I recently hung a framed poster (pic above) of Rhythm above my DVD rack. To give you some context, this is the only movie poster that I have in my house. What made it sweeter was that the person who arranged for the poster was none other than the person that created the film, director Vasanth. I had written about him as part of my Inspirations series, five years ago. I had written about how I managed to meet him in 2002. But I did not dwell much on why I wanted to meet him. Those that have followed Vasanth’s career since his stunning debut Keladi Kanmani (1990) will know that rays of positivity have always shone through brightly in most of his movies. Sacrifice, selflessness and righteousness are traits that have marked the behaviors of many of his lead characters. I regard Rhythm as his finest work, the film that truly set him apart as a filmmaker in my mind. These three traits that I mentioned came together in a wonderfully told story, in a beautifully shot film where the writing, the acting, the craft all were in perfect synchrony. But there was something more to this film.
At the time of its release in 2000, I was 19 years old. In the past 17 years, much like Iruvar, the same film has assumed multiple shapes and forms as I have viewed it from the perspective of a son and later as a husband and even as a father. When I first watched the movie, the Arjun character held appeal for how he interacted with his parents. Not for Vasanth the stereotypical ‘Amma Appa sentiment’ that belonged to the thamizh cinema of yore. The casualness of the interactions and the understatement of sentiment combined to ensure that their scenes found their way to the indelible parts of my subconscious. This might be hyperbole to you. But trust me for I was there when it first happened! As a son, I know that I am not as patient or tender with my parents as the Arjun character is. But given the verisimilitude that informs Vasanth’s style of film making, it is only natural that I don’t discount my shortcomings by dismissing this as just a work of fiction. Rather, this film serves as a feedback loop of sorts that keeps reinforcing in me the need to fulfill my filial responsibilities to the best of my abilities.
The scene that made me want to meet Vasanth (1:37 – 3:13)
As I have eased into the roles of a husband and a father, I can see that whenever I revisit the scenes where Arjun interacts with Jyothika, Meena or her son (played by Aditya) there are little lines or gestures that I watch with admiration. In the past few years, I have put in considerable amount of time and effort into refining myself as a person. As I had written in my post on anger management, I genuinely seek to love my near and dear as thoughtfully and as gently as I can. But in order to achieve the kind of complete satisfaction with how I am to others, I know that I need to cement the cracks in my character, be it getting a better handle on my temper or acting less impulsively in times of distress. And, when I watch the Arjun character behave with decency and equanimity despite the trials and tribulations that his character goes through, that, for the lack of a better term, is inspiring in its own way. The delicate touch of the scene where he tells his wife, “Bomb vechurkaange ma,” the maturity with which he deals with Meena’s equivocation, the cuteness of his scenes with Aditya (believe it or not, I address my son as “Sir” quite a bit, similar to the Arjun character!) are all things that have helped me crystallize my thoughts on the ‘ideal’ version of me. The ‘best’ version of me is something that I am working towards with the acceptance that even if the goal is not reached, just the attempt to reach it would be rewarding enough for me and, hopefully, my loved ones.
Watch from 3:15 – 4:09, 6:06 – 7:20
In the fifteen years that I have known Vasanth, my family and I have been recipients of his friendship, his generosity of spirit and his thoughtfulness of gesture. The ways in which he has touched my life are too many to count and some are too personal to recount. But one incident is worth mentioning. Last October, when I had gone to India following my Aunt’s untimely demise, I had a lengthy conversation with him the day before I left. As I took his blessings before leaving, I said to him, “Sir, do visit Paati when you can.” He smiled and assured me that he certainly would. On the day of Diwali (by this time, I had returned to the US), he texted me saying that even though we wouldn’t celebrate the festival this year that he still wanted to wish me well. In my response, I said, “Do visit Paati when time permits, Sir. She will be feeling low.” Pat came the response, “I already did, six hours ago.” When I called my grandma, she spoke of how he spent time with her, offering solace and comforting words and asked her to prepare my Aunt’s favorite dish as a token of remembrance, as a way of reliving my grandma’s memories of my Aunt. The thoughtfulness moved me and my family a lot, during a tough phase. Of course, there have been plenty of happier memories too, but as the cliché goes, “A friend in need…”
|"Punnagaiye Vaazhkai!" (That was the original title of "Rhythm")|
As I have interacted with him over the years, I have also come to immensely respect the stubbornness of a creator that is one of his dominant traits. As a filmmaker that steadfastly refuses to toe the commercial line, he has been willing to bide his time to make his own brand of sensible cinema. He is currently making a film titled, Sivaranjaniyum Innum Sila Penngalum, an anthology based on the works of acclaimed writers like Ashokamitran. As a creator, he has displayed indefatigable grit to make mainstream cinema that appeals to the reader in him as well as the aesthete in him. Not all his works may have become classics like Keladi Kanmani or Aasai or cult favorites like Satham Podaathay. But he soldiers on doggedly, to make films that stand the test of time. I am not going to slot Rhythm into any category. Because it is an experience that I, over the years, have made my own. Yes, I am delighted whenever I find fellow admirers of the film. But truth to be told, contrary to how communal a movie going experience typically is, Rhythm has been an intensely inward looking, meditative experience. Thank you, Vasanth Sir, for the film and for your friendship. I value and cherish both, with gratitude.