Director Visu rarely spoke about
films outside of his own works. I had
the fortune of knowing him in the last 2 ½ years of his life. During the conversations and whatsapp chats,
he was extremely candid in his self-assessment.
I could freely speak about what I felt were the flaws in his films. It was easy because he was a tougher critic
of his works than I was. But the same
Visu could become suddenly hesitant when I would broach a conversation about
any other director’s films. But a
striking exception to that was the warm, loving way in which he spoke about
director Suresh Krissna’s Aahaa. An
obvious reason why it was relatively easy to get him to talk about Aahaa was
because it was Suresh Krissna who had introduced me to him. But the true reason why he made an exception
was because, as a writer, he loved the ensemble drama. He described the film as, a “ramyamaana
padam.” What makes Aahaa
such an instantly appealing film that even Visu decided to make an exception?
One of the greatest strengths of seasoned filmmakers is their ability to make the right choices. They seem to know exactly whom to cast for
what role, which talents to collaborate with behind the camera and in essence,
know how to transform the germ of an idea onto the screen with conviction. Prior to Aahaa, Suresh Krissna was
known mostly for his action-packed dramas like Baasha, Annamalai and Sathya. But he had shown his adeptness in making
lighthearted films like Veera and Raja Kaiyya Vechaa. But those lighthearted films felt light on
the ‘heart’ aspect. They were decidedly
commercial. And while they were
entertaining, they didn’t quite touch a chord or move me. But with Aahaa, all of that
changed. It didn’t happen by
accident. It was a result of a series of
very conscious decisions.
Firstly, Suresh Krissna decided
that he would move completely away from the conventional commercial mould to
make a film that was all heart. One of
the chief pleasures of Aahaa is that the screen is filled with lovable
characters. Circumstances aside, there are
no villains. Even the crabby Vijayakumar
is just a frustrated father who wishes that his son was a little more focused
in life. There is a lovely line about
the Bhanupriya character in the delightful introduction sequence – “ivalluku
elaarayum pidikum. Adhanaal, ivallai
elaarukum pidikum.” Something
similar can be said about the characters.
When the screen is filled with affability, warmth and people whose
hearts are always in the right place, it is impossible to not like them and
root for them.
Having decided that he would make
a drama focused on the highs and lows of a large joint family, Suresh Krissna
had two immensely strong writer collaborators.
One was the late Ananthu, who cowrote the screenplay, which flows as
smoothly as a river, beautifully segueing from one sequence to the next. The bumps in the journey are extremely
rare. (Some of the scenes featuring Sukanya are amongst the few missteps in
the film.) The other one was a pillar that held the film aloft – dialogue
writer Crazy Mohan.
That Mohan was brilliant at humor
is a fact, not an opinion! For Aahaa,
he wrote some of the best comic lines of his illustrious career. It takes ingenuity of stratospheric levels to
come up with puns like ‘un uyarathuku kick-u yerangarthuke 4 naallu aagum’
while admonishing a tall drunk! Between
that, the ‘thayir vadai’ joke, the ‘gul gul jil jil mal mal’
line, the death sequence (!), the list of memorable jokes in this film is
so long that Aahaa could have very well been titled, Mohana Punnagai! But what makes the peak of Aahaa even taller
than his collaborations with Kamal Hassan is the profundity of many a line. In the otherwise amusing grocery store scene,
Mohan slips in one crisp yet terrific line about friendship, love and marriage
– “Kaadhal-ngaradhu kalyanathuku munaadi kedaikara oru nalla natpu.” It is sad that the writer is no longer with
us. But as the cliché goes, his writings
will continue to contribute to his immortality.
The grocery store scene:
One of the lesser-mentioned
aspects of Aahaa is the polish of the filmmaking. The reason why this film, despite being a
‘drama’, does not feel like a staged theater performance is that it is a sound
film technically. Talking of sound, the sound design is
supremely effective. So is the way the
scenes are choreographed. The huge house
that is almost a character in itself, is utilized in its full glory. The sequence that best demonstrates this
confluence of sound design and scene choreography is the one leading to the
death scene. There are three events
happening in parallel – just like in real life.
Srividya is offering coffee to her son.
Vijayakumar is attending to a phone call. And Bhanupriya is getting her son ready for
school. In the foreground, Rajiv Krishna
just listens to Vijayakumar say, “En son-a anupchu vekkaren.”
While we primarily hear the son remonstrate
with his mother, in the background, we feebly hear Vijayakumar talking on the
phone. As he hangs up, Vijayakumar
summons his son – to watch Rajiv Krishna’s anticipation increase, only to be
brought back to earth, is a hilarious experience! As they argue, Bhanupriya’s kid is ready for
school. And as the driver Krishnan picks
up the kid, he rubs salt in Rajiv’s wound by saying, “Neengale correct-a
sollitengale!” Essentially, the
characters from the three parallel events converge in an utterly seamless
manner. That we don’t notice the craft
behind all this is the ultimate testament to the filmmaker. He is there. Yet he is not!
"En son-a anupchu vekkaren..."
Another aspect of the film that
reflects some truly inspired choices is the casting. Every actor in the cast fits their role like
a glove. Special mention to Raghuvaran,
Bhanupriya and Delhi Ganesh, who turned in some of the best work of their
career for this film. Given that Raghuvaran
had played the hero and the villain, we could never be sure about his
relationship with Sukanya until he delivers that searing monologue in the
climax. Bhanupriya always had an innate
likeability. But she doesn’t rest lazily
on that. She imbues her character with
little lifelike touches – her kitchen conversation with Rajiv Krishna as he
bites on a carrot, is a case in point.
It takes a special actor to utter a line like, “aamam, ivaru periya
Kapil Dev” yet not make it sound insulting!
And Delhi Ganesh takes the jaangiri…err…the cake in the humor
department. He never failed to do
justice to Mohan’s lines. And in Aahaa,
he is a hoot in the funny scenes and a reliable anchor in the dramatic
sequences. No other actor could switch
between humor and drama as effortlessly as he does in the Krishna Jayanthi
scene in Vijayakumar’s house.
Bhanupriya, Raghuvaran and Delhi Ganesh in the climax:
Films like Aahaa are
rare. In their quest to make the next
big pan Indian film (which sometimes ends up being a film panned throughout
India), they forget Martin Scorsese’s words which were memorably quoted by Bong
Joon Ho at the Oscars- “The most personal is the most creative.” And it is the most universal too. ‘Little’ films like Aahaa are amongst
the films with the richest legacy and the most longevity. It was a film that appealed to Visu back
then. It is a film that holds appeal
even now, 25 years after its release.
Let us celebrate the film for all the joy that it has given us. Thank you, Team Aahaa! You made all the right choices in making this
film the classic it is. It is up to us
to do the same and not forget about this film during our lifetime and