What’s the difference between a Selvaraghavan hero and a curtain?

The curtain usually hangs from inside the window.

Lame joke? But for many, Selvaraghavan’s films aren’t much more than a celebration of toxic men; stories about people who write their lover’s name in blood or the stalker that steals a woman’s laundry, only so he can sleep next to it. But for many others, this director’s films are a rite of passage; like the first shave, or that glorious day when you summoned the courage to go buy your first nudie magazine. For anyone who hit their teens in the 2000s, Selvaraghavan was the first filmmaker to really get you, becoming the voiceover that told you that you were not alone as you dealt with all these new feelings you were suddenly feeling.

It’s redundant to call his films ‘personal’; they are a part of who you are, growing on you as much as they grow with you. Right from the dilemmas of the school years in Thulluvadho Ilamai, to college life in Kadhal Kondein; from getting your first job along with 7G Rainbow Colony to adulting in Mayakkam Enna, there was always a Selva film that got there before you did.

Which is why it becomes difficult to rank his films. Even the process of revisiting them involve reliving phases of life you swore to not visit again. Because what you feel about a particular Selvaraghavan film has got to do with where you are in life. Maybe Thulluvadho Ilamai happened too long ago to still make you feel what it did the first time. Maybe you didn’t really have the patience for Irandam Ulagam. I’ve woken up hating Pudhupettai as much as I’ve woken up admiring it on other days.

Also Read: ‘NGK’, ‘CCV’, ‘Kaatru Veliyidai’, And The WHY Question In Mainstream Cinema

Selvaraghavan, as the cliché goes, is a (complex) emotion; what you feel today is not what you’re going to feel tomorrow. But even at its worst, there are few things as cathartic as pouring your heart out about his films to people who get him like his films got you. Because they work best in a place that’s beyond political correctness and millennial ‘woke’ness. Because you love his characters the most when they are the most flawed, most broken…like you were/are. And when that’s the case, all we can ever do is agree to disagree.

If there was ever a film that could be called ‘Selvaraghavan Lite’, it would be this Venkatesh-Trisha starrer. Who’d have thought that this most intense of our directors had it in him to pull off such a ‘sweet’ family drama. But that doesn’t take anything away from the film’s signature moments. I love the scenes with Ganesh’s (Venkatesh) father. The Rs.100 note he leaves for his son on the shoe stand, the way he speaks to Keerthi (Trisha) for his son, his speech about how he doesn’t ever want to take any of Ganesh’s money and that sledgehammer of a death scene…it’s a character that really worked, however short its duration may have been. I don’t care too much for the film once the action shifts to Keerthi’s village, though. It has its moments but these feel like scenes Selva can shoot in his sleep. We have the Vasanths, the Cherans and the Vikramans for that. Let’s keep Selvaraghavan free for a bit of the heavy lifting.

There’s no bigger sin than to judge one of Selvaraghavan’s films on just one viewing, but the disappointment of watching NGK after such a long wait is indescribable. It was always a mouth-watering prospect to see Suriya, the uthama puthiran of Tamil cinema, play a dark Selva character, but the result was confusing at best. I, for one, enjoyed the performances, including Sai Pallavi’s. It was signature Selva. Even the scene where the terminally-ill friend agrees to get killed for the sake of NGK was classic. But these moments were too few to really matter. It’s risky to dismiss NGK so soon; will it move up the ranking? Watch this space for updates.

Isn’t it poetic for Selvaraghavan’s first film to be about THE first time? Yet the topic isn’t breached patronisingly through adult eyes. The film never looks down on teenagers as sex-obsessed brats. It talks about a confusing time when compasses disappear to make way for cigarettes; a time when female friends suddenly start looking a lot older. When Pooja (Sherin) meets Mahesh (Dhanush) in front of the striped walls of a temple after summer vacation, she says, “Na indha leave-la age attain pannitten”. “That’s why there are so many changes in you,” he replies, imitating an advertisement for a sanitary napkin. As she walks away after he lists all these new changes, we get a close-up of her back side. Mahesh catches himself staring and sighs, noticing the changes that are happening within him. He takes a step, reaches for support and burns his finger on one of the temple’s lamps. There you go. The film in a frame. Selva’s signature hyper-detailing is there for all to see, even though this lesson on good parenting sits prettier as a memory than as a film today. ‘Idhu Kaadhala’ remains my favourite Selva-Yuvan song to this day.

If a Snapchat filter were to make a baby with Windows XP, it would look like Irandam Ulagam, but that’s no reason to dismiss this fantasy. The scene where the disabled father feels ticklish as Madhu (Arya) washes him remains one of Selva’s most striking father-son visuals. Name another Tamil movie before this where the heroine, along with her friends, sizes up the hero (including his thighs!). She remains stronger and better educated but that doesn’t stop her fiancé from leaving her for a fat dowry. Come to think of it, the happenings on the film’s utopian planet aren’t as alien as they seem. Women are treated just as badly in a land where lust rules over love. Is this planet Selva’s way of getting us to look at our own world afresh? Are we the laughable Caucasians of another fucked-up civilisation? It’s a film that deserves a third (or a fourth) viewing.

