Readers Write In #473: Great Movies: What are they? An essay focusing on ‘Sarpatta Parambarai’, ‘Iruvar’ and ‘Kadaisi Vivasayi’

Posted on August 4, 2022


By Aadithya Kiran

Is there any one single element in screenwriting that, if treated properly, can transcend a mediocre script into a great one?

Do great movies have any definable characteristics? Is the adjective GREAT so malleable that it can be used on any film simply based on our tastes and personal experiences?

Watching and retrospecting a film is all about forming a link to your personal experience or even identifying new experiences. So, it would be meaningless to analyze a picture without being poignant. It would be a meaningless analysis if it lacks a sense of pathos.

But could we for the sake of fun, be just a little more cerebral and see, irrespective of the genre, if there are any indispensable elements to a GREAT movie?

A great film gives us this experience, where throughout the movie we travel with the storyteller’s head space and not think of anything else. I am sure many of you have experienced this magical aspect with certain movies. The minute after the movie ends, the minute when your eyes are out of the screen, you realize you were living in a different reality.

But, the question is which particular element creates this experience?

It must be said that there are many reasons why certain movies fail to be this magical. Maybe this is the first time we are getting exposed to such a form of storytelling, maybe our imagination levels are not at their best, maybe we are so distracted that thoughts interrupt our experience frequently, maybe we had a long day and the movie is too slow-paced for us to focus, we have fallen asleep, Or perhaps the writing is simply not very good. So how do we know if the problem is in the eye of the beholder or with the storytellers?

It is quite simple, you speak to others, hear their thoughts, and if they have a different opinion, you try to watch it again with that perspective in mind and see if you have a different experience the second time. If your opinion still stays the same, you can now go back and make a stronger argument! You may not be able to convince him but hey now you are more convicted and have a better vantage point. Maybe this is not as simple as it sounds, but it at least helps me prove a point. Anyway, that’s my goal with this essay, to make you see from a certain vantage point what great movies are and what great movies are not.

If you are thinking, see I recently watched this movie and I think it’s great, it’s too bad it did not work out for you that way, why does this even matter?

I hear you alright. But the point is that even if you disagree with the central point of this essay, I hope that the line of reasoning is revelatory to you in some way. An elegantly reasoned thesis with incorrect conclusions can still be a pleasurable thing to read.
Creativity is not bound by anything; we will cease to be creative if we know where it originates.

Similarly, a wildly imaginative movie with excellent craftsmanship does not have to be bound by anything. It could break every single rule of drama and visual storytelling, yet manage to create a strong impression on us, raise our imagination, and open us up to new ideas.

Although creativity is boundless, the language of cinema is not, it is bound by many things. When it is stripped down to the bare minimum, cinema can essentially be described as two things, a.) the movement of images, through which we feel the sense of time, and b.) the movement of events which is the story. For the time being, let us set aside the form of cinema
and focus only on the story.

LOGIC is the first thing that comes to my mind when I think about what great stories are. But logic is a very broad word and I must add some context here.

Logic in stories does not necessarily have to imitate the logic in real-life. The writer can build a universe that contains its own logical rules and make the characters react within those boundaries of logic. We cannot question the existence of such a universe, if we do, the movie may not work. But we can question if the characters and events consistently follow the logical parameters of the universe the writer has built. This forms the basis of what is logical and what is not in movies.

Consider Harry Potter, we are asked to assume that witches and wizards can create magic with spells and wands. Or, consider the Ocean’s series – All of them are con men, and thievery for them is an art form. Every gag that they do, is done methodically and with style. Their opponent in Ocean’s 11 (Terry Benedict) is formidable but nowhere realistic. Contrast him with Robert de Niro or Joe Pesci from Casino. Or even consider Kill Bill as an example, which is a world where superheroes with superpowers exist & co-live with the rest of the humans, we are asked to accept that the main character (The Bride) is impervious to bullets. The brilliance of movies such as Ocean’s and Kill Bill is that we start to believe that the world in which these characters live is quite similar to the real world, but it isn’t. Yes, they share many similarities but there are even more differences. Since these rules are not blatantly laid out in these movies, if we are not attentive enough to understand the world being portrayed, we may be out of sync with the storytellers and many things might appear illogical.

