Ever since Mani Ratnam’s evergreen Alaipayuthey in 2000, I have been floating on a dreamy Madhavan cloud. It is 2021 now and I’m officially an adult having proudly graduated in Madhavanology! From his swoony chocolate boy debut to his recent offbeat turn in Maara, I have admired the actor’s ability to seamlessly integrate his Mumbai upbringing and his traditional southern roots to present audiences with the essential flavours of pan-India. It is this universal appeal that makes him an artist for all seasons and one that puts him among the rare breed of actors who connect with all cross-sections of fans from the country. There are many Madhavan masterpieces that have been etched in my memory, but the one that cemented a place in my heart is his highly underrated performance in Evano Oruvan.
In a role based on Michael Douglas’s character in the Hollywood drama Falling Down, R. Madhavan shifts gears to create a controversial and unconventional hero in Evano Oruvan. He plays Sridhar Vasudevan, a middle-class bank employee who believes in leading a simple, principled and honest life. He holds a deep sense of belonging to the society and harbours an innate desire to live by its noble dictates and codes of honour. Though irked by the constant corruption and manipulation he witnesses around him everyday, Sridhar endures it with a dogged dignity, undeterred even by his wife’s scathing criticisms on his “inflexibility” to look the other way. He nurtures the idealistic hope that someday in the future, his utopic notion of an empathetic, fair and understanding world will see fruition. Yet, as he is worn down relentlessly by the varying degrees of callousness that gnaw into the foundation of society like termites at wood, his inner resolve snaps. Armed with a cricket bat, an external manifestation of his seething emotions, Sridhar devolves gradually to killing petty perpetrators and serious culprits with equal venom, thereby meting out his own deadly version of justice.
Playing the undervalued face in the crowd triggered into action, Madhavan perfectly encapsulates the vulnerability and the measured yet spine-chilling rage of the protagonist. His journey from an idealistic commoner who shunned any form of violence to an infernal, bat-wielding vigilante is as effortless as it is disturbing. For viewers, this character strikes a chord in many ways. We relate to his ordinariness. We identify with his disillusionment. We understand his dilemmas. Yet, his drastic transformation from victim to aggressor also leaves us with an uneasy sense of ambivalence. We desperately want to root for him on the one hand while warning him about the dangers and repercussions of this radical shift in emotions on the other. Madhavan presents these contrarieties with infinite nuance and gives us a layered protagonist who challenges the crumbling system. Sridhar Vasudevan isn’t a hero, a villain or an antihero. He is an everyman. He is us. We are him. And therein lies the power and authenticity of Madhavan’s portrayal.
Evano Oruvan went mostly unnoticed, possibly constrained by the magnetic aura of “blockbuster” cinema, but this effort by one of my favourite actors undoubtedly warrants a place among the great performances of the recent past. Some characters are unforgettable and Sridhar Vasudevan is hauntingly so.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.