Director: Mithran Jawahar
Cast: Dhanush, Nithya Menen, Bharathiraja, Prakash Raj, Raashi Khanna, Priya Bhavani Shankar
Mithran Jawahar's Thiruchitrambalam (Mithran's collaboration with Dhanush comes 12 years after his last film with the actor) is a film, I assumed was going to be one of Dhanush's in-between projects, the sort he does for his fans as he waits to shoot for more serious directors and scripts. This may very well have been the original intention, but that lack of seriousness in approach and treatment has led to a charming comedy that doesn't even try to reinvent the wheel. Instead, the makers have breathed so much fresh life into its classic rom-com structure that it offers loads of comfort with just that familiarity.
The setting too is classic Chennai middle-class with a familiar colony, a familiar apartment, and a familiar dysfunctional family. Thiruchitrambalam (an immensely likeable Dhanush) lives with his father (Prakash Raj) and his grandfather (Bharathiraja's best recent role), and their family dynamics are such that the father always gets left behind. Thiru hasn't spoken to his police office dad in a decade. His grandfather on the other hand is not just his conscience-keeper but also his dude-bro.
But the relationship that's really propelling the film forward is Thiru's friendship with his neighbour and lifelong best buddy Shobana (Nithya Menen). It's remarkable how quickly we invest in this friendship like it is one of our own. In a scene, when an upset Thiru walks into Shobana's house and into her bedroom (without knocking), there's a part of your brain that asks "why should he knock? It's just him, no?" This is true of how Shobana behaves with him too. In the way she hugs him to simply cheer him up after a heartbreak, you can feel the decades of bonding that began even before they saw each other as someone from the opposite sex. Even the way the film cleverly repeats its locations to show us their routine, plays a part in the way we look at them. So when we do not see Thiru at the gates of their colony later on, we realise that it's his morning ritual with Shobana to head out to work at the same time.
These are not earth-shattering details nor are they dramatic situations we've never imagined, but you're experiencing the full powers of what a great set of actors can do to bring it alive. An example of this is the scene right after Thiru returns home after a special delivery. He works for a food delivery company and when an old crush friend requests him to bring her some dinner, she offers to also tip him. It's a devastatingly painful sequence that also makes a comment about how class differences always come in the way, but when Thiru returns home, it's treated in the exact way a best friend would treat it…with a delicate mix of support and laughter.
It is eventually this love we feel for these characters that forces us to hold on to the film, even when it appears a bit directionless. In fact, it takes a really long time for the film to decide if it's a coming-of-age movie about finding a job or if it's a comedy about finding true love. And even when the film addresses the more serious, dramatic bits, there's always a lightness in its approach and a joke that never changes what we feel about the movie. A mini conflict inserted into the screenplay early on returns to disturb this flow. But this character's re-entry is done with minimal damage and a line in the voiceover even acknowledges the randomness of this scene (the film doesn't explain what happens to this character).
And then there's Anirudh's unmistakable ability to make regular, everyday moments feel like it's the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics. Even if you keep aside the mad energy of the two hit songs ('Thai Kelavi' was a blast), there's just something extremely warm and comforting when it's Dhanush that we're seeing on screen to accompany his score.
You also have to give it to the person whose decision it was to cast Nithya Menen as Shobana. Not only does she provide the film with a lot of emotional grounding, but she also doubles up as the comical sidekick that would otherwise have required an actor like Sathish or Santhanam from a decade ago. I caught myself feeling impatient in scenes that don't feature her, hoping for it to return moments that are just between Dhanush and her. I never really paid attention in school, but I guess this is what they were teaching when they called it "Organic Chemistry". Even with its distractions and an overall obviousness, there's more than enough in Thiruchitrambalam to leave you with a smile and a cozy feeling of home.