May 10, 2002, is an important date in the history of Tamil and Telugu cinema, for they introduced two inimitable actors—Dhanush and Naresh—to the world, through Thulluvadho Ilamai and Allari, respectively.
Surprisingly both the films attained cult status in their respective languages and states. And coincidentally, they dealt with the same issues. The desires of teenagers, seen via the lenses of the male-gaze, never felt bubblier and awkwarder at the same time. Coming-of-age films featuring star kids are a common occurrence in the film industry—Dhanush is the son of filmmaker Kasthuri Raja, and Naresh is the son of director E. V. V. Satyanarayana.
While the lanky actors didn’t really have to go through hundreds of rejections before landing their debut films, they did face a lot of flak for their appearance. And on top of that, they were cast alongside fair-skinned and conventionally attractive women. Though, this enraged the gossip-column-writing-commentators furthermore, that wasn’t enough to put a full-stop to their careers. They challenged the patriarchal notions that sometimes doesn’t apply to men and made a mark in their own ways.
Naresh, who was permanently saddled with the prefix “Allari,” grew from strength to strength by starring in low-budget comedies. And his counterpart, Dhanush, began to experiment with the scripts he green-lighted. Both of them, in the seventeen years since their debuts, have overshadowed the popularity their fathers enjoyed in their heydays (Satyanarayana passed away, in 2011).
There’s no better actor to play a goofball, in its strictest terms, in Telugu cinema than Allari Naresh, although he has dabbled in drama every now and then as a supporting actor (Gamyam; Maharshi). Likewise, Dhanush occupies a similar space, albeit larger, in Tamil cinema as an actor, producer, writer, lyricist, director, and singer. Dhanush has also headlined Hindi (Raanjhanaa; Shamitabh) and English (The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir) films.
Now, allow me to take you back on a nostalgic trip to the testosterone-fuelled lanes of Thulluvadho Ilamai, crafted by Selvaraghavan (many people have stated that he ghost-directed the film; he’s been credited for the screenplay anyway), and Allari, which comes from Ravi Babu. Even these directors aren’t first-generation makers, as Selvaraghavan is Kasthuri Raja’s son (Dhanush’s older brother) and Ravi Babu is character actor Chalapathi Rao’s son.
Both the films rode heavily on portraying women as the apple of men’s eyes. If Thulluvadho Ilamai’s Pooja (Sherin) tenderly reciprocated Mahesh’s (Dhanush) amorous advances, Allari’s Ruchi (Nilambari) taught Ravi (Allari Naresh) how to pitch a tent in the hearts of young women. Her instructions mostly involved flowers, chocolates, and ice-creams.
Oh, please, don’t judge her. The dialogues were written by a man. And these films were released in the early noughties. The characters in adult dramedies were far from perfect then. I wouldn’t say that they’re absolutely adorable now. We’re after all living in an age where the writers have started mixing the elements of adult comedy and cheap-scares, and, to our horror, they just don’t come together well. But we sit through the drivel experiment-after-experiment hoping for a miracle!
Film Trivia: Naresh starred in the Telugu remake of Thulluvadho Ilamai – Juniors – and the Tamil remake of Allari – Kurumbu. But they couldn’t recreate the sensation their originals did.
Mahesh and Ravi are a bunch of imbeciles who think that sleeping with their objects of affection will give them the answers they’re looking for. While Selvaraghavan turns the story of childhood friends into lovers, Ravi Babu puts a love-triangle in the center – Aparna (Shweta), who considers Ravi her partner-in-life, sets her feelings aside and helps him score brownie points by rewriting the dirty poems he pens for Ruchi.
Aparna doesn’t want to put her thoughts into words, but she expects Ravi to understand the dilemmas she’s going through. And we get a sense that they take each other for granted since they’ve grown up together (they live in the same apartment building). In the other film, it’s a bit worse as Selvaraghavan doesn’t give a chance to Pooja to express her wishes. She simply follows the lines that Mahesh draws in their unnamed relationship; her narratorial voice is completely absent.
These movies, which were inspired from the pages of Debonair Magazines, and American Indies, catered to the thirsty-population of people born in the 80s and 90s. Their relevance has diminished in the recent years due to the advancement in storytelling techniques and the choices available for the millennial audiences in general. However, they stand as films we once watched and cherished in the absence of our parents.