Excellent: Uthiri Pookal (1979)

When watching the New Years special of “Neeya Naana”, in which directors and actors gathered to discuss the merits of art films versus commercial cinema, it was simple to notice one film whose name kept being repeated in the discussion.  Uthiri Pookal.  It seems that simply mentioning the name of Mahendran’s film elicits a clear idea in everyone’s mind of the kind of filmmaking the other person wishes to discuss.  Mani Ratnam once said that he would be satisfied if he could make a film like Uthiri Pookal, and it is extremely common to hear directors discuss how they entered the industry with inspiration from that film.  Uthiri Pookal did not, as one might hope, suddenly bring forth a wave of sensitively told stories but it had its impact all the same.

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Good: Lakshmi Vanthachu (1986)

Lakshmi Vanthachu is a comedic sentimental film in the vein of Marumagal (and starring the same two characters: Sivaji Ganesan and Revathy, though the full cast here is huge and includes Padmini, Jayachitra, Nizhalgal Ravi, and others), and there certainly is a great deal of fun and laughs to be had with this light-hearted film.  The setting is, once again, the home of a well-to-do family, and the film starts with one of their sons being married of to an associate’s daughter.  However, their new daughter-in-law’s younger sister, Lakshmi (Revathy) drops by to stay at the house due to her loneliness without her sister at home.  Her quirky, tomboyish attitude wins her the hearts of everyone in the household except for her stern mother-in-law, who prefers to maintain a strict atmosphere in the house and is rather displeased with Lakshmi’s aloof nature.

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Good: Keladi Kanmani (1990)

Keladi Kanmani (Listen, my dear) was the debut film of director Vasanth after working under K. Balachander assisting such films as Sindhu Bhairavi and Punnagai Mannan.  It’s a film based firmly on relationships and the way they intersect and obstruct one another.  The final film is not as well-realized as one might hope for, perhaps owing to inexperience, and Vasanth would go on to fine-tune similar themes in future films (Rhythm being one particular variation on it).  At the same time, there is a lot to like about Keladi Kanmani that is unique to the film.  The story revolves around a quiet widower (Rangaraj, played by singer S.P. Balasubramaniam) and his daughter Anu, who starts off the film falling in love with a classmate, Sasi, a relationship which Rangaraj approves of.  However, when she finds that she has developed a terminal illness, she asks Sasi to help her accomplish one wish: to reunite her father with a woman he had known many years ago (Sharada, played by Radhika) and had been fond of, but whom Anu had driven away because of her worry that she would “replace” her deceased mother.

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Great: Punnagai Mannan (1986)

Punnagai Mannan is a little hard to describe.  It begins as a tragic love story (for about fifteen minutes), and then switches relatively fluently into a clean, entertaining romantic story that is far more lighthearted.  If you read the storyline and are expecting a more offbeat film, you should know that this film is more of an entertainer with the requisite (but well done) formula of songs and comedy.  What sets it apart, though, is that it also has (mostly) good direction, good characters, and great acting.  There’s a full two hours to enjoy here, but unfortunately my final impression of the film is bogged down by the contrived ending which completely disrupts the tone of the entire film.  But let’s leave the criticism for later – first, I want to focus on the good side of this movie.  So let’s describe the plot:

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Maybe: Aagaya Thamaraigal (1985)

Aagaya Thamaraigal (Suresh, Revathy) certainly doesn’t win any points for originality: it carries the same storyline we’ve seen in a million times in village-based films – the star-crossed lovers, the evil male guardian, the irritating comedy breaks, and so on.  Despite the fundamentally cliched nature of the story, it does manage to give some more enjoyable moments than usual.  The story revolves around Shekhar (Suresh), who is a bank official visiting the village where Revathy’s character resides.  Their initial interactions are extremely hostile, but gradually they soften up to each other and end up in love – to the predictable disapproval of Satyaraj’s character.  I felt there were mild overtones of Mullum Malarum due to the “outsider in a village” nature of Shekhar’s character, though Aagaya Thamaraigal never manages to reach the same level of quality.

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(Malayalam) Agni Devan & Mayamayooram

Haven’t posted in some time, and thus there is a list of both newer films (Payanam and Aadukalam seem like worthwhile attempts) as well as older ones (a bunch of Revathy, K. Viswanath, and Kamal Haasan films mostly) that I’ve been planning to write about.  Before that though, there are two Malayalam Mohanlal-Revathy starrers that I viewed some time ago, and it’s about time I wrote something on them.

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Review: Idhaya Thamarai (1990)

The one amusing thing about “Idhaya Thamarai” is how transparent the intent behind it is.  It seems that the director was trying his hardest to turn the famous Karthik-Revathy subplot from Mouna Raagam into a full-fledged film in its own right with a proper extension and conclusion beyond the college setting, which is where the film begins.  Now, such an idea isn’t bad at all, but the execution, in terms of the actual storytelling, feels rather artificial.  The movie really lacks an overarching sense of cohesion and moves somewhat clumsily from scene to scene, trying to make a dramatic impact but never quite feeling genuine.  What makes it interesting is that it is coated in production values that are very good for its time and feels very sleek on a strictly technical level.  The cinematography and visual quality in particular is a treat.

Take the above image as an example – a nicely composed, melancholic image – I can practically feel the raindrops around just by staring at it.  The music also seems to want to elevate the film to higher realms, with the angelic song “Oru Kadhal Devathai” echoing in my head as I write this. Plus, you have Karthik and Revathy, who have a natural chemistry that has been exploited well by other directors.  Yet, at the end of the day, Idhaya Thamarai just doesn’t work.  At all.  There is a stilted pace and a choppy quality to the proceedings that robs it of any natural flow, the characters aren’t given time to simply breathe and build personality, and their dialogues never feel like more than words from a script.  Karthik’s character in particular, with his mood swings and bursts of anger, doesn’t really convince as a believably flawed person and the way he’s written feels more like a caricature.

If I had to boil it down to one phrase, the film simply seems like it’s “trying too hard”.  It uses a whole host of flourishes and editing techniques to feel more cinematic (particularly in comparison to other films of the time), and the camerawork is superb, yet somehow the fundamental component of any film – the story – never manages to shake off a certain artificial quality.  It’s truly an odd little film.