Let’s say there is a story that is so well thought out and it has no logical flaws. So will the story exploit its full potential and reach its apex, if it is bound so well with logic?

If the scenes are constructed illogically, it’s very unlikely that the movie may be great, because, when there are logical gaps, we start to feel that it is contrived and lose attention. So, a great movie cannot do without logic, but we need to be more specific than just saying great movies are bound strongly with logic. Plus, to the best of my knowledge, I cannot think of any field where logic is not important. Since it is not just very specific to the cinema, I do not want to put this under the spotlight throughout this essay.

As a side note, if the storyteller can show the logic behind why a story moves forward in this particular direction as opposed to many other possible directions, the story becomes inevitable and therefore more persuasive. But, a great story can exist without it being inevitable, so we cannot call inevitability an indispensable element.

Let’s talk about character depth now.

Characters gain depth and dimension when we are shown what triggered the character and made him act in a certain way. The story may move forward in a particular direction and we may find that quite interesting, but if the character’s actions in that situation seem abrupt, if they are without roots, and is discordant, then the characters lack depth. I will soon give examples. But character depth is not just about providing motive and explaining why he did what he did, we have to tread carefully here. Although motives may explain why a character did something, what is more important than the why, is the how? How is what takes us closer to his state of mind and creates a stronger bond with the character. Showing the how means taking an idea and putting it in motion, instead of just talking about that idea. It is also about showing how the character is affected internally by external events. The how deals with questions like, how did he bring himself to act in this manner, how does he rationalize his behavior and live with it? How did he feel in this situation? The How is what separates a great work of art from a news report. A good news report may explain what the characters did and even why they did it but it may not bother with how. How in this case is probably another word for Close-up, a close-up that is not visual but more abstract, a close-up of the character that we sense through the story.

The catch is a lot of times our mind automatically understands the how, but many times it has to be explicitly communicated. Especially, when the character is going through a big change, or when he shows the audience a part of his nature that he has never shown before. In such cases, if enough attention is not given to the how, then the character’s action may seem discontinuous, as if, there is a sudden jump in his state of mind. The story may move forward, but the audience may notice a gap as the characters did not transition correctly. When we start sensing the gap, we lose our attention and this may explain why with certain movies we have reality-altering experiences and why certain movies that have well-defined characters acting logically fail to be great.

It should be said that depth in characters does not necessarily need to be profound, even if the characters are less complicated, the movie may become great if it emphasizes the how provided if the motives are solid and if everything is logically consistent. In fact, when a movie tries to be profound it puts itself at the risk of being didactic and may end up becoming a total disaster.

Until now, I have spoken entirely about the story and conveniently ignored the form of the cinema. The way I see it, there are two kinds of screenplays. One uses the camera simply as an outlet and communicates the story, and the other still tells a story, but uses cinema as a language of thought and expresses moods, feelings, and ideas that cannot be told through any other medium. A movie can be deemed great even if it does not utilize the form to a great extent, but I find the latter kind much more exciting to watch. I would categorize Vittoria De Sica’s Bicycle thief in the first kind because even if that story was portrayed in a novel, it would have still had the same effect, to a large extent. But I cannot say that about Richard Linklater’s Before series. Even though the movie does not have any audacious camera movement or montages, the story simply would not have worked if it was written as a novel. Maybe such a novel could still have moved us deeply, but it would miss out on many things which were present in the movie. For example, how can someone portray, that stretch of time that we sense (a long big walk with intense and romantic conversations) in the movie through any other form?

You have probably heard this argument before, so I will arrive at the point quickly. The reason I stress so much on the story is that I have never had an experience with a film, in which the form & the style are so good that it makes content & substance matter less. But I have seen that the reverse is true. A screenplay may or may not utilize the form of cinema, a movie will always be less satisfying if the story is not constructed correctly if that story does not emphasize the how and if it does not show the close-up. Let me stop being abstract and be more specific.

Consider Sarpatta Parambarai for example. A wonderful movie with so much potential fails to be great for this reason exactly.
Kabilan wanted to box, that was all he wanted from his childhood. He is of the Sarpatta boxing clan. His father was a boxer turned gangster and they murder his father. His mother now does not want him to box because she does want her son to take the same path that his father did.

