It is quite rare that I let my views
on a topic cloud my opinion of a movie.
But it happened recently with Thiruchitrambalam. I chose to not review it because I felt that I
could not trust myself to look past my opinions of friendship, to review the
film based on its own merits and demerits.
Thanks to the influence of serious critics like Baradwaj Rangan, I
sincerely try to review a film based on how well the writer-director brings to the
screen the story that she or he chooses to tell. In that respect, Thiruchitrambalam probably
deserves a much better review than the one that I would have written. Why so?
Because I hated the final act of the film. (Spoilers ahead) Having
invested in the friendship of Nithya Menen and Dhanush, to be told that she had
harbored feelings of love all along, felt like a mighty letdown. Though the stellar cast and their wonderful performances kept me engaged, I felt cheated.
Was it entirely the fault of the filmmaker?
Let me start by saying that
there have been films like Piriyadha Varam Vendum and Oh My Kadavule
that have explored the space of a friendship metamorphosing into love and the
tricky aspects of two close friends marrying one another. The seemingly lightweight Kadhal
Desam is mostly remembered for its songs.
“Muzhugathe ship-pe friendship than” is a line that is remembered in the
context of the irresistible “Mustafa…” song.
But the film, as frivolous as it was, attempted to do justice to
friendship as much as it was about love.
It featured a thought-provoking sequence where SPB assures Tabu that a
good friend could make for a good spouse.
That she might want to marry her friend instead of hoping that her life
partner will be a good pal to her. Agree
or disagree with what he said, it at least gave friendship the respect it
deserved. It felt like a logical
conversation between a friendly Dad and a loving daughter. In none of these movies did I feel the kind
of negative emotions like I did with the concluding portions of Thiruchitrambalam.
As I reflected on my feelings after
watching the film, I realized that my unfavorable response really stemmed from
the fact that this was not the kind of man-woman friendship that I enjoy
watching on screen. I realized that beyond
the “vaa da” and “po di” kind of ‘casual’ remarks between friends, films that
explored the depth of a friendship across gender are what truly appealed to me. My bias was and is towards films where friends
remained friends for the duration of a film. In that respect, two films that have stayed with
me for a long time are Autograph and Thotta Chinungi. Sneha and Cheran in the former and Revathi
and Karthik in the latter share the kind of bond that appeals to me not only as
a moviegoer but also as a person. While Autograph
is a little more in-your-face in its depiction, the subtlety and sensitivity in
Thotta Chinungi is an absolute delight.
In Thotta Chinungi, Revathi
and Karthik are friends from a young age.
A young Karthik loses his mom early in life. Revathi and her brother are his only family. Revathi marries Raghuvaran. All is well until Raghuvaran starts
developing feelings of possessiveness, insecurity and suspicion. Writer-director KS Adhiyaman does a fabulous
job of showcasing their relationship in a lifelike manner. He balances the rhythms of daily life with
just the right emotional beats. There
are sweet lifelike touches like Revathi addressing Karthik, “Sir” and Karthik casually
sitting on her kitchen counter and chatting with her and Raghuvaran. At the same time, when asked to describe his
feelings for her, in a rather lovely scene, Karthik describes her as the maternal
figure in his life. When a situation involving
Revathi’s brother escalates out of hand, Karthik takes him in. But he does so in the most undemonstrative,
non-judgmental manner. In a stupendous
bit of screenwriting, Adhiyaman makes Karthik’s love interest (played by
Rohini) talk to Raghuvaran about Karthik and Revathi’s bond. To have Karthik talk to Raghuvaran would have
just not been as effective.
What makes Thotta Chinungi resonate with me is not just the respect and dignity it affords to the friendship. It is also how the relationship is tested severely. And how the characters come out of it shining brightly. In the aforementioned kitchen counter scene, Karthik nonchalantly mentions that simple joys like eating Revathi’s food and playing with her kid are all that he wants in life. Later, in the climax, when Karthik almost walks away from the relationship to save Revathi and Raghuvaran’s marriage, Raghuvaran steps in and mentions the same line uttered by Karthik. That is all that he says to reassure him that both his friendship and their marriage will be intact. And the film ends with a closeup of Revathi smiling. Simple yet striking. Pithy yet profound. Adhiyaman demonstrates that you don’t always need lectures on friendship for its worth to be understood by viewers. And since it is a domestic drama and not a hero-centric film, all characters are given equal prominence. As a result, the relationships are supremely well fleshed out.
Watch the scene at 32:22 and the climax at 2:17:49
Autograph, on the other hand,
is vintage Cheran. Cheran has never
shied away from direct expression of feelings.
When he isn’t firing on all cylinders (as a writer), one gets the
feeling that the characters are mere mouthpieces for what he wants to say to
his viewers. At his best, especially
when he has the support of good actors, his characters spout lines that might
sound preachy but they seem to own the lines with such conviction that the writer
seems invisible. That is exactly what happens
in the case of Sneha and Cheran.
Sneha comes into Cheran’s life at
a time that he is going through a low phase.
He helps him rebuild his life, yes.
But despite Cheran being the film’s central character, this portion of
the film is not just about the impact of Sneha on Cheran’s life. It is also about her. Nowhere is this demonstrated better than in
the restaurant scene. Prior to this,
Sneha would have bumped into her former love interest. (We are told that she
had attempted suicide when the relationship failed.) When Cheran mocks her, she
slaps him. Upon returning to her senses,
she apologizes to him. And explains that
the reason she got mad was because she sees him as a pillar of strength that helped
her face her fears and overcome her weaknesses. (Interestingly, Ae Dil Hai
Mushkil… also featured a line where Anushka Sharma calls Ranbir Kapoor her “strength”
and her lover her “weakness.”) Scenes like these breathe with so much
life that later on, when Sneha speaks of their friendship in an idealistic
manner, one gets the feeling that the character – and by extension, the
director – has earned the right to be a bit preachy and philosophical.
Click on Play to go to the restaurant scene:
The unconscious ability of good friends
to know precisely when to say what to one another, their equally unshakeable confidence
in communicating through silences, the undemonstrative yet unwavering displays
of support and above all, the reassuring constancy amidst highs, lows,
trials and tribulations. These are what
I truly find enriching in friendships, in life and on screen.
It is entirely unfair of me to expect Mithran R Jawahar (writer-director
of Thiruchitrambalam) to showcase the kind of friendships that Adhiyaman
and Cheran did. But by the same token,
movie viewing can be an intensely individual, personal experience as much as it
is a communal one. And the (friend)ships
that will stay afloat in my memory sans any risk of sinking are the ones
in Thotta Chinungi and Autograph.