Director: Thangar Bachan
Cast: Prabhu Deva, Bhumika Chawla
When long-separated former lover Ingrid Bergman walks into Humphrey Bogart's nightclub in Casablanca, he marvels, wryly, at the coincidence: "Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine." A similar twist of fate awaits Porchezhiyan (Prabhu Deva) in Thangar Bachan's Kalavaadiya Pozhuthugal (Stolen Moments). The tourist-taxi driver is heading home after dropping a customer off, and he slows down at the scene of an accident. The unconscious man is an industrialist named Soundararajan (Prakash Raj), and after admitting him in a hospital, Porchezhiyan discovers something else: the man is married to his long-separated former lover, Jayanthi (Bhumika Chawla). Of all the accident spots in all the roads in all of India…
A rush of memories ensues, and the film makes the first of its many missteps. The first scene we get from the rose-tinted past is a painful duet, the kind where the hero finds himself on a hilltop, arms outstretched, seemingly singing his song to the skies. Why so generic a romance in such an unusual relationship drama? All we get is that Jayanthi is super-rich, Porchezhiyan is dirt-poor. Without specific moments to hold on to, moments that tell us what these two mean to each other, how are we to feel their loss in the present? (Especially with this cast!) The past is superficial, unconvincing. The present is more of the same. The film is dedicated to "all hearts burdened by unrequited love". Also, apparently, all characters burdened by an uninvolving screenplay.
Kalavaadiya Pozhuthugal (based on Thangar Bachan's short story) was completed in 2010, and I wondered, for a while, if this… staleness was the reason it's so underwhelming. After all, how can a film so old compete in a marketplace where an unrequited-love story takes the exquisite form of Mayaanadhi, released just last week? But 2010 also gave us the era-defining Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya – and I can't imagine Kalavaadiya Pozhuthugal working even then. What can you say about a star-crossed post-romance where the characters around the couple are more interesting? You really feel for Porchezhiyan's wife, Rani (Inbanila), who cannot fathom why her husband has turned so distant. And Prakash Raj gets the biggest laugh when his character – exasperated by Porchezhiyan's refusal to accept his gifts of gratitude – bursts out, "Avan oru sariyaana loosu dhaan." I'd begun to think the same.
The film is filled with what-could-have-been scenes, especially after Porchezhiyan begins to work for Soundararajan and we discover how much Jayanthi is still scorched by the past. At first, she just wants to make sure Porchezhiyan is amply compensated (he's still dirt poor). But soon, she realises she hasn't fully let go – there are still unresolved feelings, and it doesn't help that he's the least expressive man on earth. Her gradual unravelling should have been devastating, but he remains such a cipher that it's hard to see what she saw in him in the first place. Prabhu Deva is many things – a genius-level choreographer; an exporter of southern-style masala to Bollywood; resuscitator of Salman Khan's career, with Wanted – but he isn't enough of a dramatic actor to bridge the screenplay's missing links. The one scene that gives us a handle on Porchezhiyan is when he chases and beats up two men who swindled him. For once, you see his anger at the life he's been denied.
Elsewhere, we see more of Thangar Bachan's anger. The director's titles (Chidambarathil Oru Appasamy, Ammavin Kaipesi) and opening credits (the colourist, here, is credited under "vanna kootunar") stand testimony to his commitment to the Tamil language, and Kalavaadiya Pozhuthugal is suffused with the rage that others do not share his ardour. We get rants against banks where the forms are printed only in English and Hindi, and against a Murugan temple where the prayers are rendered in Sanskrit. And in the film's most bizarre interlude, set during a May Day celebration, Sathyaraj turns up as Periyar, mourning the degradation of Tamil culture, as dancers gyrate to Manmadha raasa and (from this director's own Azhagi) Kuruvi kodanja koyya pazham. If anger was enough to make movies, Thangar Bachan may be our foremost auteur.
Watch the trailer of Kalavaadiya Pozhuthugal here: