There must have been about 20 other people in Adyar’s GanapathyRam theatre when I watched 3, a week or so after the film’s unnecessarily-hyped release during March, 2012. The verdict was out and it had not been very pleasant and there was already news of the film’s distributors approaching Rajinikanth (the director’s father) for the losses they had suffered due to the film’s cold response.
‘Why This Kolaveri Di’ may have been the first-of-its-kind Youtube sensation for many of us, but the film it belonged to became its biggest casualty. The song became bigger than the movie with reports suggesting that the makers had to reshoot its video to deal with all the extra hype. All of this gave the audience a very different idea of what this film was going to be. If it had remained a run-of-the-mill masala movie with great songs, the response would have been far more positive. In other words, if ‘Why This Kolaveri’ was a song from a Hari movie named 3, he’d currently be making 17, the film’s 14th sequel.
But 3 was ambitious and experimental, a tad too much for the guy who just wanted to go to the theatre to witness this blue whale of a song play out on the big screen. I would even go so far as to call it the most Selvaraghavanesque non-Selvaraghavan film. But that’s not to takeaway anything from Aishwarya Dhanush’s work in this film; because watching 3 that night in GanapathyRam, after all that hype had died down, didn’t feel like just another movie…it felt like a discovery.
A reason for this is how brilliantly adept Aishwarya Dhanush is at handling teenage romance. Dialogues and scenes in these portions feel so real, so “lived in”. Like the simple yet effective way we’re introduced to both Ram (Dhanush) and Janani (Shruti Haasan) and their respective backgrounds. Janani is getting ready for school and you hear her mother shouting from the kitchen asking her if she should pack curd rice for lunch. We cut to Ram and we see him eating fruits out of a bowl using a fork and a moment later, his mother brings him his lunchbox and she says she has packed chicken curry and fish fry. This leads to a beautifully ordinary love at first sight scene. It’s raining and Janani’s cycle chain is broken and Ram gets off his bike to help her fix it. He fixes it, looks at her and asks, “which school?”. She senses trouble, quickly says thank you and leaves.
Ram, being the obsessive Selvaraghavan hero he is, does his own bit of stalking, finds out her school from her uniform and follows her to her tuition class. He joins the class and starts following her as she makes her way back home. But when she decently calls him out and insists he stops following her, he listens. The bench he usually sits in remains empty for the days that follow and Janani, who was irritated with his presence, now feels something is missing. On the second instance, when she looks behind to notice the empty bench, you see her disappointment. But Ram is right there, sitting a few rows behind. He catches her looking towards him. She’s at once embarrassed and also delighted. She looks back again and just stares for a second. There’s a pause as the noise of the lecture going on in the background gets muted. And when Anirudh’s ‘Idhazhin Oram’ slowly takes over, she breaks into, what must be, THE most rewarding smile in Tamil cinema. Can a million ‘Why This Kolaveri Dis’ come close to this feeling?
The first half of this film is filled with dozens of moments like these. Like those beautifully “unchoreographed” seconds in ‘Idhazhin Oram’ where Janani and her sister go crazy dancing in the rain on their terrace; can you think of a better example to visually express “Joy”? Or that moving shot of Janani sneakily hiding a laddoo under her kurta to bring it back for Ram from Tirupati. Or even the way Janani requests Ram to take her around on his bike, but only till the end of the street. For once, we weren’t just seeing how amazing the hero’s life has become after falling in love.
But the film quickly transforms to become something else altogether. We soon learn that the first half was meant to be deceptive. Like Ram’s character, the film too is attempting to be bipolar. But there was no warning or foreshadowing to explain this change in behaviour, both in Ram as well as the film. The film keeps intercutting the flashbacks of their love story with what looks like a murder scene. We get a freaky fight in the basement, Ram going berserk on their pug and mysterious holograms appearing in places. 3 also gives us a disturbingly problematic look at mental health, by which point, you had almost forgotten everything the film offered so far.
Another reason cited for the film’s failure was how similar it was to Mayakkam Enna which had released just months ago. Which is when you realise that the problems with this film lies in its Selvaraghavanness. Had Aishwarya just made the film that came naturally to her, we’d have a love story for the ages. Because the first half of 3 remains one of my favourites. So much so that if I’d fallen into a coma during the interval of that show in GanapathyRam, I would still be smiling.