This isn’t really a should-you-see-it review; I mean, everyone who intends to see the movie’s probably already seen it, and anyway, I don’t like writing or reading should-you-see-it reviews. Those of you who read me every now and again will know I try to go in with a blank slate, but try as I might, I couldn’t avoid being told that the movie was inspired by A Beautiful Mind, that it was ‘refreshingly different’, and that its biggest let-down was the female lead. After watching the film, I found that none of these is true.
And since I have a list of my forty-questions-like-
snatching-the-tongue (how un-Peter is that, huh?), I’ll do a quick what-works-what-doesn’t- thingamajig.
There’s some very good acting. While it’s true that Richa Gangopadhyaya sulks, glares and pouts throughout, Deepa Venkat animates her as much as she can with her dubbing. This is possibly Dhanush’s best performance yet. We’re used to seeing him frown and tear his hair apart every time he plays a character on edge, or well, just-u, but I found one scene particularly good – the one where Yamini (Richa) tries to bully and then cajole Karthick (Dhanush) into not drinking, and he glares her down silently.
The best performances, though, came from two people who did not have as much screen time as the lead pair. Sunder Ramu, an excellent photographer who’s a familiar face on the Madras stage, looks the part of the weak, happy-go-lucky character he plays, and acts so naturally it’s hard to believe it’s his first time on screen. He avoids the exaggerated gestures theatre artistes who’ve migrated to cinema tend to have a hard time letting go of, and gives the camera just as much as it needs.
The other is Rajeev Choudhry, featuring in a very minor role as Ramesh, Sunder’s father. And his best moment is one in which his face is barely seen – he holds out a glass of whiskey in turns to two friends fighting over a girl who’s cheated on one, and glided out while they stare at each other after being caught in the act. The timing is perfect, and the acting seems incidental. Though someone in the audience saw fit to yell out, “Kudi kudiye kedukkum-nu kaatraanga!”, the scene – despite being so unconventional – did not seem out of course.
Raviprakash, who plays Matesh Krishnaswamy, makes it perfectly believable that he’s a well-respected wildlife photographer, impatient with fans and not above the occasional trick. The way he smirks, “at least!” when Karthick begs him, “at least ungaludaya assistant-aa serthukkonga saar!” makes the audience relate to him and look snidely at Karthick.
Mathivanan Rajendran, who plays Shankar, is a disappointment. He has only one scene of any importance, and hams his way right through it, making one wish it had been eliminated. It was a rather bizarre interlude, but more on that later.
What else worked? The dialogues and screenplay are mostly natural. Two drunks singing a thaalaattu and forgetting the lyrics halfway through, and two drunks bonding over alcohol after a fight...how often have we seen that, huh? Selvaraghavan’s done a good job of letting body language speak in the scene where Yamini screams that she wants to meet Karthick, and Karthick, Sunder and Ramesh glance at each other. That’s ruined by what happens next, but umm, more on that later.
What else didn’t work? There’s a lot of inconsistency in behaviour. So here’s this chilled-out gang that knows when people need privacy, these people who’re cosmopolitan polyglots, and they go around screaming at a friend because he introduces his new girlfriend a few weeks into the relationship, and not on the first date?! A girl who’s in her twenties and works in an ad agency has a look of arch disapproval on her face when she grunts, “I don’t drink”. I mean, really, now?
All right, let’s get to the forty questions I'd like to ask Selvaraghavan:
- Let’s start with the cast. So, siblings don’t always look alike, but if you’re going to give us a look at the parents, why not make the daughter look a teensy bit like one of them?
- Who goes on turtle walks with no turtles, no one from The School KFI, and with torches, which is the only thing they ask you not to bring?
- Do the graphics have to be that God-awful in that Odi Odi song? Seriously, it was like the Flash Gordon and Clash of the Titans movies. Or was there like a deeper meaning? Does it symbolise how much Karthick sucks as a photographer?
- When Yamini takes the trouble to ask Karthick how he knows Hindi – leaving it unsaid that he doesn’t look like he could – why not use the chance to throw in some explanation? However good one is at languages, one doesn’t pick up Hindi and Chinese and Spanish and whatever else Karthick knows from movies alone. And we don’t even know whether he got those from movies. All we get is “I’m good at languages”.
