Readers Write In #121: Selvaraghavan’s Mayakkam Enna: The Pursuit of dreams

Posted on December 18, 2019


(by Mirra)

Some films touch the heart and move our lives gently with its pain and victories yet only a few can touch it, shredding the heart to pieces, slowly helping us gather it all back together, healing the wreck, leaving us both wounded and absolved as the last drop of blood drips out the cleansed wounds. Submitting to the former kind of films had been easy. The films of the other precious kind demand no ordinary submission but a surrender. This surrender here doesn’t mean that the film will make sense and reveal its soul only when you are deeply immersed in it, paying impeccable attention as in the magnificent Knight of Cups which chronicles the psychological struggle of a filmmaker, taking us down his chequered memory lanes, into his travail of having lost track, his pearl in the sea of life. This surrender is simply you putting yourself out there, ready for the pain and the battles the film is going to take you through.

This surrender is essential yet for Freudian reasons, it was difficult for me when it came to Selvaraghavan. The fragments of Kaadhal Kondein watched had come to haunt the sleep of my naïve five-year old self. There was something so devastatingly painful even in the sight of the bespectacled, bleak Dhanush then. I wasn’t allowed to watch it in entirety and I was grateful to have been freed from the night mares which my elder brother and cousins were consumed by. How this pain so instantly visible and deeply affecting drove the film and its characters was beyond by intelligence then and this added to the sheer horror of it all. I confess this to emphasise how Selvaraghavan’s films portray pain with such raw intensity that the primal presence and journey of it doesn’t merely reveal itself to a child but also seizes and shakes him/her. If this fright on the extent and evidence of pain was associated to Selvaraghavan in childhood, with time, the heart grew to accommodate the scars and scares, raging back at the storm of life after every bruise. It was then that his films grew more vivid, visceral, conversing with this striving heart in all its crude and brazen glory.

My introduction to one such dear Selvaraghavan film, Mayakkam Enna was through an intense scene of loss, the struggle of the impossibility to neither forgive nor punish, with the pain, anger and repentance mounting, rebelling the embrace of one another. Yamini is violently cleaning the blood off the floor as Karthick crawled beside it, wakes up to her, breaking down in tears, helpless, guilty, mourning for his unborn child in terror, not knowing what to say yet aware that no words can lead him to her forgiveness. This is followed by Yamini’s soul-wrenching outburst, torn between wanting to just rip him apart and not being able to for he hadn’t deliberately meant harm. Which child is she going to mourn for? The unborn or the living one, utterly dejected and deprived of life and sanity. The horror and despair so transparent deepened by the vehement and plaintive performances of Dhanush and a startling Richa bears a transformative power. It does move Yamini to a vow of silence and also is primary in guiding Karthick from his death-like state towards a resurrection. The atavistic fears and pain of mine returned but it was an indubitably powerful introduction that when I finally watched Mayakkam Enna, I surrendered to its intensity, veracity and a promise of hope. It was then that it hit me that the films that break you, also heal you in its own gentle, intimate ways.

Mayakkam Enna is much more than a chronicle of the pain of loss, it is the nasty struggles of love, friendship and passion. Indeed, it is Selvaraghavan’s celebration of them all as he honours not merely the ultimate triumph but all the travails and ruins leading up to it, the falls without which one would have never risen, never shone.

He is grateful for these periods of the formative years as much as he is troubled by its crushing trauma. The film opens with a spotlight turned on and we see the eye of a camera, borrowing the glow of its pupil from the light as the swift adjustments of its lenses resemble a beating heart, here definitely Karthick’s. This is Karthick’s world where the lights and camera always hold the foremost, special place. We next see his gang of friends, sleeping in the courtyard like tired children, not minding the sounds and chill of the pouring rain. We get to Karthick only post this, as he wakes up from his slumber, his mayakkam, looking up to the rains and the strangely present lovely streaks of sunshine. His face bears a tinge of irritation which we are to witness as it manifests in varying degrees throughout the tale as indifference, irreverence, agony and frustration, rarely subsiding into the bliss of relief and smiles. He tells us in a voice-over that he is Karthick Swaminathan, an aspiring photographer, fondly and rightly called as ‘Genius’ by his friends but he recognises that he is quite eccentric. As he is opening up to us, we witness him staring at his shadow on the wall and we know by then what he meant – he just is madly fascinated by these lights and shadows which are his only means of life. “ Ithuennodavaazhkai, engalodakathai” he adds and it translates to ‘It is my life, it is our story’ extending to include the pillars of his dreams, his friends who are his family and as we surpass the grammatical connotation and cling to the last part of his utterances on ‘our story’, we aren’t disappointed for it feels as much ours as it is his.

