Vaithegi Kaaththirunthal’s (English: Vaithegi Has Waited) bears the mark of many of the sentimental village stories but manages to inch out ahead of the pack. The story is relatively good, but laced with the typical comedy tracks and excess dramatics that characterize the type of film group it belongs to. However, what saves the film from being just another example of its breed is an engaging story and memorable characters. During the first 30 minutes, you might become confused as to who the main characters of the story are, as the direction feels a bit aimless, but eventually it settles down. Ostensibly, the story revolves around two primary characters – one, a wandering village singer Vellasamy. The second is a widowed dance teacher who lives alone with her father in the village, named Vaidegi.
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Alaipayuthey is a film that is easy to like, which is why it is disappointing to have to rein in my enthusiasm due to some of Ratnam’s choices. His love story presents a scenario which is pretty refreshing compared to the generic masala fare: the movie doesn’t end with the couple getting together and living happily ever after. That’s just the midpoint – the rest of the film deals with the fact that the period after marriage is far more challenging than the period before it. Essentially, Alaipayuthey tracks the relationship between the main characters, played by Madhavan and Shalini, right from their first meeting right up until they’ve become an unglamorous, bickering married couple. I commend Mani Ratnam for that. Portraying lovestruck youngsters exchanging humorous verbal blows in the “game of love” is one thing (and that’s done well here too) but Alaipayuthey takes us beyond that, until the point where the glow has worn off.
Anjali holds a special place in the hearts of many Tamilians and South Indians (it was also dubbed in Telugu, I believe), and I am one of them. It is with a great degree of fondness that I remember the family of Anjali and their ordeal, set amidst a recognizably middle-class backdrop. But perhaps it is because of the subject matter, which has such dramatic potential, as well as the restrained touch with which much of the film is handled, that I find myself nitpicking at the problems. In that way, the experience of rewatching this film many years later presents a mixture of admiration and discontent. There is an abundance of beautiful moments in the movie, yet these moments are often wrapped with excess that feels unnecessary. As a brief example, Anjali herself does not even enter until halfway through the film. Instead, Mani Ratnam lingers on inconsequential melodrama about Raghuvaran being suspected of cheating for much longer than he needed to. Of course, he does it well, better than some directors who have done entire movies on the subject. Yet it’s one of many decisions he makes in storytelling that I find myself second-guessing. This continues for much of the film.
This is a rather hard review to write, as Thotta Chinungi is very memorable at its best, and cringe-worthy as its worst - making it both worthwhile and also highly flawed. The primary draw is that Thotta Chinungi has a very strong main story, revolving around a husband’s paranoia at his wife’s friendship with a male friend. This sort of subject matter is not groundbreaking – but here it is handled delicately and rendered with excellent performances by Raghuvaran (as the paranoid husband Gopal), Revathy (as his wife, Bhuvana) and Karthik (as her close friend Mano). Whereas these types of plots sometimes feel contrived, here it works because of the believable characters who are each flawed in realistic ways. None of them are bad people nor do they ever imagine themselves to be acting unreasonably, but the combination of their flaws is what produces the conflict.
If the only Rajnikanth films you have seen are the mass-audience-targeted masala flicks of the past twenty years, it will surprise you to know that Rajnikanth is actually quite a good actor, and a good showcase for this is Mullum Malarum. The film is a realistic character drama (they don’t make much of them these days) set in a rustic village, revolving around the collision of two personalities, played by Sarathbabu and Rajinikanth, who are as different as night and day. Rajinikanth is a rough and ill-mannered wench operator while Sarathbabu is an educated city-bred engineer who has arrived in the village as Rajinikanth’s superior. They immediately get on each other’s bad side, and the story progresses through their various interactions which culminate with Sarathbabu wishing to marry Rajinikanth’s sister.
Priyanka can be split into two parts. The first half is the story of a woman’s crumbling mind as her allegiance to her husband is challenged by her desire to find justice for a victimized friend. The second half switches to being more of a courtroom drama and “battle of men”. The first half of the film, which rests primarily on Revathi’s shoulders (as she plays the title role), ends up being the better half. Her portrayal of a woman whose mind is being tortured by her situation is extremely effective. Here’s one scene that stood out to me: When the opposing lawyer, in an early court scene, attempts to prove that Priyanka is a mad woman and have her institutionalized, her shock and helpless response is chillingly realistic.