Cast: Siddharth, GV Prakash Kumar, Lijomol, Indhuja
Sasi's new film Sivappu Manjal Pachai is part drama and part thriller. While the thriller portions are somewhat feverishly paced, the drama, sometimes, goes overboard. If you listen carefully, you can almost hear Sivaji Ganesan's groans. It's in that kind of a space. Or, if you want a better example, think of Visu's filmography from the 80s.
Siddharth, GV Prakash Kumar and, to a great extent, Lijomol Jose, make it quite watchable, but what made me squirm every now and then was the background score. We're not in the Pasamalar period anymore; however, we do love good films about siblings. The brother-sister duo of Murali (Vaibhav) and Sudarvizhi (Indhuja) from Meyaadha Maan, and, the apples of Sivappu Manjal Pachai's eye Madhan (Prakash) and Raji (Lijomol) look, speak, and even behave in a similar manner. They're probably cut from the same cloth. These screen brothers and sisters are so dependent on each other that it'd be a crime to not put up statuses with the hashtag "Sibling Goals".
The roles are reversed in Sasi's film, though. The woman is older than the man, so she has a tendency to mother him. And, Madhan, who considers himself the man of the house, feels only he knows what's good for his sister. Their lower middle-class upbringing has taught them many lessons, but the movie drowns those to make the story about how Madhan's ego hurts his relationship with his 'Poonai' (he calls his sister "Cat" as she's terrified of them; it's a splendid touch to the trope of character building, and it works wonders in scenes where there are no dialogues).
Madhan and Raji grow up without parents, but don't miss elderly figures in their lives. We do get glimpses of their aunt (their father's sister) and the things she does for them during their ups and downs. But, the film revolves around the siblings and the people who enter their lives. For that matter, when Raj (Siddharth) is introduced as a traffic cop, you don't see him operate outside this particular universe. He's there to catch Madhan, a racer who's not following traffic rules (and that's how the film gets its title).
You can easily buy Siddharth as a cop here. His assured agility is something that we've not seen in his previous movies. He's brilliant, especially, in the scenes where he irritates Madhan through his gestures. There's a sense of humor in the writing, but Sasi doesn't want you to laugh too much. He's more interested in serving melodrama as the main course.
The plot gets interesting as soon as the movie settles down to establish the main conflict – Raji's aunt gets in touch with Raj's family to get them both married; and this issue, obviously, irks Madhan, for he's been humiliated by the cop just a day ago. This point could have also been blown up to make a comedy drama. Tamil cinema isn't seeing too many of them these days. There are more sickles and curses than genuine laughs. Anyway, since Sasi is up for action, he throws in a regular rowdy and he gives him a regular illegal business to make him appear powerful.
I actually liked the conversations between Raji and Raj. Theirs isn't a love story that begins with notes of the violin. They're sitting opposite each other with the singular goal of trying to see if they can lead a happy life together. Their chats don't last more than two-three minutes, but their awkwardness is tangible. Also, it's not stretched throughout the course of the movie, like how Rahul Ravindran did in his Telugu rom-com Chi La Sow. It's a bit part in a two-hour-twenty-minute movie, but stands out as there's a certain credibility to it.
Similarly, there's a wonderfully crafted scene – and a dialogue – in the third act, featuring Raj's mother (played by Dheepa Ramanujam). The point that she makes about men and women – which I don't want to reproduce in this review because it involves a spoiler – is perhaps the best dialogue in Sivappu Manjal Pachai. She also adds that Raj should take the first step to make amends with Madhan, as he's older than the latter. These kinds of open-hearted talks between mothers and sons are rare in Indian cinema.
There's another poignant scene worth a mention. It takes place after the wedding – the daughter-in-law breaks down while having a tête-à-tête with her mother-in-law, but neither of them feels uncomfortable. When did screen mothers (and mothers-in-law) become so supportive and adorable?
But, the thread that goes on to establish Madhan and Kavin (Kashmira Pardeshi) as a couple is tiresome. Along with the Pasamalar kind of score, this is what takes the life out of Sivappu Manjal Pachai. The races, which give a high for people such as Madhan, are nothing but a nuisance for everybody else, is what Sasi wanted to highlight, maybe. I get that! Couldn't he have made it without all that jazz, though? Sigh!