Sunday, February 26, 2023

25 years of Swarnamukhi

Good actors are chameleons.  They can slip into any role effortlessly, internalizing the spirit of the character and projecting a three-dimensional personality that leaps out of a two-dimensional screen.  There are some actors with whom – for better or for worse- the viewing public associates a certain persona.  There is a certain comfort associated with that persona.  A certain expectation when the audience buys a ticket at the turnstiles.  What the lesser directors do is take the easy way out and depend almost entirely on the persona of the actor.  The wiser of the creators realize that the persona is just a solid foundation on which they can mount their films.  Radhakrishnan Parthiban is one such actor with a persona.  The glib, witty, fast-talking character is something that he has made his own.  Of course, there are several films (either of his own creation or others’) where he broke out of the mold – Housefull and Azhagi instantly come to mind.  But his collaboration with the supremely talented KS Adhiyaman led to one of his greatest performances.  The film is the memorable Swarnamukhi, which was released 25 Februarys ago.

In the title credits of the film, the director thanks Parthiban for his extensive inputs into the story and dialogues into the film.  Even without this thoughtful acknowledgement, one can sense that Parthiban made the character of Pandian completely his own.  The usual plethora of witty repartees is on full display.  His interactions with Prakash Raj are especially priceless.  The latter, a scene stealer himself, is totally overshadowed by Parthiban in this film.  The characterization and the performance take equal credit for the one-man show of Parthiban.  Right from his Pondaati Thevai days, he has played characters whose feelings of love are rarely, if ever, superficial.  While his exchanges with Devyani in the flashback are fun, starting with the act of violence that sends him to jail, one realizes that this is not yet another love story.

The characterization of Pandian is truly unique.  The man – unreasonably, one hastens to add – believes that despite three years of not knowing his whereabouts that the love of his life would still be waiting for him.  Since he had been in jail with the singular thought of reuniting with her, he blindly trusts that she too would have been waiting for him.  That a man could have entered her life is a thought that just doesn’t register with him.  This premise leads to a sparkling set of scenes in the second half.  In addition to the sharp dialogues, the screenplay too flows beautifully once Pandian reenters Swarna's life.  Every scene is a result of a character feeling a certain way and moving the story forward.  For instance, when Devyani hesitatingly conveys to Parthiban that Prakash Raj may have fallen for her, he does not even bother to ask her if she feels the same way!  Instead, he goes to mercilessly taunt Prakash Raj – the scene with the auto driver is a riot!  And when Devyani expresses anguish about being stuck between two men, her mother goes to Parthiban’s house to explain the harsh reality to him.  That sequence is what makes this film utterly unforgettable.  

The epoch of Swarnamukhi is the eight-minute stretch that spans two scenes starting with the one in Parthiban’s room.  Right from the moment that Fathima Babu breaks the news that her daughter may have fallen for another man, Parthiban’s reactions from surprise to anger to shock to anguish are spellbinding.  Watch him smear his face with the ‘kari’ (to convey the 'moonjila kariya poositaa' feeling) and look around the room where he has written her name all over.  The helplessness writ largely on his face is haunting.  His powerful eyes are as arresting as they have ever been on screen.  The second is the scene right after this where he confronts Devyani.  Starting from the piercing stare and the way he beats himself with the slippers, Parthiban’s body language and dialogue delivery are stupendous.  Several of the lines are not only sharp but also intensely observant.  Note the way he says, “Enaku irukardhu chinna manasu thaan, aana andha manasu muzhuka nee thaan iruke.”  The manner in which his voice trembles by the end of the line is stirring to watch.

A gamut of expressions

Click on 'Play' to go to the beginning of the stretch that I have written about:

Synergistic actor-director collaborations are rare in Tamil cinema.  When they happen, it is an unforgettable experience for viewers because even without knowing exactly who contributed what to a particular scene, we can sense that something special has unfolded.  We can dissect such movies to our heart’s content, calling attention to specific elements such as the writing, acting and other departments of filmmaking.  But while we are watching the film, everything coheres so seamlessly, so magically, immersing us in a swell of hard-hitting emotions.  The impact of the creation subsequently is undeniably enduring.  During the aforementioned confrontation scene, Parthiban proclaims, “Moonu varusham illa, muppathu varusham aanalum enakaage nee kaathitrukanum.  Adhaan kaadhal.”  Along similar lines, be it 2 years or 25 years, the impact of emotionally wrenching films does not wane.  And that’s what we call a classic. 


Zola said...

Awesome Ram! You've really brought out the nuances of our Chinna Pazhavettarayar s performance. That juxtaposition with the scene stealing Prakash Raj was priceless. I really hope and wish that such a formidable creative tornado finds the right wide open space to explode. It would be a tragedy if that didn't happen. Life's a bitch

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Zola. “Creative tornado” seems so appropriate for Parthiban. :)