And sue me for thinking that this is Selva’s most underrated album. #HarrisForLife

When we talk of this trippy action-adventure, we forget the many years after its release it languished in forgotten hell. But thanks to the Internet and its brotherhood, the film now leads a second life with talks of a second part in the offing. Yet, even when we celebrate films like 2.0 for unique visuals, we forget to remember the sheer vision that went into this AO’s making. Of course, the budgets were low and the jelly fish look like they were hand-drawn by the director’s nephew, but that doesn’t take away from a film that reimagines a whole new history between the Cholas and the Pandiyas. I can never get over the sheer wonder of watching the leads running on the shadow of a giant Shiva to avoid falling into bottomless pits. And despite two women and one man, thank god the film was not just another love triangle. AO says most of what it has to without dialogues. Call me crazy, but I can make a case for how the film deserves a second reading through the prism of the Sri Lankan Tamil conflict. Is the hidden Chola kingdom Selva’s way of looking at the Ealam Tamils? Is that why it resonates so much when we’re shown the visuals of a modern-day army taking on a powerless people with primitive weaponry?

In a lesser film, the protagonist of Mayakkan Enna (a woman who cheats on her boyfriend with his best friend) would have been the main villain. But this film, however flawed, begins where other love stories expect us to assume that the leads are living happily ever after. I love how it cuts from Karthik (Dhanush) and Sunder (Sunder Ramu) pledging loyalties by kicking out the girl that came in between to a shot of Karthik getting married to Yamini (a terrific Richa Gangopadhyay). And during their honeymoon, trust Selva to include a scene where Yamini shows Karthik a bag of her sanitary pads to explain why they’re not doing it yet. The scene is just so “unaesthetically” Selva; like the other scene where a violent Karthik pushes his pregnant wife down, kills their unborn child and lies down on that blood until Yamini returns and cleans it up herself! Of course, ‘Adida Avale’ would never make it to a film today. Of course, it’s unreasonable, even irresponsible to show a woman sticking through so much for a man, however big a genius he is, but isn’t that what makes her THE signature Selva Angel™? The film does call him a wife-beating alcoholic; it’s merely a glance into the most troubled phase of their marriage and it’s probably the storm before the calm. I’m sure they’re both happy and chilling somewhere today, even as she’s busy shampooing his ponytail as he sits there admiring the copy of Kumudam that made him famous.

Selva’s second film would have worked a lot better had they cast someone else in the role of Aadhi, the ‘other guy’. How often do you see a mainstream film showing the protagonist as someone who gets a college admission through the quota system? Naturally, the teachers and students feel someone more deserving should have gotten the seat. It’s only after the incredible scene where he solves the complex math problem that we get to see who he really is: another Selva genius. Tons have already been written about how the story takes pages from Guna but I never really understood why. If anything, I can make a strong case for how the story of Enthiran is basically the same as Kadhal Kondein’s (an ‘uncivilised’ man/robot meets woman; learns the ways of the world; falls in love with the woman; kidnaps her; dies in the end).

This is our answer to our North Indian brethren when they show off their copy of Gangs of Wasseypur. Had the film been made today, one can easily reimagine it in an even longer, uncensored version made exclusively for Netflix. But the tale of ‘Kokki’ Kumar is perfect the way it is. The use of colours (when he’s lit in green, he’s in his own territory; red is enemy territory), the weird close ups and the incredible Yuvan soundtrack make it Selvaraghavan’s most “cinematic” film. ‘Kokki’ Kumar also remains one of Tamil cinema’s most iconic characters, with Dhanush acing the man’s descent into darkness. It’s amazing because his is not a character that’s motivated by power or money. His struggles are only about one thing…his survival. It is almost animalistic.

Everyone has their own favourite scene. Mine is the one where ‘Kokki’ Kumar forcefully gets married to the Sonia Agarwal character. Which one is yours?

‘Light off pannaa ellarum onnu than’.

There are few films that can break you the way 7G Rainbow Colony can; a powerful drama that hurts in a new place each time you watch it. One of my all-time favourite scenes is the one where Kadhir (Ravi Krishna) overhears his father speaking proudly of him after he gets his first job. Not used to hearing even a single word of reassurance, see how Kadhir goes to sleep sobbing silently. Unlike a father in a Gautham Menon movie, the dad in question is not like a friend. He comes from a generation of people who felt expressing love was a sign of weakness.

Which is why Kadhir behaves the way he does. When he sees Anita (Sonia Agarwal) the first time, he jokes to his friends about how she looks like she’s been with a dozen men already. And when he falls in love with her, he doesn’t know any better than to follow her around. Her reaction to him, too, is strange. When she mistakenly puts her arm around him as they watch a movie, she feels repulsed enough to run to the bathroom to vomit, for she has just touched a ‘porikki’. Later, when he sees her wearing a blue shirt with a pair of jeans, he tells her that she looks best when she wears a churidhar, that too a white one. Skim through the film and you’ll notice how she’s wearing white in every significant scene, including its heartbreaking climax. Is her only purpose in the film to change him for the good? Not really. Doesn’t Kadhir save her too when he convinces her to leave Kishore, her fiancé? In the words of her own father, she only becomes the devathai (angel) she is meant to be once she’s done transforming Kadhir into a complete person.

I can’t go past a flower cart without thinking how Kadhir must be on his way there to buy Anita a bunch of flowers. I can’t get over the idea that a person like Kadhir must be sitting on park bench somewhere, speaking to Anita as though nothing ever happened to her.

Most films die the moment you leave the theatre. It takes a director like Selvaraghavan to make films like 7G Rainbow Colony that remain perpetually unfinished, continuing to be written and rewritten in the minds of the people who loved it.

 

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