So being an obedient son, he does not box, he works as a coolie. But that does not stop him from going to the matches. He goes to the matches as if he is playing himself. He wrestles his hands sitting in the chair, hitting now & then his father figure, whom everybody calls Daddy (my favorite character in this entire movie). He is an Anglo-Indian and speaks English in a classy way. Daddy was also a boxer.

The Sarpatta clan has a master and he has built two prodigal fighters. One is his son, Vettri, and the other, Raman who comes from a different family of boxers although he is of the same clan. The master is also a strong supporter of a major political party that was ruling the state at that time. When these two fighters back talk about their master, Kabilan stands up again them. In their eyes, Kabilan is a nobody. But he has huge respect for the master. In the opening scene, the Sarpatta clan wins the prize in many categories, but they don’t seem to be satisfied. The main fight is against their rival clan, Idiyappan. In this last fight, Vembuli, a prodigy of that clan destroys another big fighter (not Raman or Vettri) from Sarpatta.

After that fight, the Idiyappan clan challenges their rival for a final match. If Sarpattas lose, they are never to enter the ring again. The master accepts. Now, the question is who is going to fight Vembuli? The master does not choose his son, he feels that he is impatient. He chooses Raman. While all this is happening, I was itching to see Kabilan get inside the ring and knock everybody out. How do I know that he can box? Well, I saw the movie’s poster, please! But the director does not give you that gratification yet. We have to wait and wait and wait. Meanwhile, Kabilan is about to get married.

Now Raman insults the master, he starts working with another trainer. Raman’s uncle, Thaniga backs up Raman; he wants his family to reclaim Sarpatta’s honor. Knowing this, Vettri tries to reclaim his father’s honor and asks Raman for a sparring match. When Raman and Thaniga arrive at the boxing tent, the master learns the reason for their visit, shouts at everyone, and goes away, Vettri goes after to console him. Thaniga taunts the master and his son. Enraged at his comments, Kabilan challenges Raman to a fight. Finally, the director lets us witness the moment we have been waiting for. Kabilan, to everybody’s surprise (not the audience), knocks out Raman. When he knocks him out, a piece of glorious brass music strikes your ears. What a moment! Kabilan has risen. Raman is now lying down in a hospital and clearly, he and Thaniga are not happy about this. This energy is maintained till the end of the first part. But after that, everything goes downhill for a while, including the screenplay, unfortunately.

Now the second part of the movie requires scrutiny. Because there is a problem with this part and it deserves more than just saying that some of the scenes are illogical. One can see very clearly that Kabilan’s actions have a strong motive. But the film which was so engaging until this point started to lose me here. Let’s dig deeper into this.

Kabilan knows why his mother does not want him to box. She does not want him to become a gangster, like her husband. So Kabilan, who has grown listening to this story, who has shown so much obedience, is capable of cutting a man’s throat with a machete? You may say why not, he had a strong reason to do so. They put him down and stomped on his career, he was very very angry. So let go of your disbelief here. Fair enough. But after he is back from jail, when Thaniga and Kabilan meet each other to make a truce, he starts acting violently and thrashes everyone again. Thaniga did not keep mum in this conversation, he pokes Kabilan, which leads to this violent act, but what is strange about this moment is, a few minutes back he kneels in front of his mother looking for repentance. Maybe the pacing of this section makes it seem strange. But both these acts of violence happened on the spur of the moment, he probably would have not acted this way if he was not provoked. So I should not overthink this and suspend disbelief again.

But let’s look at what happens next, as Kabilan is wearing his gloves, Vettri takes him away to destroy Thaniga’s liquor rackets. Later, Kabilan supports Vettri in other illegal activities too. Why? What is pushing him to go in this direction? I know what you are thinking, oh, come on, Thaniga destroyed his life, wouldn’t you want to reciprocate that to someone who has done this to you? How can you not understand this?

Well, the thing that troubles me the most is how does a person who has his soul in boxing, turn into a violent murderous thug and starts to run an illegal liquor distillery? Although there is a strong motive to this arc, the problem is that it is not strong enough to convince us that this transition could happen. I don’t know what is going on in his mind space. After going through such a terrible incident, don’t you think emotionally he would be in a much more complex state? He probably wants to kill everybody, but can he really? Is there not a conflict in his mind on what he wants to do to the people who made him suffer this? Why not show how he deals with this conflict? All that we are shown is the causation, but showing cause is not enough. We need to be shown how the change in his behavior came about, and how he dealt with this internally, this would have taken us closer to the character. This closeup is what is missing.

