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 beyond.