become elusive then? How contradictory! Again, is it something to do with testosterone?

Michael plans to leave the town immediately and boards a train with his family without divulging any details to Poorni.  And to his own surprise now, his daughter calls him ‘Appa’. Does he deserve that status? Meanwhile, Arul, who had just met Yazhini’s suitor and explained the turn of events, learns about Jagan and lands up in the station. He walks up to Michael and stares at him. With most things settled and a promising future ahead of him, why does he do the hot-blooded thing that he does, when there is actually the opportunity to talk things out? What makes him put momentary gratification ahead of logical reasoning? A year of rehabilitation must have made him realize what it feels to be alone. Why then this act of stupidity? Was it because of an ingrained sense of being the stronger sex? If only had he exercised a fraction of the tolerance that his wife had exhibited for the sake of their family.

The horrified Ponni reluctantly walks back to the train. Once inside, she cries her heart out. The rain returns as the leitmotif. And slowly with the rains, a hint of clarity descends on her face. She asks her daughter if she wants to get wet. When the kid nods, she gets out on the ground and looks up to the shower. The small-town girl, who had never wantonly gotten drenched despite harbouring a desire for it – the one who wanted to seek happiness through her husband – had stepped out of the template, the world had stipulated for her. Simultaneously, Yazhini, who is going through mixed emotions, calls up her fiancé and explains the situation. She ushers in her daughter from the rains. Here, the girl who had wanted to break the template of her life had given her consent for the wedding. Does she find herself in a oxymoronic situation, where she wants to be independent, but time and again goes back to derive her autonomy from intimate bonds? If only deconstructing the human mind was that easy!

The screen fades out.

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And so, before we consider Iraivi as a feminist statement (which sure it is, in a matter-of-fact way), we need to consider it as a compelling character study of the sexes – because that’s where Karthik Subbaraj hits the ball out of the park. Sure, there are things which could have made the film better, but we first need to address some of the criticisms put forward against the film. Why an alcoholic, a smuggler and a conniving lover for representing the sensibilities of a kind? From what I gather, these characters are what they are only because of the way they react to a conflict and the choices they make when pushed into a corner. It’s more about these conflicting traits that make or break them than what they get labelled as. Their impulsive decisions serve as broad but striking strokes in painting a bigger picture. Another much-debated issue is the manner in which the male characters are developed in far more detail than their female counterparts. I would have personally liked to see much more of Yazhini’s and Ponni’s internal conflicts in place of the intricately detailed smuggling episodes, but then, that would make Iraivi an entirely different film. Here, Karthik is content with narrating the tale of a few (wo)MEN, and he makes it a pretty fascinating one at that.

Theera Ula: The Ceaseless Journey of Love

Before you begin, I suggest you play this.

It happens to everyone. An escape can only be dreamt about. Sooner or later in life, you have to deal with it. The intensity might vary, but no one is spared. It all starts when you inadvertently meet someone, and it almost instantly feels like you’ve known them for years. You are instinctively drawn towards them. It’s not always about the smartness or the beauty. It’s something else. Sometimes it’s the imperfections. At other times it’s the aura. But, there is that ineffable ‘something’ about them that attracts you – a strange urge bestowing you with a sense of willingness to know them better.

You consciously or often subconsciously, put in efforts to get their attention. And before you know it, they become a nice acquaintance. The cautious formal nature of the texts slowly metamorphoses into an affable companionship. And as time passes and you slowly warm up to their enigmatic appeal, you just can’t stop yourself from thinking about them. Slowly, you start sharing everything – from everyday trivia to embarrassing secrets. Not a day passes by without their musings. Small coffee dates. Silly arguments. Priceless gifts. Lovely notes. Mindless jokes. Stupid chatter – about the dog you had while growing up, about your childhood friend, about your disastrous exams, about the books you read, about the things that keep you awake at nights. You know, it feels like you are flying. You sit on the roof with them and watch the night sky. You don’t want to ‘label’ that kind of bonding. It’s fine, as such. You just make memories; for a life time.

