Raattinam opens with a vague act of violence in an elevator – vague because we don’t know, yet, who the beaters are, who the beaten are – and it segues, in flashback, to Tuticorin, showing us a powerful politician named Annachi and the people around who dare not refuse his ruling. Then we move to a police station, where some young miscreants are being interrogated by a junior cop, in the presence of prostitutes, and this is when we begin to realise that the director, a first-timer named KS Thangasamy (who signs his name on the title card just like KS Ravikumar, in that flowing cursive font), knows what he is doing. The scene is seemingly about finding out why these boys burst into a brawl at the local bus station, but it plays out in various registers (humour, a tinge of sadness, some guilt, a bit of face-saving) and between various people – the prostitutes, the boys, their parents, their friends outside, and the junior cop who is subsequently joined by his superior.
Thangasamy has the ability to situate a scene around what is happening (and not just about it), and he also displays a nicely honed sense of mischief. We are now deposited in the kind of love story that, at least for a while, looks like how Sripriya’s Shanti Muhurtham would have ended up had she possessed a sense of humour. Like Mohan in that ill-advised romance, a young lad here, one of the boys in that police station, collects the discards of the girl he’s in love with – a soft drink can, a Kit Kat bar wrapper, and so forth. But instead of delving into a seriously moony treatise about the obsessiveness of young love, the director, in these initial portions, paints a humorous portrait of infatuated youngsters who’d rather stalk the objects of their affections (on the road, behind a bus, outside tea stalls) than reveal to them their feelings. They’re too afraid of rejection.
And then we get to the punch. Jayam (Lagubaran) mocks his best friend for being a coward, and says that it’s better to get an answer from the girl – yes or no – and get on with life. But once he falls in love, with plus-two student Dhanam (Swathy), he begins to feel the same way. He is hesitant about revealing his feelings, because he too is now afraid of rejection. Raattinam follows a fairly standard template, where the first half is limned with lightheartedness, until a sadistic interval twist kicks in (when a policeman reduces their love to something sordid, with the sickening words, “Endha lodge-la room potteenga?”) and sets the stage for a dramatically charged second half, with the girl’s doting family (and the boy’s, for that matter) striving to break up this romance. And while a lot of this sounds like Kaadhal, the families are refreshingly civilised – they seek not to hurt the other side but simply protect their own.
Raattinam isn’t staged as well as it could have been. Its shock ending (along with an eye-roll inducing coda) isn’t built up to smoothly, and the too-casual amateurishness of the performances, especially Swathy’s, threaten to undermine the narrative. (Lagubaran isn’t half bad though.) But the characters are etched very nicely, and they draw you into their world. Thangasamy, thankfully, appears not to have received the memo circulating around Kollywood these days, that young men and women can exist only in black and white, and he imbues his hero and heroine (and the people around them) with shades of warm colour. Jayam loves his family, but he’s also a brash adolescent, and he drinks with his friends, and misbehaves (and even lies) to catch the attention of the girl he loves, and Dhanam defies the family she adores, even after her romance results in her brother being laid up at the hospital. Best of all may be her mother, who rails at Dhanam for the family’s misfortunes, but doesn’t forget to pack lunch for her son’s friends taking care of him at the hospital. You can be one thing and another at the same time – these seemingly contradictory impulses are what make us human beings. They are also why Raattinam may sink without a whisper of recognition.
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