A character can move from point X to point Y for umpteen reasons and he may experience a myriad of emotions in that journey, just telling that the character is feeling this way and has become that way, may not strengthen our bond with the character, only when the internal state of mind is expressed we completely let go of ourself and give our undivided attention and when that happens that’s how we know that the movie is truly a great one.

The last part of the story starts when the master comes back from jail. They all go for a match, it’s between Raman and Vembuli. The Sarpatta clan loses. After the match, the skirmish between these two clans starts again. Vembuili challenges Kabilan, the match is set. The final fight is not easy, Kabilan could have lost, but he doesn’t. He manages to win.

This part is quite satisfying and much less flawed than the last section. Going through the finale made me realize that it is a story about boxers, and the director probably did not want to dwell deep into the times when Kabilan was not a boxer. But this movie is about the fall as much as it is about his raise. And if the second section was handled properly, the last part would have been even more enthralling. But it is what it is.

I hope I have not tired you down so far. In the remaining part of this essay, I will reflect on two more movies and meditate on their greatness. This I feel is necessary because it may help sink in the concept which I introduced at the beginning of the essay.

Iruvar: A biopic about a duo, that works better as a romantic drama than as a biography.

Tamilselvan, a political activist and a Tamil writer, meets an aspiring actor, Anandan on a movie set, where he is about to play the lead actor, in his first film. They seem to hit off right away. The duo often spend their time in this big portico-like structure with huge pillars, this place recurs quite often in the movie, in the portico’s center there is a huge empty ground in which rallies get conducted. Tamilselvan has very specific political goals: he wants to eradicate the caste system, and provide equal opportunities to everyone, whereas Anandan does not have any such ambitions, he wants to reduce poverty and does not want anyone to be hungry. Tamilselvan realizes early on that Anandan has a great ethos and he attracts people like a magnet.

Tamilselvan introduces him to this man, the leader of the Dravidian party (Only once in the film do we hear him being called the Periyavar – which could mean The Elderly or The Great One) Anandan seems quite inspired and motivated by this Periyavar.

Till the first half of the movie, that is all we understand about their political inclinations. All these take a backseat. What takes our attention is Anandan’s struggle to become a movie star. They do not complete filming the first movie, it’s shelved. He eventually gets a break, and in between this, the movie focuses on Anandan and Tamilselvan’s love life.

These parts of the movie are its best. Though these instances are very short we understand how Tamilselvan felt when he was cheating on his wife, we see how heartbroken Anandan is when his first wife dies. Even Pushpa’s character is so well written. There is a wonderful flashback of Anandan’s life with Pushpa. They both are lying down in a bed while this is happening.

Pushpa: Avanagla kattikam bodhu enna nenachinga?
Anandan: Innoru ponna paati.
Pushpa: Yaaru?
Anandan: Oru ponnu… Periya kannu, chinna kai, sappa Vaai, koncham budhi.
Pushpa: Naana?
Ananda: Mmmm…
Pushpa: Ippo enna yosikiringa?
Anandan: Andha amma va pathi.
Pushpa: Hey, what do you think of, when you hug the actresses?
Anandan: I was thinking of another woman.
Pushpa: Who was that?
Anandan: A woman… She has big eyes, small hands, flat lips, and some brain.
Pushpa: Is that me?
Ananda: Mmhmm…
Pushpa: What are you thinking now?
Anandan: I am thinking of that actress!

This short scene brilliantly shows us the portrait of Pushpa and tells us what kind of a person she is. Similarly, when Kalpana (anandan’s mistress) decides to marry Anandan knowing that he is the husband of another, I could strangely relate to her. She probably finds the idea of resembling Anandan’s first wife quite romantic. After all, she is quite young.

