Cast: Bharathiraja, Nakshatra, Joe Malloori, Mounika
Director Bharathiraja's Meendum Oru Mariyathai is an ode to the love for life itself. Om (Bharathiraja) is a widower who seems to have drunk up a vat of Rumi. He loves everything — people, animals, hills and rivers, and the invisible hand behind them. Existence seems to shimmer with magic for him. Abandoned by his son in the UK, he becomes a vagrant and bumps into Venba (Nakshatra), a 19-year-old mulling suicide (she too has been abandoned by her family). The lost strangers go on a journey. Think of Om as a version of Kamal Haasan's Nallasivam in Anbe Sivam, except that Om gets high on Khalil Gibran instead of Karl Marx. The idea is grand, poetic. The poetry, though, gets lost in the telling.
Poetry is only used as a kind of visual mirror for a piece of dialogue or situation. For instance, Venba is thinking of suicide. A shot of her finger between the jaws of a hair clip is alternated with a shot showing her suicide note, as if to suggest that she is gnashing her teeth over the decision. When Om leaves his son's house telling him to not look for him, we are shown a swan diving into the water. While these aren't exciting images, they sometimes work because the film has a heightened emotional vocabulary. You expect things to be a bit exaggerated.
Yet, the overall poetry is unsatisfying, relying on outworn and tired symbols. In places, it is difficult to believe such ultra-poetic people still exist, ready to leap into rapture at something like a passing goat. Beyond the broad (and obvious) idea that life should always be chosen over death, the film has no new ideas, no new poetry.
Bharathiraja delivers his monologues with great dignity and feeling, but Om's ideas are so abstract that we cannot believe he is still talking about what is happening to him in the film. At one point, he uses a super-complicated metaphor involving the wind, a flute, and humanity. Without any big ideas in the film, all the big poetry sounds a bit hollow.
The prosaic parts of the film work better. The humiliating experience of Om and his wife (a brilliant Mounika) at their son's home is portrayed realistically. Both Bharathiraja and Mounica are restrained, and the scene where their granddaughter apologises to them is heart-breaking. These stretches in the film move us more than the poetic flights.
For a film about two lost souls going on a journey together, we needed to see more things happen to them on their journey. We needed to see them change, know more about the kind of people they were to help us identify with them during the journey. But, we don't really get a concrete sense of their connection beyond what they tell each other. Om and Venba are one-note, unchanging. They look like they're trapped in a sonnet.