A few days ago, I sat down in a theatre for the first time in a long while to watch a new release, which itself probably warrants a post. Payanam is Radhamohan’s latest contribution, and was often touted as Radhamohan stepping out of the comfort zone that defined his feel-good films like Mozhi and Abhiyum Naanum. Let me say upfront that I like Radhamohan’s films and I appreciate his consistent principles when making them. On the other hand, when I hear people heaping praises on his films for “breaking conventions”, it rankles a bit, because Radhamohan, as much as I respect him, could be described as somewhat reactionary rather than ambitious (although Payanam does indeed break a few formula conventions).
What I mean by that is, he seems to have a very focused goal of breaking away from the recent star-obsessed cinema, and certainly, this is a welcome approach – but it’s not quite the same as a “pathbreaking” one. Let’s not forget that there was a period of time, decades back, where a film like Mann Vasanai, for example, which starred two debuting, no-name actors and had a melancholic storyline, could become a Silver Jubilee hit. And while Radhamohan’s Mozhi and Abhiyum Naanum were lauded for being feel-good entertainers avoiding any action scenes, heroism, or glamour, I’ve reviewed several films (like Marumagal) which did the same thing 20 years back and had grand success. Now, while Radhamohan’s films are certainly a breath of fresh air when you speak only about the poor stock of films since 1995, I sometimes feel he focuses too much on what not to do rather than on trying something ambitious with his films.
Getting back to Payanam, it was advertised quite a bit as being his attempt to do just that – try something new – and although it is ostensibly different from Radhamohan’s previous films in subject and setting, it also stays within Radhamohan’s comfort zone in its handling of drama, humour, and sentiment – even amidst a life-threatening hostage situation. It is certainly an enjoyable film and I’m glad to see its success at the box office while avoiding overtly commercial elements, despite some nitpicks such as a caricaturish treatment of the terrorists and some cliched moments involving a young girl. At the same time, it doesn’t veer too far away from what I would call the “Radhamohan mood” either. It is recognizably from the same mindset as his previous works.
Perhaps it is just a matter of “one step at a time”. A good response to Payanam opens the gates for more films which avoid the typical commercial format. And even if Radhamohan forever sticks to the role of making sentimental family films in a variety of settings of varying tension (apartment complex, family, aboard a plane), that wouldn’t be a bad thing at all, I suppose.