Director: Rathna Kumar
Cast: Vaibhav Reddy, Priya Bhavani Shankar, Vivek Prasanna, Indhuja
How does love happen? This process -- part-chemical, part-emotional -- is easier to write about in a novel (“he felt this”, “she felt that”) than show in the movies, especially if you don’t want to resort to spoon-feeding dialogue. It becomes trickier -- as in the case of Rathna Kumar’s Meyaadha Maan (The Deer That Does Not Graze) - when there’s a clear class (and also caste) divide. Let’s resort to stereotypes and say the girl is from Stella Maris. How does she fall for a boy from, say, Pachaiyappa’s? The point isn’t whether this can happen. Of course it can. It happens all the time. The point, rather, is how this can be portrayed convincingly on screen. How does this girl leave her world and step into his?
Take Guna. The upper-class girl falls in love only after she realises that this lower-class “savage” is actually more human than the people from her world. In Kadhal, it was hormonal - we are, after all, talking about a girl who’s just had her first period. Adolescence can’t really be explained. The Anna Nagar girl in Meyaadha Maan - Madhu (the graceful Priya Bhavani Shankar, who looks a lot like Trisha) - falls for North Madras resident ‘Idhayam’ Murali (a rollicking, perfectly cast Vaibhav Reddy) because…
Maybe it’s because she’s just realised, at the beginning of the film, that he’s been carrying a torch for her for three years. (Like the actor Murali’s character in Idhayam, he could not bring himself to talk to her; hence his name.) Maybe it’s because she hears him say how pretty she is. (One of the many laugh-out-loud lines: “Aadhar card la kooda azhaga iruppa.”) Maybe it's the fact that she never fell in love with anyone and has gotten engaged to a man her father chose, and didn’t think much about all of this till she found out that there’s this man, right here, who remembers every little thing she did in college. Maybe it’s the fact that Murali wept when she fainted, not sure what to do. Maybe there’s a bit of rebellion too.
All of this is my way of saying that I liked Meyaadha Maan so much that I kept making excuses for its lapses, for the things that could have been done better.
Take the scene where Madhu’s brother invites Murali for a family function. It rambles. No one pays any attention to Murali (which is perhaps the point), and you expect some kind of showdown, something that tells us what Madhu’s brother had in mind when he invited Murali. But this nothingness, this utter lack of event, is itself a surprise. This is an unusual kind of audience manipulation, with two unexpected payoffs. One, the next day, Madhu visits Murali’s home, for the first time, to ask him why he accepted her brother’s invitation. Plus, at the function, there’s a hell of a laugh when the sighs from Aadaludan paadalai kettu (Kudiyirundha Koyil) are played on loop on a faulty gramophone, and sound positively orgasmic. (What a dazzlingly perverse idea, to make P Susheela sound like S Janaki in Nila kayuthu!)
Or take the earlier scene where we first see the faulty gramophone, as Madhu’s father is seen trying to fix it. That’s when Madhu brings Murali home. Her father, predictably, insults him. But instead of lowering her eyes and going in meekly, Madhu invites Murali in. This is terrific character-building (not just for Madhu, but also for that gramophone, which gets its own little “intro scene”) - Rathna Kumar shows it's possible for even a somewhat stalkery “soup boy” story to be written and directed well, and with big laughs. (As contrast, think back to the lazy, cliche-filled Remo.)
If I’ve made Meyaadha Maan sound like the Second Coming, it’s probably just the excitement (and relief) of finding proof that good filmmaking among the younger directors isn’t only in the heavier films (Maanagaram, 8 Thottakkal) but also in something so essentially breezy.
I have about a dozen favourite scenes, but let me talk about just one more, which comes a little later. Murali’s best friend, Vinoth (the superb Vivek Prasanna, in a star-making turn), brings home a suitor for Murali’s sister, Sudar (Induja Ravichandran), unaware that Sudar loves him. Nothing goes per plan. He gets to know about Sudar’s feelings, and his confusion is complete when he sees Madhu is in the house -- this is the first time she’s visiting, and she is, thus, the last person Vinoth expects to see. The dynamics are dazzling. Meyaadha Maan has been expanded from a short that was part of Bench Talkies, of which I wrote, “On the evidence of the rollicking Madhu, Rathna Kumar RM seems all set to make his big-screen debut.” How nice to see promise being fulfilled!
Aided by his cinematographer (Vidhu Ayanna) and editor (Shafiq Muhammed Ali), Rathna Kumar puts together what could be called a “rooted romcom.” (The rootedness comes from the North Madras settings, the crowded buses and bars and cricket games.) The typical romcom is just fluff, the cinematic equivalent of cotton candy -- but Meyaadha Maan sets its sights higher. On some level, it’s still your typical Kollywood fantasy about a boy and a way-out-of-his-league girl. But you can see the director striving to make each similar-sounding scene look and feel different. (The last time we got such a “rooted romcom” was probably with Pa Ranjith’s glorious Attakathi.) What the film lacks in finesse, it makes up for with heart. And nowhere is this more evident than in the track between Vinoth and Sudar.
Yes. Think about that. How often do we get to explore the hero’s sister’s character arc?
Induja Ravichandran is fantastic. She has spark, spunk. Watch her when she simmers in the kitchen, as Murali reveals her feelings to Vinoth. You can almost hear her heart hammering. (And what a pleasure to have two actresses who not only speak Tamil, but also look recognisably “Tamil.”) Rathna Kumar stages what seem like random bits between Sudar and Murali, but there’s always a bit of narrative (or character) development. Look how the joyous, out-of-nowhere dance on the streets, featuring the siblings, takes a turn when Vinoth joins them. It’s hard to pin down one emotion on a scene. There’s always the sense of mixed feelings. This is the rare romcom that reflects how complicated emotions can get.
And the music! Santhosh Narayanan and Pradeep create a bed of sound, ranging from ballads (the gorgeous Enna naan seiven) to fun tracks like Address Song and Thangachi Song, which also weaves in a bit of commentary about live shows versus lip-syncing to recorded sound on stage. This observation is in the context of Murali being a member of a light-music troupe, and this allows a number of older songs to become their own bits of commentary. A moment with Sudar is underscored by Thatti paathen kottanguchi. When Madhu declares her love for Murali, he launches intoMaama un ponna kodu. And what do we hear when Madhu initiates sex? Aaluma doluma. What do you know, the film even manages to peek into the mind of an Ajith fan.