Now going back to their political life, as Anandan becomes more successful in the cinema industry, Tamilselvan makes him realize what a huge following he has. Finally, he joins the Dravidian Party to his friends’ surprise. This sparks a small conflict between them. Although Anandan does not seem very politically ambitious, he keeps reminding his friend that politically they are on equal footing. When Tamilselvan is giving his speech at a political rally, Anandan hijacks the whole show by arriving late, causing a mild embarrassment to his friend. Later, when the Dravidian party wins the election, the leader decides to leave politics. Now it’s for the party to decide who the chief minister will be. Tamilselvan wins, with Anandan’s support. Somewhere in between these scenes, Anandan gets shot during a movie shoot. Sometime later, the Periyavar dies. Anandan, in his obituary speech, seizes the moment and very cleverly criticizes the government run by his friend. They expel Anandan from the party, soon after this.

Anandan runs in the next election and becomes the CM. Now Tamilselvan is relieved, he mentions, that he is the opposition now and it’s his time to criticize the ruling party. A few days later Anandan locks his friend up in jail. Finally, both these friends meet each other for the last time at a marriage event, Anandan does not look very good. One morning when the alarm goes off, he does not wake up. The news of his death travels around. Tamilselvan, grief-stricken, orates poems, standing in the same portico where he shares many memories with his friend. The movie does not play out in the same order, but that’s how it impressed in my mind.

The scenes wonderfully alternate back and forth between the duo’s romantic and political life and in the midst of all these, many songs flow in between. Although most of the music and the visuals are inserted very cleverly, it becomes quite tiring to watch them after a while. Even though I knew the lyrics to a couple of songs by heart, I was like, dei, patta otra (just skip the songs).

As I said, the film largely centers around the love lives of these two characters with their political careers functioning as a background. The movie does not fall short in any way in terms of motives, every single scene is carefully constructed. But my problem is, the movie is about these two characters and their relationship or at least that is what it tries to do, but strangely it’s this facet of these characters that we understand the least about. The conflict between the two is really not explored at all. We can’t see why they both become close in the first place. What does Anandan think of Tamilselvan when he does something disagreeable to him?

Similarly, does Tamilselvan despise his friend deep down, is he jealous of him? We don’t see how their relationship is affected when their political interests conflict with each other. When Tamilselvan mourns over his friend in the last scene, we do feel sad for Anandan, but we don’t understand what he meant to Tamilselvan. The internal exploration of these characters is completely missing, there is no true close-up in the story, except when it explores their love interest. One other thing that bothers me is, how did Tamilselvan become so politically inclined? You may ask how is this question even relevant to this movie? It is, because, in the beginning when they discuss their political dreams, we are supposed to feel that there is a great uprising that is happening, even the music indicates that strongly, but we don’t feel anything of that sort. Again there is nothing illogical here, but because we don’t see the roots of Tamilselvan’s political dreams, we feel as if we jumped into this character’s mind out of nowhere.

Iruvar just like Sarpatta fails to exploit its full potential because both the movies show us only a bird’s eye view of the characters, although both movies have some great moments, as a whole it fails to be great.

The more I think about the how and the lack of close-up in movies, I realize how many of them are plagued with this problem. So I must talk about a movie that is truly a great one. In fact, I will talk about two, but I will keep the first one quite short. And for the first movie I choose, Jallikattu. Why? Because it proves the point that great movies do not need to have complex characters and profound insights. A simple plot that strongly accents the how and shows us the close-up of characters can achieve greatness.

The premise of Jallikatu is quite simple, a group of meat-hungry villagers tries to catch a wild buffalo that has run amuck. That’s all it is. Sure, parallelly the director lets us witness the life of these villagers, but those scenes are also about their hunger for meat. The entire movie is one long moment, I should perhaps say that it is a long close-up. The director takes this one simple idea and shows how it turns the savage-like humans into a frenzied state. How else do I even describe Jallikattu? Imagine that you sit down in a theatre, and all of a sudden, the second the movie starts, before you are even ready, the director grabs you by the throat, and tightens the grip to a point where you cannot even move your body but can still breathe, your eyes are wide open staring the screen like an owl. You think you will get a chance to lay back, but you never get it, imagine having that feeling till the end of the movie.

That’s Jallikattu. Retrospectively, some elements of the movie may appear illogical, for example, can an entire village not stop one wild buffalo, seriously? But this question seems very silly when you are watching the movie, even the climax, for a second seems over-the-top, but it is exaggerated that way with purpose.