The friendship regard of the film pursued through its ups, downs and turbulences lends the tale a novel touch of a delightfully unusual buddy drama as it moves through the spaces of youth, maturation, staying thick as family despite the ugly adversities it had to cope through. It is from this unembellished space that Karthick and his dreams draw their fundamental energy which remains barely visible in its emotional terms for it stays excessively natural and familiar between them. When Karthick is off to the forests, it is his friends who come to pack his clothes for they don’t wish for him to be stranded there without what he needs. ‘Sundar, naan unmelaevlo love vachirukentheriyumma’ cries Karthick when he reunites with Sundar post a tiff due to the feelings he develops for Sundar’s ‘date’, Yamini. Selvaraghavan who ponders this love triangle in his Yaaradi Nee Mohini (which he wrote) placed in the zone of a family drama, leaves it raw and quite light here, magnifying the tension between Karthick and Yamini, the ultimate made for each other couple. Karthick doesn’t even mention love or any such terms with reference to Yamini, we know he doesn’t need to yet it subtly highlights this vitality of friendship in his existence and how his bond with Yamini is beyond it all.

Sundar’s dad, Ramesh Uncle, unlike any other Selvaraghavan dad is youngster’s dream father and he is seemingly a striking confluence of the Selvaraghavan dads and Gautam Vasudev Menon’s daddy who resolves the tangled love stories, dissolving the bitterness of it with a few drinks and who just knows what is best for his kids- he remarks that it is only Yamini and Karthick who are meant to be together. When Yamini and Karthick meet the first time, it is by a seaside and soon she is to become the source and resort of his life as the vast seas. The night is chill, blue and her face is invisible, soaked in the shadows. Karthick shines a torch at her face and it comes alive in the light and in his photographs. The name Yamini echoes the essence of night yet here she guides him to a new dawn, braving through dark times of their romantic relationship. The bloom of love is sensed that night.

Had it been GVM’s Karthick, he would have melted stating, ‘Enna adichuthuanthakaathu’, relishing the scent of love in the air. Here, Karthick is in a similar phase of life (In VTV, Karthik does tellus ‘kaanju poi, pasumaiyeillaamavaazhkaipoituirukumpothuthaan, naan avalapaathen) and our man too takes note but he is wary as he observes funnily, ‘Ennamothappairuke’- something sure is wrong. GVM’s Karthick and Selvaraghavan’s are but two sides of the same coin. The title design of Mayakkam Enna is strongly reminiscent of the poetic VaaranamAayiram, particularly the gentle vibrationsspreading along the patterns of many hues as if a drop of water has just fallen on its surface and this film also begins with a voice over, yet is carried in the director’s own style. Inthe initial few meetings of Karthick and Yamini, there exists a constant play of light and shadows echoing the hide and seek course of their feelings for one another prior it all comes to light, arriving at their awareness and understanding. The trembles of their heart, its desires and resistance chronicled in GV Prakash’s music which exudes the essence of his travel deep down into the core of these characters pass on the tremors with the melancholy riding over its rhythms, somehow aware of what life has in store for them.

