Readers Write In #423: The 90s revisited: a look at four Prashanth-Simran movies

Posted on November 7, 2021

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(by R Kailasham)

What qualifies as a hit jodi (leading pair)? You could apply your own filters, but a definitive marker would be to judge the success of the pair in projects by different directors. For instance, Surya-Asin worked well in Ghajini but not so much in Vel. Ditto with Vijay-Trisha in Ghilli but not in Kuruvi. Simbu-Trisha bombed in Alai but set a cultural landmark with Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya (VTV).

Using the above-defined metric, both Surya-Jyothika and Vadivelu-Kovai Sarala would qualify, but the rest of this article would focus on another pair with palpable chemistry that gave 4 box office hits in the period 1998-2002, each one with a different director at the helm. We are talking Prashanth and Simran. I revisited their four movies over the past month, watching one movie per weekend. Three out of these four movies contain soundtracks that are etched indelibly into the collective consciousness of 90s-borns. The bulk of the songs in these three musically relevant movies had lyrics penned by Vairamuthu. Here are a few thoughts on the collection, in the order that I watched them.

The first movie starring these two actors was Kannedhirey Thondrinaal (1998), directed by debutant Ravichandran, with the dialogue-writing role shared between him and Sujatha. Both the lead actors already had commercial hits under their belt, and the director increased his odds of success by including a strong supporting cast. Karan puts in an inspiring performance as Prashanth’s best friend and Simran’s elder brother. There is no separate comedy track as such, with Vivek, Ramji, and Vaiyapuri providing comic relief. [This seemed to be a favorite trope in the late 80s-90s which persisted well into the noughties: the hero would have a gang of 3-4 confidantes who would also be elemental to the plot. Something changed post the Siva Manasula Sakthi-Boss Engira Baskiran-Oru Kal Oru Kannadi trilogy: one hero, accompanied by one, or at most two, best friend(s). But that discussion is for a different day.] Another highlight is the performance of Chinni Jayanth who effortlessly transitions from delivering silfans-themed dialogues in the earlier half of the movie, to playing a pivotal role in the movie’s climax scene. The hero and heroine were aged 25 and 22 respectively when the movie was released. They have convincingly played mature lovers who place the happiness of their family members in high regard. It is hard to detect Sujatha’s hand in the dialogues. Or was it just a case of the writer doing what was required for the movie? Deva’s soundtrack and background score helped to embellish the picture’s impact. The on-screen romance between the actors begins is of the kandathum kaadhal (KK for the rest of the article) type, with Prashanth falling head over heels in love with the maiden at first sight. No explanation is offered, and the story is engaging enough that none really is needed.

In Paarthen Rasithen (2000), director Saran crafts a love triangle involving Simran, Prashanth, and Laila. Mutual love of the KK variety between Laila and Prashant trumps the slow-growing variety that had bloomed between the hero and Simran, who are shown to be good friends, and residents of the same building, in the movie. The movie is marked by smart dialogue-writing, with the exchanges between Prashanth and Simran worthy of separate mention. Two scenes worth highlighting: (a) Prashanth and Simran crafting a plan to check if Laila really has feelings for the hero, by boarding the bus (#23C) that Laila takes to work and observing her surreptitiously, and (b) where Simran offers a cup of Boost to the hero when he returns home after another unsuccessful attempt at spelling his love out to Laila. There are scarcely 10-20 words exchanged between P & L, with most of the communication happening via eye contact. Fathima Babu plays a sedate chaperone to Laila, while Raghava Lawrence, in his second collaboration with Saran, plays an antagonistic character and has a memorable dance number. The film also marks the third time that Saran and music composer Bharathwaj teamed up, after Kaadhal Mannan and Amarkalam, and in this movie they complete a veritable hattrick. 

A couple of plot points which might have gone on to influence later movies: 

(a) in the scene where Prashanth rushes to the medical college where Simran is studying, to share the exciting news that he has fallen in love with Laila, a gang of Simran’s friends yell “oooo”, at the end of each of his sentence. Does “O Podu” in Gemini, another Saran movie, owe its origins to this scene?

(b) annoyed at Prashanth’s attempts to woo Laila, Fathima Babu tells him to leave them alone, and rather chase after people who might commute to work by bus number 12B. It would be another year till Jeeva would mark his directorial debut with a movie named after the bus number mentioned above. Is there a connection?

Thamizh (2002), the directorial debut of Hari, is probably the odd-one-out in this collection, because the romance between the lead pair is not the central plot element. Additionally, it is the only one amongst the four to be released with an “A” certificate from the Central Bureau of Film Certification. It is also probably the one among the four with the weakest soundtrack. This is not much of an impediment and is more than sufficiently compensated by the strong plotline, which is a revenge saga/action thriller, with Prashanth veering away from his “lover boy” mold. The comedy track remains largely unconnected from the main story, save for a couple of pivotal moments in which the comedians venture to help the lovers resume conversation with each other. Director Hari seems to have adopted this formula in his later movies, and it worked to stellar effect in Saamy. We see the beginnings of the partnership between Prashanth and Vadivelu, which attained cult status in Winner, released a year later. Saran is said to have helped Hari with the dialogue writing, and the result is taut and engaging. Nassar produces a virtuoso performance in this movie, pulling off the type of role one commonly associates with Prakash Raj. 

The third movie, chronologically, involving our lead actors is Jodi (1999), which, to the best of my knowledge, remains the lone successful directorial venture of Praveen Gandhi. It is an out and out romantic plot, with similarities to the plotline of Poovellam Kettupaar, in the sense that the two characters in love decide to gain the good will of each other’s families before formally announcing their relationship. It is a simple plot bolstered by immaculate placement of songs, a strong supporting cast, and pithy dialogues. The songs themselves, composed by Rahman, would go on to rule airwaves for several more years. “Oru poiyaavadhu sol kannae”, rendered by Hariharan and Srinivas (reminiscent of Kurukku Siruthavale from Muthalvan in the sense that there are two versions, sung by these two singers), forms the musical core of the movie. There is an ensemble of three friends, including Dhamu, which helps the hero in his journey, and provide light-hearted banter. Trisha plays the friend of Simran in an uncredited role. VTV would happen 11 years later. A lot would change in those years: on-screen romance in Tamil cinema would see a tectonic shift in grammar and vocabulary.

Savita Reddy, who provided the voiceover for Simran in all these movies and continued to do so in several other films, deserves special mention.

Each of the four movies mentioned in the article is available on YouTube and provide a simple remedy to bouts of 90s-induced nostalgia. It was heartening to read that Andhagan would see a reunion of this pair, and I am hoping for it to join the ranks of their other hit movies.