At first, it appears that AC Durai, the director of Ponmaalai Pozhudhu, is doing his damnedest to make us flee from his movie. The performances are all over the place. Kishore and Anupama Kumar, as the parents of Arjun (Aadhav Kannadasan), the protagonist, recede into their roles with quiet professionalism; everyone else seems to be auditioning for the part of a blowhard in an MTV reality show. The scenes make no sense. (Two girls force a friend to take her top off and, when a guy enters the room, they pretend to be… studying.) And the songs, even taken as fantasy, are horribly out of sync with the middle-class lives we see before us. More damaging is the Aadhalal Kadhal Seiveer hangover, which is pure coincidence – but it doesn’t help this film when that one showed us just how effectively a teen love story could be told. The sense of déjà vu is inescapable. Here too, we have what amounts to a training manual on how to hoodwink your parents and have a life of your own.
But slowly – that is, once the focus shifts to the love story – the film proves itself to be not entirely without interest. The crux of the narrative is the notion that parents may know more than we give them credit for, and that their ground-down lives in the present, after they’ve made peace with wage slavery and possibly compromised marriages, may bear little resemblance to their colourful pasts. In flashbacks, we see that Arjun’s father (like Arjun) was a smoker, and (like Arjun) he was embroiled in a relationship that the girl’s family was vehemently opposed to. It’s just that Arjun would never have guessed any of it. To him, his father is a man who doesn’t talk much, and whose only outlet for “partying” is when an old friend drops by with a bottle of booze, and they sit down to unwind as Arjun’s mother whips up omelettes. There’s no life without what-if moments, and Kishore, despite too saintly a character arc, paints a sturdy portrait of the kind of man who could have had an entirely different life had he followed a different fork in the road.
He’s determined to let his son do the things he couldn’t, so he doesn’t object when Arjun falls for Divya (Gayathri, a promising newcomer) and saves her name on his cell phone with a smiley beside it. (In fact, Arjun didn’t own a cell phone earlier, till his father realised he was in love and needed one.) The film works best when showcasing the defiance of young love, especially when confronted by Divya’s father, a scrap metal dealer who harbours an inner savage. After seeing his daughter sharing a kulfi with this… boy, he barges into their classroom and clobbers Arjun with a slipper – and the couple’s resolve only grows stronger. With better writing and performances, Ponmaalai Pozhudhu could have been a Maro Charitra/Ek Duuje Ke Liye for the Facebook generation – but the film, too often, reaches for tired old tropes, like the “poetic” moment that involves fireflies. And the developments, towards the end, are merely perfunctory where they needed to be passionate. There needed to be more madness. And we’re left with a fat message, as if we invested in Arjun and Divya all along only to be rewarded with a life lesson. Isn’t a good love story its own reward?
An edited version of this piece can be found here.
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