Cast: Rajkiran, Revathy, Prasanna
For the second time in as many weeks, we get a lead character that’s new to Tamil cinema. The protagonist of Pa Paandi, written and directed by Dhanush, is introduced like a ‘mass’ hero. The camera assumes his vantage as he strolls down his neighbourhood and greets a number of people. Then it turns 180 degrees and reveals his face.
Later, he gets a ‘mass’ song-and-dance sequence (Sean Roldan’s rousing Oru soorakathu; the entire album is sensational). He gets an action sequence where he lays waste goons half his age. And when push comes to shove, he slips into a leather jacket and takes off on his Bullet. So what’s new, you ask? He’s 64 years old. Meet Pa Paandi (Rajkiran), our first sexagenarian biker dude.
He lives with his son’s (Raghavan, played by Prasanna) family. The grandchildren dote on him, but the son and daughter-in-law have that gently exasperated air of ‘I know we have to take care of him, and it is our duty, but I sometimes wish he’d go off and stay someplace else for a while’. This isn’t ingratitude. Paandi is a bit of a do-gooder, and in trying to rid the neighbourhood of drug peddlers, he gets into a soup with the cops. Raghavan, a workaholic glued to his laptop, is understandably annoyed. Why won’t the old man just sit in a corner and do his own thing?
This is when we get to the most interesting bit about Paandi. Tired of tootling around at home, he applies for a series of jobs. He gives acting a shot. He flubs his lines. But when he gets a call to do an action sequence, he aces it in one take – and he holds his pose even after the director yells cut. He’s in the moment!
Paandi is a former stunt master, and still something of a legend. The others on the set fall at his feet. Perhaps only an actor could have written this movie, because who else can understand the plight of someone no longer in the limelight, someone whose 70mm existence is now confined to his room in his son’s house?
And like actors, Paandi can be an attention seeker. There’s a great stretch in the first half where Paandi gets drunk and rants at Raghavan for not being a good son, for not treating him well. The very next day, we get a gem of a scene where Raghavan says, very quietly, “We don’t know what to do now. We’ll keep quiet. You just do what you want. Your happiness is all that matters.” It isn’t often that we get to see this other side, this acknowledgment that not all parents are saints and that living with them, sometimes, takes the patience of a saint.
But that would make Paandi too prickly a protagonist, and this aspect of his character remains subtext – Dhanush wants to make a broadly appealing movie. And I mean broad. Save for that stretch, we get TV-serial melodrama.
But here’s why Pa Paandi works. Rajkiran. He exudes such grandfatherly warmth, it’s impossible not to care for him. And as the second half unfolds, the story picks up too
Here’s what happens. Paandi, after returning from his morning walk, switches the TV set on. The volume is way too high, and before he can lower it, Raghavan is standing before him, complaining that he’s had a late night and he wanted to sleep in a little. And we cut to a flashback where Raghavan, as a boy, was being chastised by his mother to reduce the volume on the TV set because Paandi was resting inside. Paandi calls out that he doesn’t mind.
As Pa Paandi progresses, Raghavan is made out to be a monster who has to see the error of his ways. And what better way to remind a son about the worth of a parent than to play Aarariro paadiyadhaaro — that dirge for a dead mother – on the radio as he drives home? The film is really that shameless about playing to the gallery, replete with a score that keeps telling you how to feel.
But here’s why Pa Paandi works. Rajkiran. He exudes such grandfatherly warmth, it’s impossible not to care for him. And as the second half unfolds, the story picks up too. Even here, we are faced with contrivances. A random Facebook search leads to the whereabouts of a missing man. The cue for a flashback is simply a bunch of men asking, “Tell me your story.” But Dhanush writes moments well, especially those that have to do with relationships – and relationships are what the second half is all about.
Paandi uses the word “thedal” (search) to describe what he is doing, and we realise that this is the rare film that presents the sunset years of one’s life as a time for self-realisation and self-fulfilment. We don’t do this in India. We retire and then wait for death’s knock on the door. Paandi, though, is rewriting the rules. Who says SMS-flirting can happen only between Ajith and Trisha in a Gautham Menon movie? Here’s Paandi, huddled under a blanket, lit up by his smart phone, waiting for an answer to the question he just popped.
Pa Paandi has two really fine stretches. The first is a flashback, where Dhanush makes a cameo. (It’s the kind of part he can, by now, sleepwalk through, but he sleepwalks through it so well.) The love story in this portion is utterly generic, but it’s beautifully realised with… moments, and enlivened by a recurring motif from the opening notes of the song Paathen – it sounds like an aching birdcall, and hints at the bittersweetness that lies ahead.
And here’s the kind of moment I was talking about. A boy gets ready to sacrifice a goat at a temple ritual. The girl flinches, even though she’s not a vegetarian. The boy smiles and says, “Konna paavam thinna pochu.” (Loosely, the ends justify the means.) It’s the philosophy made famous by Kannadasan in his Dheivam thandha veedu (Aval Oru Thodarkadhai).
And the film blooms when Revathy appears. This section plays like an urban spin on MT Vasudevan Nair’s story, Vanaprastham, and it’s remarkably free of melodrama. My favourite scene in the film is when the Revathy character meets Paandi. Her look suggests what it would be if that birdcall motif became a facial expression. Pa Paandi is like what you get in a Dhanush performance: bits of mass, bits of class.
Watch the trailer here: