“Sarvam Thaala Mayam”… An affecting, feel-good drama about a Dalit musician who dreams big

Posted on January 30, 2019

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Spoilers ahead…

Read the full review on Film Companion, here: https://www.filmcompanion.in/arrahman-gvprakash-rajiv-menon-sarvam-thaala-mayam-movie-review-an-affecting-feel-good-drama-about-a-dalit-musician-who-dreams-big/

Midway through Rajiv Menon’s Sarvam Thaala Mayam (The magic of beats), my mind drifted to K Balachander’s Unnal Mudiyum Thambi. For one, both these films are from upper-class, dominant-caste filmmakers. And two, both films feature a beautiful song in a classical raga (primarily Sudhdha Dhanyasi in Unnal Mudiyum Thambi, and Dharmavathi here) that’s rendered in a folksy style. There’s a difference, though. Punjai undu nanjai undu was sung by a man from the dominant caste — he was “diluting” his music for those who did not have access to (or the aptitude for) it. It’s a desi version of the White Saviour trope. (I don’t mean this as criticism. The film was a well-intentioned product of its times, even if its sugar-coated optimism may find bitter opposition in this tough-minded Pa Ranjith era.)

In Menon’s film (which can be seen as a bridging of the sensibilities of these two eras), the man who sings is himself from the oppressed caste. He doesn’t need the music to be “diluted” because he knows it, and he makes his living from it. His name is Johnson (a superb Kumaravel, who proves he’s a superb “song actor”, too), and he is an expert mridangam maker. Had his family’s financial situation been better, he might have pursued a career in this music, but at least, he’s still tangentially aligned with it — his instruments resonate across the loftiest stages of Carnatic music. His son, Peter (an earnest GV Prakash Kumar), has inherited his percussive talents, but he puts them to use in a very different world. He plays the drums at the release of his “thalapathy” Vijay’s movies. (He’s a crazy fan.) Sarvam Thaala Mayam is about the collision of these universes, a Big Bang that results in a new musical cosmos.

Continued at the link above.

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Posted in: Cinema: Tamil