What’s great about this is that it is one of those movies that can work only as cinema. That’s why I refrain from talking about this more. Trying to write more about it would not do any justice to the movie. Go watch Jallikattu if you have not already. You are in for a big treat. Now finally in this last part, let me deep-dive, into one last movie. A truly great one: Kadaisi Vivasayi.

It’s been a while since I saw a movie that pondered on the history of human beings, their way of life, the way they rationalized the state of things, and their evolution. When I think of all these, 2001: A Space Odyssey comes to my mind. It would not be too much of an exaggeration to say that Kadaisi Vivasayi is as audacious an attempt as space odyssey itself. You may find it strange, but I do see some correlations between the two movies. Clearly, there are quite a few differences and the biggest one is that Space Odyssey is a wide-angle lens view of humanity, whereas Kadaisi Vivasayi is much more grounded, we spend our time with human beings throughout.

The movie opens with a soulful song about Lord Murugan written by the great Vaali, and sung by the legendary TM Soundrajan. Let me share a few lines of the song:
Karpanai endralum
Karchilai endarlum
Kandane unai maraven
Maybe you are a figment of my imagination
Maybe you are just a stone-cut structure
But you, Lord, are always on my mind

The translation is nowhere closer to capturing the essence of the original lines, but I hope you get the idea.

Only later during the movie, I realized, why the director opened with that song; we are entering a world where the presence of the divine pervades everywhere. Compare this with the scene in Space Odyssey, where the monkeys first encounter a clean-cut monolith mysteriously planted near their haven. Although these scenes convey totally different moods, they made me think of the same thing, maybe because they are conceptually similar?

Now we see an old man, in a place quite undisturbed by urban development. The director makes it very clear that we live in a modern world, one guy shepherding a sheep shouts something about sending a location on Whatsapp. Anyway, the old man (we later learn that his name is Mayandi) unties the cows from his house and takes them to his land to graze. Starting from here and almost till the interval break I almost was not even aware that there was a movement in the story. I was simply living with these characters and was never thinking about what is going to happen next.

In the beginning, there is a very interesting scene, this old man goes to a shop and enquires about tomato seeds, the owner hands him a packet and tells him that these are hybrid and the tomatoes that grow out of these will not have any seeds in it. Mayandi finds this quite ridiculous and retorts by saying that the person who invented this will understand its stupidity only when he gives birth to a male child without any ballsack.

This is a seminal scene because it shows who Mayandi is. Since the time agriculture was discovered, humans cultivated food with seeds, and now it seems like it has become a thing of the past. Mayandi represents all our ancestors who lived their life this way and his reaction is their reaction. He is from a different world, a world where the hunger for knowledge does not exist. That is why he is Kadaisi Vivaysayi. I thought the title was supposed to be figurative, but later I realized that he could literally be the very last of his kind. Is there a man who has not fallen under the trap of knowledge and its offspring technology? This old fellow does not even have a ceiling fan in his place and I don’t think he even saw the need for that. Actually, I think I remember seeing a tungsten bulb in his house, so even he is not an exception. He knows the land, he knows dirt, he takes what the land gives, and what it gives is decided by the god above.

We also learn that the villagers don’t get water very often, so they don’t bathe frequently. Doesn’t this remind you of the scene in 2001, where the monkeys fight over water? Although nobody fights in this, the idea of water made me think of 2001 again. We soon get introduced to Mayandi’s grandson at a public water tank where all the men are bathing. As he starts pouring the water, he comments on how good it feels to feel the water on his body. For a second there, I felt privileged to bathe every day.

The story starts when the thunder strikes a big old banyan tree in the village and burns it out completely. The villagers gather together and after having a big ruckus over this, they decide to perform the rites to the chief deity which was long due and it is that said doing this will bring down the gods back into their land and relieve the people of all their troubles.

The villagers have a beautiful way of perceiving this super-being. One of the village’s elderly (the priest, I think) comments that the one who gets over their own self becomes a god. Even their primary ideal is not in human form, it is a simple small spherical rod with a cubical extension on the top. They do have a human-like deity though, to who they pray, he is called Ayyanar, it’s their protector.

