In Shankar Dayal’s Saguni, Pranathi plays Karthi’s love interest. What drew them to each other? They are related, and have known one another from childhood – but what sparked the attraction as adults? He’s come to Chennai from Karaikudi to appeal against the demolition of his ancestral home, and he’s penniless, so he accepts a job as her chauffeur. Doesn’t this create misgivings in his mind, unease in hers? These are not questions the average mainstream Tamil movie has patience for. He’s a man. She’s a woman. They’ve signed on to play lovers. So we’d better accept them as lovers. We watch listlessly as they do what lovers do in the movies – break into choreographed dance in distant destinations instead of sharing quiet moments, engaging in arguments, discussing dreams and disappointments, and generally being there for each other. By now, we know better than to expect any semblance of a lived-in real-life relationship from lovers in commercial Tamil cinema.
But don’t we have the right to expect at least a semblance of sense in this relationship? Pranathi’s mother (played by Roja) accuses Karthi of pretending to be in love so that he can amass the family’s property. He leaves his job, naturally, but sticks around to explain to Pranathi – she’s on vacation – that that’s not the case. She returns. He looks at her expectantly. But she won’t give him the opportunity to explain. (She believes her mother.) His face falls, as if he expected her to give him a chance. When you’re supposedly in love with a man, wouldn’t you demand from him an explanation? Wouldn’t you give him a chance? And when your girlfriend brushes you aside, so callously, wouldn’t you insist on telling her what really happened, so that she at least has the facts on hand before she makes her decision? But no – they go their respective ways. She weeps. And we cut to a “happy song” in an Alpine wonderland.
Who writes these things? And why do they have so much contempt for the audience? Saguni, as the title suggests, is about the political games that Karthi is forced to play in order to save his home, and these scenarios – involving a host of well-regarded (and randomly discarded) actors like Prakash Raj, Radhika, Kota Srinivasa Rao, Nasser – are about as plausible as the one that led to the leads cavorting in snow-capped mountains to register their profound sorrow. Politics and the movies are made for each other, and we’ve had some memorable entertainments in the past that straddled the ground realities of the former with the make-believe of the latter – like Shankar’s Mudhalvan, one of the great populist fantasies that gift-wrapped what-if moments with sublime wish-fulfillment. Here, nothing is at stake, the winners and losers frustratingly preordained. But the audience I watched the movie with didn’t seem to complain. We get the governments we deserve. We get the movies we deserve.
Or maybe they, like me, had decided to forget the rest of the plot and be entertained by Santhanam. What a golden zone this actor’s career is in. His appearance – as a Super Star worshipper, and the sole auto driver in Chennai who goes by the meter – garners more applause than the leading man’s. Just by showing up, he makes people laugh, whether enumerating the clichés in our rural romances or while rhyming “foreign” with “urine.” Even Karthi, who can’t seem to decide if he’s in a drama or a comedy, shines in his company – the two strike up a nice rapport when they discover their names are Kamal and Rajini, and it’s almost a relief that the entire first half is devoted to their shtick. It’s hardly the pinnacle of humour when they relieve themselves against a compound wall and are hauled away by cops named Ajith, Vijay and Trisha. But if the alternative is to sit through mindlessly inserted songs and fights and tired demagoguery, we’ll take it, thank you very much.
An edited version of this piece can be found here.
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