Director: Mithran Jawahar
Cast: KS Ravikumar, Mime Gopi, Dhivya Dhuraisamy
Mathil, with a pitch-perfect KS Ravikumar as Lakshmikanthan, reminds you a lot of AL Vijay’s Poi Solla Porom. Lakshmikanthan is a playwright and theatre manager who has worked all his life to build a house for his family. When a politician, Senathipathi’s (Mime Gopi) face is painted without permission his compound wall, Lakshmikanthan has a choice: ignore or fight back. He fights back, from the beginning till the end. Mathil is Poi Solla Porom meets Thaana Serndha Kootam.
Only, Lakshmikanthan’s moral compass points more strictly to the true North. He’s not your average middle class senior citizen: he gets an almost mythic backstory from back when he was fourteen. The film opens with Lakshmikanthan realising at his father’s funeral that a person should never die before owning a house. You can imagine what a wall could mean to him. Writers Jothi Arunachalam and Ezhichur Aravindan add this layer of drama to what’s otherwise a comedy about a minor con job by a bunch of amateurs. They also intelligently make Lakshmikanthan a playwright.
He’s not just your typical middle class gent, he’s an artist who deals with ideas—and ideals. It’s believable when he rebels, especially when it comes to a question of identity (or the wall for Lakshmikanthan). But, this layer of drama also makes the film’s tone inconsistent, jumping abruptly from comedy to drama.
With functional aesthetics, you quickly get over the fact that Mathil often looks like a made-for-television film, but several stretches feel talky as if they were ghostwritten by Crazy Mohan. Many jokes remind you of him: like one that rhymes Rama, Bhama, and drama, or the one-liner by Kathadi Ramamurthy, ‘medhu vada kondu vara sonnen, medhuvaa vada kondu vara!’ Ravikumar plays Lakshmikanthan with a certain reserve and dignity, but in these scenes, he seems to be a more sober version of the cameo he did in Minsara Kanna.
He sometimes sounds a bit too silly for someone who just got a mythic character introduction that’s set in a funeral. But not all the jokes are funny or even in good taste. There are amusing episodes about how an inspector is reluctant to act as a constable in a play and how an actor in the drama troupe is called Sa. Rojadevi. But there are also jokes that are barely funny and incredibly gross (there’s one that tries to make mirth out of the fact that jatti and kutti rhyme, jokes that manage to be both sexist and ageist). There are unfunny double entendres throughout: you’d rarely find them in Crazy Mohan’s middle-class-friendly writing.
Also, as the drama between Lakshmikanthan and Senathipathi takes center stage, the comic diversions take away some of the dignity from Lakshmikanthan’s struggle. You see him turning a phrase into a silly joke in one scene. A few scenes later, he’s facing a terrible insult by Senathipathi. You get a moving scene in a mortuary and in a few scenes a cute vignette around K Balachander’s Ninaithale Inikkum. It feels like there’s a funny Lakshmikanthan and a serious Lakshmikanthan. He’s funny with friends and serious with enemies.
To an extent, both come together in the performance (Ravikumar makes banal slogans like ‘en suvar, en urimai’ sound natural), but not in the writing which puts Lakshmikanthan in alternating comic and dramatic situations until the film’s final stretch when it settles into a comforting — and unconvincing — arc about how Lakshmikanthan uses social media to get back at Senathipathi.
The film gets too convenient. The virality of Lakshmikanthan’s videos is unbelievable. He has an ally in the system, but it’s just an inspector and an honorary member of the troupe. You can’t take on a powerful politician with just that. The way Lakshmikanthan takes over the podium at a political rally to deliver his message has to be seen to be disbelieved.
You don’t get a resolution for the fun Poi Solla Porom arc of the story. There’s a resolution for Lakshmikanthan’s ‘my wall, my right’ arc, but it’s not satisfying because the film spends little time establishing Lakshmikanthan’s emotional bond with the house (let alone the wall). You do get a perfunctory shot of him weeping over a broken brick, but that’s not enough to know why even the outer wall of his house is so important to him, why he won’t compromise.
Since neither we nor Lakshmikanthan connect with the wall emotionally, it’s difficult to buy into the idea that it represents our rights as citizens. It’s not the Berlin Wall that Mithran Jawahar hopes it would be.
Lakshmikanthan has fought and won but we don’t know exactly how or for what. He’s projected as both a helpless citizen and an everyman rebel with a convenient medium of rebellion: social media. The film starts with middle class problems and ends with middle class solutions.