NOV 5, 2005 – IF YOU OR I TOOK OUT A handkerchief and waved it, it would flutter about, then flop down limply – but when Vikram does this in Majaa, a centrifugal force comes into play. The handkerchief whirls around so fast, it becomes a blur, accompanied by sound effects that indicate that a mini-tornado is in the offing. And just as sufficient momentum is whipped up, he flings it oh-so-casually around his neck and ties a knot. Voilà! The laws-of-Physics-defying handkerchief is now a laidback style statement.
Every masala movie hero has a thing, and in Majaa, this handkerchief bit is Vikram’s thing. It’s possibly the only thing that differentiates him from a thousand other masala movie heroes, just as the only thing that differentiates the villain from a thousand other villains is his trait of chewing paan and spitting on his victims’ graves. But then, you don’t go to something named Majaa for character delineation. It’s the kind of five-fights-five-songs package that balcony audiences typically sneer off the screen as a B-and-C-centre movie, a frontbencher movie – especially as, at one point, the hero tackles two identical (right down to their red, half-drawer undies) musclemen, named Ramudu and Bheemudu. But take your snob-hat off, and Majaa delivers an unpretentious, fun, clever reworking of some of the most durable, most reliable pop-culture archetypes, from Hollywood Westerns to Shakespeare.
When reformed thief Mathi (Vikram), along with father Govindan (Manivannan) and brother Aadhi (Pasupathi), walks into a godforsaken village ruled by a cruel landlord and sets things right, he’s but a rustic equivalent of a gun-toting cowboy with a shady past, who rides into a one-horse town lorded over by the bad guy and sets things right. If Seeta (Asin) – the villain’s daughter, naturally – is haughty and headstrong and unaware of “how women are supposed to behave,” she’s following the footsteps not only of, say, Sakalakalavallavan’s Ambika but also The Taming of the Shrew’s Kate. Add to this some rural-environment staples like the “thaali sentiment” – these scenes are guaranteed to evoke tears of joy in P Vasu – and there’s literally nothing you haven’t seen before.
But that’s where the director (Shafi) comes in. In such movies, the director is really nothing but a used-car salesman, trying to seduce you into buying – or buying into – something that even he knows isn’t the best of deals. But if his sales pitch is convincing enough, you’re in – and here, Shafi starts by selling you on an uncluttered village ambience, a setting so lazily, so pleasingly idyllic that when the scene shifts to a foreign location (for Vidyasagar’s nicely-composed Solli tharavaa), it’s a total eyesore.
I bought into Majaa the minute the fun-filled, booze-fuelled relationship between Govindan and his sons began playing out. Vikram, Pasupathi and Manivannan work beautifully together, even when they don’t speak a word, as when they celebrate a birthday behind bars, with a candle stuck in a mound of rice. With these three around, there’s no need for anyone else; they take care of the comedy, the action, the drama, even the pop-culture nods. Seeing his sons beat each other up – this is something of a bonding ritual – Govindan observes approvingly, “Adichaa MGR, vaanginaa Nambiar,” and Vikram seems to have taken this literally. It isn’t just the Eastman-colour shirts; he oversees villagers planting saplings, and even manages to lovingly hold aloft an infant during a song sequence.
But the MGR masala movies took themselves quite seriously, while Majaa’s wink-wink air lightens things up considerably. (Only the fight sequences aren’t fun; they seem endless.) After the hero issues a challenge to the villain, the former’s sidekick (Vadivelu, in his element) walks away in slow motion, because, “Indha maadhiri challenge ellaam vitta apparam loose motion-la dhaan poganum.” And later, when Mathi tries to tell his father about Aadhi being in love, he’s so tongue-tied, he cannot find the words. Govindan asks what the matter is. “Dingolfi,” Mathi babbles. In a more serious venture, Mathi would have had a more sober vocabulary: kaadhal, anbu, paasam… But there’s no room in this jolly ride for such mood-killing sentiment. There’s only dingolfi.
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