The irreverence in Karthick’s face vanishes painfully into meekness and surrender in the presence of his mentor- figure Mathesh who here stands as a cunning representative of the taunts, pressing troubles, the curses and misfortunes which befall one’s dreams in a world that derives its sadistic pleasure making one flail around like a dog and shamelessly takes credits for triumphs which aren’t its own. The irreverence, traces of indifference and sense of self resonate with Yamini as she remains steadfast, often plain faced, convincing us of her own strength, idiosyncrasies and that she is the one for Karthick. The moments at which inspiration strikes Karthick are stunningly divine, becoming deeply attached to his heart and ours. If friendship and love sustain the spirit of survival, it is our dreams which provide the ultimate sacred energy, both personal and transcendental as they comprise signs of a god- send, be it the fall of the leaf as the exotic bird spread its wings or the sun-kissed smiling face of the old woman.

When life hits you stating your work of passion as shit, in the unbearably rising agony, a shoulder to cry on, a friend who genuinely tells you it is okay and that there will come another opportunity, offering you convictionis all that may take to rise from the dead. Yamini, tenderly envious of Karthick’s passion and his tears of love for the same becomes that friend and remains so forever. She tells him that she too has a job but is not moved by a passion as Karthick’s and hers is just all mechanical, no heart. One hour into the film, we witness the first uninhibited exchange of laughter and smiles between Yamini and Karthick. Stranded in the downpour, their emotions too pour free as rain, yet there is still a lack of warmth and sunshine, this is a relationship that will have to brave through the rains to its destiny and dreams. Here, Karthick comes in to offer the stranded Yamini a ride home. Emotionally, the reverse of it is true for it is Yamini who comes to the aid of the stranded, broken Karthick.

The leaves in the dense forest had turned crisp yellow and the withered ones gather in Karthick’s home, we see him opening the door to a stranger, aroused from his sleep, the mayakkam which in this phase turns insane and brutal placing Karthick in a near death-like state. Yamini bears an incredible steely resolve staying with him all through, ushering his way back to the world of his dreams. The iconic Selvaraghavan heroine glows as she becomes her man’s guardian angel, almost a mother without letting go her strong sense of self.  This echoes back to what Ramesh Uncle tells her in the day of their wedding, ‘AvanKozhandhamaadhiri’. PiraiThedumIravile is her lullaby where she sings to him, ‘naan un thaaiyumallavaa’ and calls him ‘meesaivaithapillaiye.’ She is the dominant spirit of his life and it helps that Dhanush is physically smaller in relation to Richa hinting at the spiritual equation between them. When he receives his award, he conveys his gratitude to his friends, walks away from the podium and alike a guileless child who recalls the most crucial thing at the last, he returns to pay tribute to his wife, to Yamini as she sits there beaming with pride,wondering innocently why he hasn’t uttered a single word about her.

The struggle is long, real and painful but we do get there. When the phase of resurrection begins, Yamini is already resolved to her punishing silence which disrupts no normalcy between the couple but leaves it cruelly incomplete. The hardships finally pay off and as our hearts rejoice with the teary-eyed friends and the applause in the television, Yamini’s bleak face slowly cracks open to the burst of emotions within and it surrenders to the soul as she trembles, greeting her genius with a ‘hello’ after ages. It is sensitive and sensible on the part of Selvaraghavan to allow his couple the privacy to cherish the moment of their life as we dissolve to the black screen returning later to spot Karthick following Mathesh down the party hall, regarding him with an irreverent air, which breaks into a genuine smile of gratitude as he tells him, ‘Thanks!’

It is this gratitude after all the trauma and troubles that elevate Mayakkam Enna beyond a promise, beyond a tale of hope, offering it a profoundly philosophical touch of acceptance, perseverance, instilling a commendable sense of prestige to the times of our low. This is Mayakkam Enna to me, I think to us. It is our dreams, struggles, tears and perseverance. It wishes for us never to give up even when it all drives us literally crazy; it wishes for us fear so we shall know intrepidity; for pain so we shall know strength and promises that one meant-to-be day, our labour of love and dreams will make their way from the garbage they were thrashed into and be discovered and embraced by the world.

Until then, it is Selvaraghavan dearly asking us, ‘Mayakkam Enna?’