Gitanjali Selvaraghavan’s Maalai Nerathu Mayakkam begins with a note that it’s difficult to describe some love stories… “But we’ve tried.” (I liked the word used: muyarchithirukkirom. I also like the title, reminiscent of the slow-burn LR Easwari song from Dharisanam.) But is it really so hard to describe this love story? Just call it Mouna Raagam, Selvaraghavan style. (Selvaraghavan wrote the film.) Remember the scene in the Mani Ratnam movie in which the Revathy character’s mother visits her in her new home and wonders what’s wrong between the couple? Now, suppose the mother asked this question, “Vera maadhiri edhaavadhu sex venum-nu kaettaana?” Or think of this scenario: Mohan helps an injured Revathy to the bathroom and stands outside as she takes a dump and comments on how stinky it is. Now, imagine all this in the story of an arranged marriage (which comes about due to the implicit emotional blackmail arising from a parent’s illness), with the girl merely going through the motions as she recalls how much better her ex was… As I said, it’s Mouna Raagam, Selvaraghavan style.
So we have another patented loser (Prabhu, played by Balakrishna Kola) in some stage of arrested development. The classic Selvaraghavan hero is a man-child, forever trying to bridge the gap between his manly loins and his childish mind – Prabhu seems more man-child than most. In one scene, he talks to a rose, because… “Poo maadhiri oru ponnu venum.” Instead, he ends up with a thorn (Manoja, played by Wamiqa Gabbi, whose sour expression suggests that someone in the vicinity is always passing gas). It’s hard to believe that these two got together. It’s hard to believe that Manoja’s mother didn’t mind this match. It’s not the looks – that he’s dark and she’s fair. But there’s something about people that says… this might work. That something isn’t here at all. In the scene where Prabhu’s folks come to meet Manoja, the mothers end up chatting, the fathers end up chatting, and no one seems to notice or care that the boy and girl are silent. The reason we’re given is that Manoja’s mother suffers from cancer, and she’s desperate to see her daughter married. Maybe the cancer ate up her brain cells.
And slowly we enter married life, in a new flat on OMR. There’s one nice touch. At first, everything remains in boxes. After a very long time, the things in those boxes, the things that make a house a home, come out. In between, we are treated to scenes that show why those things remained in those boxes for so long. At one point, Prabhu uses the bathroom and when Manoja goes in later, she finds the place festooned with wet toilet paper. At another point, he orders sambar saadham at an Italian restaurant. The scenario itself isn’t entirely implausible, but the scenes are presented in such an exaggerated fashion that we’re not sure whether to take it all as comedy or drama. Did I mention Prabhu’s snoring? He sounds like a volcano in the throes of a bone-shattering orgasm. If anyone’s still in doubt about their incompatibility, we get the scene where Prabhu listens to Manmadha raasa on the car radio, and Manoja, making that who-farted? face again, switches channels and settles on Like a virgin.
I didn’t believe a minute of this movie. I didn’t believe the ex-boyfriend who serenades Manoja on her birthday and gifts her a pink teddy bear. I didn’t believe that she’d go back to this guy, the one who refused to be with her earlier because she wouldn’t put out. I didn’t believe that Prabhu would be so clueless, some kind of lovesick Tarzan seeing the sights of the city for the first time. I didn’t believe the silly song sequence where Prabhu asks Manoja to teach him to dance. I didn’t believe that, while looking for a new house, he’d end up, so randomly, in his mother-in-law’s flat. (And she takes a while to recognise him? Seriously.) I didn’t believe our censors didn’t beep out this line: “At least I’ll jerk off and sleep.” Maybe they thought the line was about killing a really obnoxious person? There are faint stabs at character development. Prabhu says he’s from a boys-only school and that he doesn’t know what to do around women. I wish they’d done something with this. How fascinating it might be to have a hero who feels insecure about the heroine’s vast experience with the opposite sex. But the cartoonish nature of the scenes kills any chances we have of empathising with Prabhu. In other words, when Prabhu rushes in with a knife, thinking Manoja is in bed with a friend of hers, we feel for her, not him.
And what is this ridiculous exoticisation of the upper middle class we see in these films? With people always air-kissing each other. With a married woman thinking nothing of spending a night at a male friend’s place. Wouldn’t Prabhu and Manoja decide on a restaurant before they set out? Why not give us that scene, where Manoja says, “You feel like Italian?” and Prabhu says yes (because he’s too afraid to say no) and then rebels with his sambar saadham order? Why not give us more time with Prabhu’s father (Azhagam Perumal), whose overbearing behaviour has supposedly arrested some (or all) of Prabhu’s development? You can’t just outline characters. You have to shade them too. The most disturbing aspect of this film directed by a woman is how casually it treats marital rape, as though it’s something you can get over with a bit of time and fond memories of the things the man did when not raping you. I had just two takeaways from this movie. One, Wamiqa Gabbi. I’d like to see her play a part that actually gives her something to do. And two, the beyond-lovely Kaadhal thensuvai song (music by Amrit). Only in these five-odd minutes does the movie summon up the delicacy, the mood, the ache in the swooning title.
- Maalai Nerathu Mayakkam = an enchanted evening
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