In Raja Rani, director Atlee reimagines the Nenjathai Killaathey–Mouna Raagam scenario for the Facebook generation. What if you got married without quite getting over your ex? We sense trouble right at the beginning, when, during their wedding, John (Arya) and Regina (Nayantara, upstaged by simply enormous fake lashes) hesitate before pronouncing their “I do”s. Worse, she utters another name – Surya (Jai). We cut to a flashback (hers), and then we cut to another flashback (his, detailing his past with Keerthana, who’s played by Nazriya Nazim). Atlee is nothing if not ambitious – but thankfully his ambitions aren’t restricted to animating a stick of karasev, which grows arms and legs as it falls to the floor. (No prizes for guessing that Atlee apprenticed with Shankar.) He constantly stages mirror events. A line from Regina’s father (Sathyaraj) about life going on is repeated by Keerthana. A relationship is fortified by the impromptu exchange of rings in the first flashback, and by an impromptu thaali in the second. We even see attempts to revive both heroines with paddle electrodes.
But these touches are undone by an overall air of kiddishness. This is how Atlee lets us know that things aren’t quite right between John and Regina. He watches gaana songs on TV, at really loud volumes, while she presses a pillow to her ear and sobs quietly. Who can feel anything for these two, this man-child and this martyr? Why not give us the story of two people who tell each other about their past lives and then struggle to come to terms with their present situation? He comes home drunk every night and makes a racket, waking up the neighbours. Why doesn’t she simply say, “Listen, I know you’re as unhappy as I am with this marriage. But let’s be adults about it.” Instead, we seem to be watching a couple of pretend-adults. Even if you agree to a marriage for the sake of the people around you, surely you’re going to talk to your spouse. You’re not going to snatch away a bottle of water when your spouse reaches for it during dinner. And somehow they share the same bed?
In Mouna Raagam, we buy the scene where the heroine waits for her boyfriend silently at the register office, but in this age of cell phones, how can we feel for Regina, who’s pushed into the same plight? These are preposterous situations, and try as they might, Arya and Nayantara just can’t make these characters worth caring for. Luckily, this film has two other leads. After that terrific girl-next-door performance in Neram, Nazriya Nazim proves that she can play the traditional Tamil-film loosu ponnu as well. And Jai slips the movie into his pocket and coolly walks away. He’s a riot as a sentimental man who just can’t stop crying. (One of Atlee’s conceits here is to get the men to weep as much as the women. Even Santhanam is reduced, at one point, to a sobbing wreck.) The scenes where Jai bullied by a string of women are very funny, and the minute he disappears, so does the lightness, and at nearly three hours, the film feels like a lead balloon. Only, heart-shaped.
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