Wednesday, April 27, 2022

The artiste’s voice – an essay on Chinmayi’s voice work in “Satham Podaathey”

The second half of Vasanth’s “Satham Podaathey” is a rather gripping experience.  It is not a thrill-a-minute ride.  Instead, Vasanth painstakingly follows the antagonist (Nitin Sathya) in the latter’s quest to abduct the heroine (Padmapriya).  He locks her up in a room – the lengths to which he goes to make it soundproof are as scary as they are novel.  Eventually it is through a PVC pipe that the protagonist (Prithviraj) discovers the presence of his wife.  This is a truly memorable sequence.  Given the travails of the lead pair, we truly celebrate the reunion.  Yes, the acting and staging are top-notch.  But what deserves the spotlight that was not afforded to it in the 15 years since the movie’s release was the astounding voice work of Chinmayi for Padmapriya. 

In the aforementioned sequence, Chinmayi had to bring to the fore a mix of relief and disorientation in the voice, given the locked-up state of the Padmapriya character.  Her desperate pleas (“Ravi, naan maadi mela iruken”) and her expression of gratitude to her spiritual guru (Note the way she wails, “Ramana ramana…”) are incredibly effective.  If I am correct, I had read that a part of a PVC pipe was brought to the dubbing studio and Chinmayi had to speak into it to simulate the effect.  Such efforts that are in service of a scene to add to the sense of verisimilitude deserve special praise.  As Mahendran once said, in a tribute to Vasanth, a good director is one who lets the film speak for itself during its running time.  But at the same time, makes us think of his efforts after we watch the film.  Vasanth, in his typically understated manner, uses his mastery of sound design to add to the effect of this scene.  In Chinmayi, he finds an ally who brings his vision to life in an emphatic manner.

In another hard-hitting (pun not intended) sequence where Padmapriya is physically abused by Nitin Sathya, the camera shows very little, letting the wails and screams do their job in establishing the plight of Padmapriya.  Again, this is a scene where Chinmayi’s work is powerful.  At the end of the sequence, even the tremulous expressions are just right, without being overdone.

In sharp contrast to these intense scenes are the soft, dignified romantic portions.  The scene that takes the cappuccino is the one in the coffee shop.  If Yuvan’s gentle score wonderfully establishes the character’s growing attraction, Chinmayi’s voice brings out the silent yet palpable desire of the character.  The way she says, “unga mugatha paatha poi solluvenge-nu nenakave illa…” After a pause, she adds, “Paathi poi kooda.”  It is a delightful moment where the line, the actress’ expression, the background score and the voice artiste’s evocative work all combine to create magic on screen.  Ditto for the scene where Padmapriya gifts Prithviraj an embroidered t-shirt.  When asked if the “R” in the shirt refers to his name (Ravichandran), she responds, “I think you are a nice person, you are a wonderful person.”  Such a line can fall flat if not for the right intonation and emphasis.  And Chinmayi nails it, as she does the part where Padmapriya speaks of her guilt (having returned a child to the orphanage).  Again, a vignette that could have become dramatic and overblown is given subtle treatment by the director, with support from his voice artiste.

In recent years, Chinmayi has had to pay a heavy price in her pursuit of justice.  One hopes that justice prevails, even if delayed.  And that movie and music fans can savor a rich body of new work instead of having to go to the past (like I have).  I hope that there comes a day when Chinmayi rejoices in a new normal, a future where injustice is a thing of the past, a new dawn that makes her delete the words, “strangled songbird” from her Twitter profile.  “Satham Podaathey!” – a great movie title, yes.  But that is not what we should say to people who want to come out with the truth. 


rekhs said...

Well written indeed, i am tweeting right away! Proud of u, ram

Ram Murali said...

Thank you so much, Rekhs. Lugs. :)