“Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada”… An underwhelming mishmash of genres

Posted on November 11, 2016

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Spoilers ahead…

Gautham Menon’s Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada is a mind-scrambling mix of genres – part romance, part road movie, part action thriller, part what-if-Michael-Corleone-came-to-Kollywood? The film begins with the admission that it is inspired by a moment from The Godfather – it turns out to be the moment at the hospital where Michael becomes a man. That film depicted the moment as an inexorable primal pull. You think you are so much better, but this is who you really are – it’s in your blood! AYM’s version of the moment feels like a different kind of destiny. You think you are so much better, but at the end of the day, you’re still a Tamil film hero, and you still have to be ‘mass’.

Is Menon genuinely trying to subvert our expectations from the star-driven masala movie as well as our expectations from his very specific brand of romance? Or is he just cooking up an alphabet soup to satisfy the A, B and C centres? The question is more interesting than this underwhelming film.

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Silambarasan is in good form as… well, the film is coy about revealing his name, so let’s just call him AYM (Anonymous Young Male). He falls for his sister’s friend Leela (Manjima Mohan, whose casualness in front of the camera is a treat to behold), and we get the micro-moments that make up a Gautham Menon romance. Like that wonderful bit where Leela says goodbye to AYM and they look away awkwardly, not wanting to end the conversation, yet not knowing what more they can say. Or the part, during a song, where AYM and Leela are sitting on the porch, and she begins to sing, and the camera drifts lazily towards her and then drifts lazily back, as though his astral body summoned up the guts to approach her in a way his physical self couldn’t. Or the moment, in Kanyakumari, where they wake up early to watch the sunrise, and we catch her yawning as the sky catches fire.

Around interval point, the film takes a sharp detour into action, and brings back memories of Udhayam NH4. That film, too, was about a couple on the run, with a psycho cop on their trail (Baba Sehgal does the honours here), but it was so much more atmospheric, there was so much more at stake. Menon seems to be on a memory trip himself, given the Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya hat-tips and the many Mani Ratnam nods. A Mouna Raagam mention. The heroine’s reveal at the end of a “hero” song (Showkali), like the way Shobana was revealed at the end of Rakkamma in Thalapathy. A shot at the Uyire fort. Or even the pop version of the Godfather hospital moment, which was seen in the strobe-lit climax of Agni Natchatiram.

But Agni… was a lark. Achcham… wants to be deep. AYM’s transformation from ordinary guy into hardened action hero is delineated through an endless series of lines that sound like a schoolkid trying to be Socrates. Sample: Life-la naama plan pannaa maadhiriye ellaam nadakkaadhu. Plan pannadha vida bayangaramaa nadakkum.

Menon’s films are always talk-heavy, but the voiceovers usually depict an inner life that we cannot sense from the scenes. They deepen the drama. Here, what we hear is what we see. Or have just seen. Or will end up seeing. The big why behind the happenings in the film are packed into a huge monologue (and it’s not that big of a why in any case). After a point I just wanted AYM to stop talking. Even in the romantic portions, the lines aren’t cutie-pie enough to make us smile, and they aren’t sharp enough to make us bleed. You hear it, but you don’t feel it – except for an exchange in a taxi. Otherwise, all we see is a generic romance (“Kaadhal nambala thaakkanum…”) followed by a generic stretch of action (“Ovvoruthanayum poda poren… They won’t know what f***ing hit them”). With a twist at the end that’s so preposterous, I laughed out loud.  In a Vijay/Ajith movie, we wouldn’t bat an eyelid. Here, we’re groping the floor for the eyeballs that have popped out of their sockets.

Kaakha Kaakha had a lot of this flavour too – a slice of romance, followed by a slice of action, slathered with low-fat existentialism. But we were deeply invested in the couple, and we bayed for revenge. Here, the characters are barely defined. It’s a running joke that we don’t know AYM’s name, but he needn’t have had one. The screenplay could have just called them Boy and Girl, and the film would have been no different. Even the things that have been worked out differently (on paper) sound better than they play out – like the emotions after the death of a friend hitting hard long after the fact, or AR Rahman’s superb Thalli pogaathey being used as a stunning counterpoint to the mayhem on screen, or, in fact, the decision to use all the songs in the first half. By the time we discover AYM’s name, it doesn’t feel like we’re finally in on the joke. It feels like the joke is on us.

KEY:

  • Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada = fear is foolishness
  • Udhayam NH4 = see here
  • Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya = see here
  • Life-la naama plan pannaa maadhiriye ellaam nadakkaadhu. Plan pannadha vida bayangaramaa nadakkum = The things that happen in life are more fantastic than the plans we make.
  • Kaadhal nambala thaakkanum = Love should hit us like a thunderbolt…
  • Ovvoruthanayum poda poren = I’m going to get every last one of them.

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Posted in: Cinema: Tamil