What a title for a film set in the 1980s! One, it reminds us of that other Amara Kaaviyam from that decade, where someone thought that Muqaddar Ka Sikandar was best remade with Sivaji Ganesan in the lead. The actor, by then, was in that phase of his career where he was providing ample employment to manufacturers of lofty wigs and checkered coats that would, at least in some angles, conceal his ample mid-section, and about the only thing that could be said about his attempt to slip into Amitabh Bachchan’s shoes is that it’s marginally easier on the eyes than his attempt to do a Rajesh Khanna in Sivakamiyin Selvan, his remake of Aradhana. Two, the new Amara Kaaviyam is a romance set in a school in a hill station, and it recalls Panneer Pushpangal – that film may look dated today, but at least the title hasn’t lost its fragrance. It conjures up, as it should, a story about young love. In contrast, Amara Kaaviyam sounds so heavy, so… epic.
And gradually we see that that is what the director, Jeeva Sankar, is going for. The film opens with a woman in white prancing across a bleached-out version of the Elysian fields, followed by the close-up of an eyelid, a lip, a light kiss on the forehead – all bathed in syrupy music. This is the kind of love story where the heroine (Karthika, played by the expressive Mia) declares, during her first real date with the hero (Jeeva, played by Sathya), that she wants to gaze at his face as she dies. And you thought they’d be a trifle awkward around each other, sipping cold drinks in a local restaurant while staring intently at the wallpaper. Every frame of the languorously paced Amara Kaaviyam strives for a mythopoetic quality – it’s the kind of movie that makes you imagine the screenplay was written with a peacock quill.
There’s a welcome dash of romantic madness in the conception of Jeeva as a kid traumatized by his father’s death and his mother’s remarriage, which, in his opinion, happened too soon. “Paiyan oru maadhiri,” we are told, early on – and these wounds bleed into Jeeva’s relationship with Karthika. But neither Sathya nor the writing is able to put across this brooding, Byronic lover. In fact, everyone comes across as civil, logical, practical to the core – they could be trading formulas at a physics convention. At one point, Jeeva and Karthika meet after a long separation, and he sees her hanging out with another man – they look really comfortable around each other. Jeeva pulls Karthika aside and tells her that he doesn’t doubt her, but this other guy may have mistaken her friendship for love. This wisdom is offered in the most tranquil tone – where’s the rage, the frustration, the jealousy? He then asks her for a promise that she’s his, and his only. She clasps his extended palm and says what every infatuated young man wants to hear: “Um… let’s wait.”
Perhaps the point is to show that Jeeva and Karthika are above normal emotions – but this creates a big problem for the viewer. How do we invest in a love story where there’s so little… feeling? All the usual things that draw us to a distraught couple – the pining, the restlessness, the conflicts, both within and without – are underplayed. The melodrama around an undelivered letter is dismissed coolly, and even sex, which rears its head in a moment where Karthika runs into a towel-clad Jeeva, is brushed off with a shrug. They keep saying “I love you” but we don’t feel this love, and there’s something wrong when we begin to long for the scenes with the parents. Compared to all this ethereal mooning, both sets of parents come across as refreshingly earthbound, beset with worries and responsibilities and recognizably human qualities like affection and anger.
This is not a lazily made film. It’s been shot and put together with care – the mist-filled frames have the feel of a watercolour dream. But apart from the production values, and some songs by Ghibran, there’s very little to recommend. The writing, at times, makes no sense. Why have a framing device that’s meant to keep us guessing about the fate of the lovers when you’re going to give away the end at interval point? Barring some early lines, which come with a hint of mischief, there’s too much talk, too much stating of the obvious. And there’s no life in the glassy drama, which feels like it’s unfolding under water – every line of dialogue, every reaction shot comes with unwanted extra beats, as if to depict things s-l-o-w-l-y is how you imbue a romance with taste and class.
Whatever fun there is comes from artifacts of the era. The director lingers too much on the two-rupee notes and the sinuous Doordarshan tune and logo (“look, look, we’ve taken such pains to recreate the 1980s”), but at least these visuals make us smile – the Cuticura powder tin, the old Milk Bikis packaging, and, in a touch that will surely transport a generation to their exam halls, the Reynolds ball-point pen with the white and blue casing. And for a change, the whistling and the confetti-spewing at the local theatre is for a Kamal Haasan film – Sathya – and Jeeva models himself after the character, with a kada on his wrist that he converts into a knuckleduster. His room is plastered with posters of the actor. And as no movie of the era – indeed, no modern Tamil movie, period – can ignore Rajinkanth, we have his posters in the room of Jeeva’s nemesis. In other words, the hero is a Kamal fan and the villain is a Rajini fan. Idhu eppidi irukku?
* Amara Kaaviyam = immortal epic
* lofty wigs and checkered coats = see the first minute here; but see the whole thing, really, for conversations with a cobra and a man in a tiger suit
* Amara Kaaviyam = see Sivaji Ganesan’s version of Rote hue aate hain sab here
* Sivakamiyin Selvan = see Sivaji Ganesan’s version of Mere sapnon ki rani here
* Panneer Pushpangal = see here
* Paiyan oru maadhiri = the boy’s a bit off…
* Byronic = see here
* towel-clad = see here
* sinuous Doordarshan tune = see here
* Sathya = see here
* Idhu eppidi irukku? = Howzzat? See here
Copyright ©2014 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.