Among the more heartening trends in Tamil cinema is its gradual detachment from the middle classes, and attachment to the lower income groups. Earlier, films like Pasi were one-offs. Today, they’re practically a movement. The protagonist of Paisa (Murugan, played by Sreeram) is a rag picker. He falls in love with Veni (Aara), who earns Rs. 5000 a month in a supermarket – their dream duet has them cavorting through a garbage dump, amidst mounds of refuse, and later, sitting on a platform, watching traffic go by. The directors of these films do their research, so we get a glimpse into the lives of these characters – for instance, the fact that areas are demarcated even among rag pickers, so one cannot go and scrounge around in a dustbin in a different neighbourhood. Murugan lives in a shack that could be demolished at any minute, but he’s content. When Veni asks him why he’s in this trade, he says, “Inga odambu dhaan azhukku. Manasu ille.” Clearly, social class is no impediment to the ability to summon up punchy dialogues at will.
Slowly the film introduces us to people higher up in the social ladder. We get a hot-tempered gangster named Kiruba (Rajasimman), who pours boiling sambar on an idli seller because the idlis she served him came with a strand of her hair. And then we get Kiruba’s boss (Madhusudhanan), a businessman whose daily dealings run into crores. The plot revolves around Murugan finding a large stash of the latter’s money, and losing his peace of mind. He buys new clothes he cannot wear at home because he cannot tell people where the money came from. Worse, he begins to lie. He’s blackmailed. The vice tightens around him as the rightful (wrongful?) owners of the money come closer to tracking him down. The film, directed by Abdul Majith, is nothing great, but it has enough contrivances to keep us watching. At its heart is a big, fat message – money is the root of evil. But at least there’s a story woven around it, at least some bits of dramatic tension. In other words, as moral-science movies go, Paisa is a far-easier watch than Appa.
- Pasi = see here
- “Inga odambu dhaan azhukku. Manasu ille.” = Only my body is filthy, not my heart.
- Appa = see here
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