- Couldn’t you think of a more plausible explanation for a chick leaving Sunder for Karthick than “he’s always drunk”, especially when Karthick’s always drunk too? “He’s weak and manipulatable, you’re snappy and stubborn” makes a little more sense, no? Some chicks have a fairytale complex, where they want to rescue a Prince imprisoned in a castle of his bad luck, stupidity, illusion of genius, whatever. And maybe a volatile dude’s a turn-on for a chick who wants to be emotionally, physically, and sexually abused. But get the reason right for the switch, won’t you?
- Why are all your characters in a time warp? They sing My Heart Will Go On, listen to Michael Jackson when they’re drunk, Mustafa while driving. Where were they in the last decade and a half? (I don’t have a problem with Nothing Else Matters playing, except that most people moon over that in their teens, and get nostalgic over it in their twenties and thirties.)
- On the subject, a dude who wants to dance to MJ accuses people of being “Peter”? He does say Metallica makes him kaduppu at one point, but why MJ, then? Consistency, Selva, consistency.
- We know Karthick’s a middling photographer. Now, what makes him awesome all of a sudden? That old woman? Honestly, what a cliché. And did you need those godawful graphics for the light in this scene too?
- And what was that sudden flood of ad photography that looked like it had popped right out of Sharad Haksar’s portfolio? Disorientating, baba.
- Couldn’t you have spared the lizard from graphics? Did you even have to show the lizard?
- That pain-of-love song – it’s as man-you-gotta-hate-woman as it gets, and yet the sulking Yamini joins in and dances. Is she so linguistically challenged that she does not understand Tamil either?
- Ummm, and why would a guy who’s trying to get this girl into bed start going on about the misery of having a figure-u nagging atcha?
- Okay, so Matesh Krishnaswamy stole Karthick’s photo. But Karthick has the original, digital copy, complete with date and time, and possibly toll gate stubs and whatnot, right? So why not shoot off a mail to NatGeo, accusing an acclaimed photographer of plagiarism and damaging his credibility, instead of going to him with tears and a begging bowl? Did none of Karthick’s friends think of that?
- Why that horrible fake kiss at the bus stop? If your leads don’t want to do kissy, well, either do without, or get them to stage a kiss properly, please.
- This guy is in love with his friend’s girlfriend, and wants to make sure she’s safe, but when he’s struck by guilt for kissing her, he drops everything, leaves her alone in the middle of the night at a bus stop, and takes off on an impulsive photo shoot?
- What the hell was that cut to their wedding scene from the video game? First, I thought it was a dream sequence of Sunder’s. And then, I thought the reels got mixed up. But...I mean...whaaaaaaattttttt?
- What’s with the dog symbolism? Matesh makes Karthick ape a dog – and he’s not too great at it – and then sends him off on a photo shoot, dogs bark every time Karthick gets angry, dogs bark every time Yamini poses for nude photos, and then there’s that Karthick Jaakkirathai (Beware of Karthick) board. For why?
- Where are Yamini’s parents? She goes all hyper at a Yo Momma type joke, but where’s the momma?
- What’s with the pre-pubescent voice for that post-marriage song?
- Who the hell is writing your lyrics? What is that karuvaadu song all about? Or is a song that sounds like someone got bored in the studio and shot off whatever came to his head and put it to out-of-tune the new formula for success?
- We get that Yamini was sulky in the beginning, and maybe she was scowling in dislike or discomfort. But why does she look constipated and glum all through, even when she’s all horny on her honeymoon?
- Who camps out when she has her period? And when they’re camping out, how does her husband remain oblivious to her period and think they can do the nice-nice?
- What Tamil Hindu wedding serves meat? And at breakfast?
- What’s this obsession with the word aai? Okay, people use it, but not that much. And what’s with the farting and spitting on the honeymoon? There’s au naturel, and there’s unnatural, and they don’t mix.
- Why do we suddenly skip forward years, and not months, after his balcony dive? Like, what happened in between? Why would someone come to his place looking for him to do wedding photography years after he stopped? Wouldn’t a montage portraying his increased bitterness have worked better?