And you know, there is nothing better than memories. You don’t realize when you are making them. They transpire just while you are having fun with that person. And it’s beautiful. It’s no surprise that bonds and memories happen between those who interact. Yet the process is more complex: Why do you wind up with that person out of all the mortals in this planet? The more you think about it, the more it makes you smile. And suddenly one fine day, it hits you. You are laughing madly with them over something as trivial as a whatsapp joke, and out-of-the-blue, you think about how much you enjoy their existence. Boom. How would it be if they just like that disappeared? And believe me; you can never anticipate this stretch. You can be the world’s biggest planner, but nothing can prepare you for the moment when you go “Okay great… But who is he/she for me again?”

And slowly, the thumping chest-beats, surging hormones and weak knees give way to something more sinister – a strange place where your heart seems to feel at home. You sense safety and security with them. You will know it when it happens. You will know it’s that ‘something’ when the hardest day-to-day event becomes bidding ‘goodbye’. You will know it’s that ‘something’ when you start seeing the world through that person, and that person throughout the world. You will know it’s that ‘something’ when you look into the future and dream about beautiful things with them. You will know when that person accepts you as you are, with all your faults and vice versa. You will know when he/she bursts your insecurities like a bubble. You will know when they listen to all your crazy shit with a smug smile and a dreamy look in their eyes. You will know when they pull you the tightest hug when you are crumbling inside, staying up all night, holding your hands all the while. Yes my friend, you will know when you have apparently found your soul mate. It terrifies you at some level, but the good news – it’s fuckin’ electrifying.


The bad news – it’s a bloody tricky thing too. There is no controlling that heart of yours – when it decides to give itself up to someone. It doesn’t see logic when it’s opening wide to accommodate that person in excitement. But once they are inside, it slowly unlocks itself to brutal reasoning. Ambitions. Sensibilities. Fear of hurting the ones whom you cherish. You can’t even start listing them out. Sometimes, you can work around them, trying your best to hold on; but at other times, it all feels like its sinking. It’s weird how a beautiful thing could incite so many conflicting feelings. But that’s probably what makes love so ‘beautiful’ – the closest thing to perfection that exists in this world, and yet the farthest. The only thing that could effortlessly encompass the two extremes – clarity and confusion.

They say, ‘the worst feeling is loving someone who can’t love you in return’, but you know, it’s not! Nothing can match the pain of loving someone who also loves you, but you go on to realize that you can’t be together.

Love is all that you need? Really? Is just ‘love’ good enough? Did all those fairy-tales – all those happy endings you grew up hearing – lie to you? Alas, you inhabit a world restrained by rationality, and while love may be irrational, you could try all your best to make it work, but at times, the real world does catch up.

May be, it’s the right person after all? Is it the circumstances then? What does it take to win over those? If only, there were answers. But, even though you come to grasp that you probably shouldn’t have loved, you do and always will, because irrespective of all logic and reason, there are less than a handful of people in this entire world who will ‘consume’ us, for the reasons you can neither explain nor control.

And would you regret that magic? Would you ever? Would you sit and sulk? Would you withdraw yourself into a bubble of self loathe and guilt? How would you rather spend your time? Fighting and arguing over every single issue? Inside, you feel like crying your heart out. You feel like breaking down and be torn apart. One way to survive this agony is to give in to the sadness first. But is it the only way? Is it how you would want to end things with someone, who gave you so much to treasure?

Wouldn’t you want to hold them close to you and freak out – wandering around endlessly? Wouldn’t you want to see them smile and feel their warmth till it lasts? Why regret, when you can continue loving, with all your heart and sinew, at least for the moment? Fear of separation – is it possible to treat it as an illusion? Would it feel free when you can temporarily overcome it? There has to be a fitting way to give all this ‘love’ its due. There, definitely, has to be one. To care for the wounds without reopening them. Like a pain-killer. Like a hypnotic. To address the pain with a temporary antidote, without inviting it back on you? Or would numbing the pain for the moment make it return with more vengeance, when you finally feel it? Logically speaking, to heal a wound, you need to stop touching it. But would your masochistic love concur? Is that kind of escapist ‘bliss’ possible?

The prospect of livin’ it out till it lasts… it appeals to the heart more, right? And when has the brain won over the heart in matters of love! And so, it begins. The ceaseless journey. The boundless dreams. You don’t worry about tomorrow. You don’t care about the next second. The magic is short. And it’s ending, one moment at a time. You have him/her with you now, and you are gonna’ make the most of it. No replays. No rewinds. The wandering – it’s not about getting somewhere; you don’t even move. You only imagine you do. But it’s about the reasons that keep you smiling. It’s about the celebration of your momentary togetherness; that keeps you under the false pretence that this was how it was all destined to be.

தீரா உலா தீரா விழா…
தீரா உலா தீரா விழா…

The wildness of it all is not easy to take. How can you be appreciating the intimacy and sinking into the other, when something within keeps reminding you that it’s all a dissolving dream? You want it to last; amidst all odds. The more your crazy, climactic journey transcends the dimensions of space, the more it draws you in and fills you all over. Like a soothing tune metastasizing the air. Like a fluttering feather getting drifted by the breeze. And before you can realize, it surpasses the dimension of time. Like pure magic. Like a splendid miracle. Indeed it is, and everything feels unimaginably awesome, but for how long?

காற்று வெளியிடை,
மெல் இசையாய்
மென் சிறகாய்…

கால வெளியிடை,

As the insanity of closeness slowly gets the better of reasoning, you tend to get into these imaginary make-believe-conversations with them. About what could have possibly been! Commitment, family, home, children, and what not? You shudder at the chances of any of those happening, but why not give yourself these small joys – some kind of exaggerated wish-fulfillment fantasies – for one last time. It does pain, but why not? You soak in the affliction.

And at some point in the mad run, you comprehend the inherent hypocrisy of the whole idea. On one hand, you know that it would be painful; after all any change is destined to be, but would it be as painful as being in love, knowing the twisted destiny? One moment, you fear hurt and disappointment, but the next moment, you doubt the distance you can go feigning ‘happiness’?


You silence the voices by partying harder. But the ghosts never do make sense. All they do is get you more confused. They drive you around in a vicious cycle, only to leave you right back where you started. You never know when they strike, but when they do, everything collapses – all the self-constructed building blocks of apparent bliss. Eyes get moist, but you choose to go wilder.

It sucks. Doesn’t it? Trying to make peace with fate, and getting punished with more love… Getting loved unconditionally in return, but being reminded every other moment that they can never be yours! You can go to him/her for assurance; realizing very well the emptiness of it, but would it heal the pain? You can consciously stay away from speaking the obvious, but would it serve the purpose?

To hell, if it doesn’t. You know it all along, right? You know that there would be an imminent separation. You know that it would all become a memory down the lane. But still, you choose to love him/her, not even an ounce any less. Stupidity? May be. But, are you in a position to care? You know every other beauty, including that of this madness, would fade. But, you refuse to brood over something you can’t change.

பிரிவொன்று நேறுமென்று
தெரியும் கண்ணா…
என் பிரியத்தை அதனாலே
குறைக்க மாட்டேன்!

சரிந்து விடும் அழகென்று
தெரியும் கண்ணா…
என் சந்தோச கலைகளை
நான் நிறுத்த மாட்டேன்!

And you know, there is nothing worse than ‘memories’. You turn them over and over, until you know every nook and corner, but still you’ll find a new edge to cut you. To make you bleed. You can close your eyes to the things you don’t want to see, but can you close your heart to the things you don’t want to feel? How long can you cage your soul? No matter how hard you try, he/she is going to be the person; you can never get out of your mind. After all, how could you just forget someone who gave you so much to remember?

Two seeming soul mates get to know each other – their deep fears, their dark secrets, their favourite things, what they love, what they hate… literally everything, and then suddenly it feels like a dead end. You know that feeling? It’s the scariest feeling in the world – what if no one else makes me this happy again?

Some moments are nice, some are nicer, and some are even worth writing about. And that one day, you will look back and know exactly why it had to happen.