- What are the dynamics of this relationship those years later? Yamini gets abused, she tamely poses for pictures when he wakes her up by shining a torch into her eye, but is not frightened of her husband. She orders him to stop drinking, and then begs her ex-boyfriend to make him stop drinking, and later, she molests him.
- Speaking of character consistency, what’s happening with the sister? She gets all bitchy and naathanaar-ish, telling Yamini she should have got him to dress better (and really, he was dressed just fine). Then, she puts her husband in competition with her brother, and then gets all happy when her brother wins an award?
- When has Kumudam ever failed to find plump starlet chicks who wore translucent saris and looked like they were longing to make love to their own belly buttons for its cover page? I mean, an elephant on the Kumudam cover? That’s not even magic realism, dude. That’s like manic unrealism. On the subject, how did he go and shoot an African elephant?
- Do Discovery folks read Kumudam? How did that happen? Well, I kinda lost track there. I was doubled over in hysterics, laughing about the elephant in the room.
- Aiyyo, how did he go to Africa? Did he use the money he made from trading in his wife’s car for a scooter, or did it come from shooting the porn? Hey, hold on. He slaps a woman for asking him to take sexy pictures of her daughter, but he goes and shoots porn? Is that, like, supposed to symbolise his decline or something?
- Do all chicks you know wear saris after marriage? What happened to the jeans and sleeveless tops, which Yamini – with a distinct lack of fashion sense – sported with pottus? Why does she only wear pant-shirt when estranged hubby is massaging her baby bump? And the sister-who-marries-Sunder switches to chiffon saris for the rest of her life-aa?
- What on earth was that scene in the car with Shankar? And then you make Yamini stick out a finger, and say “Don’t call my husband mad”, and then “Oh, it’s my fault, I shouldn’t have cried. You’re a man, and you can’t control yourself.” You decided to balance out what may be perceived as misogyny with mis-andry?
- About that miscarriage thingy – who bleeds like that? Also, you do know that blood dries, right? And changes colour? And attracts these tiny insects? Okay, I seem to know a lot more about dried blood than I should, so I’ll stop. But, you know...
- Why is it none of the nosy neighbours come to her rescue?
- So, wait – he calls his friends instead of an ambulance, as she lies dying, and they carry her into a car and drive her to hospital, and yet she survives, and conceives again before you can say “Preggers”?
- Does a guy who jumps off a balcony on his honeymoon simply sit and mope, waiting for his wife to return from hospital after he punches their baby out of her? Wouldn’t this attention-seeking, self-pitying slob have tried to kill himself, or at the very least, banged his head hard enough to give himself a blood wound?
- Umm, Yamini lives with him, cooks for him, lays him, and lets him stroke her belly when she’s preggers with a second kid, but she won’t speak to him? What’s, pa?
- This guy photographs without glasses, but needs glasses to answer his mobile phone?
- Who goes to the Antarctic wearing a shirt and slacks?
- What’s with the Anti-Brahmin agenda? Let me divide this up into (a) and (b).
- The Landlord: So, the wife of a crazy man threatens to falsely accuse Landlord Narasimhan of “sex torture”, with the whole Association around to support him, and they clearly don’t believe it, and yet he hangs his head in shame and scuttles off with his tail between his legs? Now, aren’t Tam Brahms hated mainly because, before reservation kicked in, they had like plum jobs in the civil services? So, someone of Mr. Narasimhan’s generation will have connections enough to throw this lunatic and the missus out, right?
- The Groom: What was that “Peter” thing? All your friends speak English, and you accuse a guy who speaks three words in it of being Peter, because he’s a ‘foreign return’? Also, what woman stays friends with a man who nearly kills her newlywed husband, and then giggles when the husband is scared of the almost-killer in hospital? And why would the husband stay married to such an idiotic wife?
Also, you know, for future reference, Tam Brahms either speak Brahm Tam, or don’t. And even when they mix and match, there’s a hierarchical order w.r.t. what to drop. People who say “poidungo” and “pidichurthu” say “aathukku”, not “veettukku”.
And now, here’s one question for everyone who told me there’s a ‘twist’. What the hell was the twist? Nasty-horny-nasty husband who’s knocked up the wife who had a miscarriage after he beat her up thanks her for being an irumbu manushi, after forgetting her name up front? And knocked up wife picks up a phone call from him? In a film this jumbled, you call that a twist?