Now to conduct the ritual, among many things, the villagers need to offer freshly harvested wheat to the gods. The village elders reach out to a farmer, who they think has 15 acres of land. But to their disappointment, the farmer sold all his land and brought an elephant. How beautifully mythological, (to the readers who are not familiar with this mythology, the elephant face symbolizes Lord Vinayaka) Now, these elders go to Mayandi since he is one of the remaining elderly farmers and ask him to cultivate the wheat. It’s God’s own will that he does this. Idhu Anadavanin Kattalai.

We also get introduced to many other characters. We see Ramaiah’s extended family, her cousin who is an unmarried dwarf. Mayandi’s grandson has a friend (both of their names escape me at this point) whose main struggle in his life is growing the hair on his head. There are two other characters. These two men are buying off the land from all the villagers in exchange for money. What are they going to do with them? Organic Farming. They also try to buy off Mayandi’s land and they are even prepared to pay him higher. But he refuses. To him, the idea of exchanging land for money does not make any sense, they are not equivalent.

These two men are quite disappointed that they could not convince Mayandi. Enters Ramaiyah into the story. He has a very peculiar demeanor, he wears multiple watches that go up all the way to his shoulders, we see him wearing multiple shirts, and the outer layer of the shirt is worn only on one side. Perhaps wearing the shirts reduces the burden of carrying them. He wears many rings, and his neck has a couple of chains with lord Murugan’s embellishment. His teeth are red, his forehead is full of Vibuthi. He carries two bags, which seem quite heavy. These bags are his cross to bear. He walks long miles to visit lord Murugan at different temples, to him this deity is everything.

He walks down from a foresty area and enters a tea shop. As the villagers talk about him, we understand that he is the son of Kalimuthu, (we don’t ever see his father). He has had a sad past, the girl he was planning to marry, killed herself by eating poison, but to his mind, she did not die, she is still alive. So he carries her stuff wherever she goes and acts as if she lives with him, if he drinks tea, he buys two glasses, if he eats food, he gets two packets. All the villagers just think that he has gone mental, although he is a bit of a weirdo, we learn that he is as smart as anybody.

He has come to the village to visit Mayandi. It’s not very clear what his relationship with him is. When the villagers talk about him, they make it clear that Ramaiah is the son of Kalimuthu. So if I were to guess, Kalimuthu must be a younger brother to Mayandi therefore his periyappa ? Nevertheless, Ramaiah enters his house and narrates the Gnanapalam Story, perhaps quite a popular one to many Tamilians, if I am not mistaken. But he seems to have not heard this before and narrates it with a certain energy and a wry smile. Mayandi seems to be listening to this intensely. Readers who are not familiar with this story can read it here.

What does this story have to do with the movie? Perhaps the director is trying to indicate something that is going to happen next, or maybe it shows that these are the games that the gods play and all of it happens for a reason, including the one that is about to befall the farmer?

One thing is clear, Ramaiah is very certain of the conversations that he has with Lord Murugan. So, what does this say about him? Near the end, we witness a few more incidents that tell us more about Ramaiah.

Ramaiah goes back into the forest the same way he entered. Throughout the movie, he only has episodic moments.

A few days later, our farmer sees 2 peahens and 1 peacock lying dead on his field (Lord Murugan has two wives). They killed the gods, it looks like human beings have grown beyond them and they don’t really want them anymore. Mayandi takes these birds and buries them a few meters away from his land. We see a man carrying a double barrel-like gun over his shoulder and walking toward him. He wants to take these birds, but Mayandi does not let him. Who is this guy?

That evening Ramaiah comes back to visit the farmer again. As Ramaiah learns about the death of the peafowls, he tells the farmer without a sense of sorrow, that death comes to all those that are alive. Mayandi seems quite heartbroken though. A few minutes later, Ramaiah mentions that Lord Murugan seems perplexed by this whole activity and is thinking hard about this.

Space Odyssey anybody? When the astronauts go visit the monolith buried under the moon, they hear a painful squeaking sound. What is this sound? Are the gods punishing the humans? I don’t know if you will accept this as a valid explanation, but from the time the monkeys touched the monolith on earth to the time when humans discover the monolith on the moon, humans did not have a rosy history. With the intelligence that was given, we seem to have f*@!$ed a lot of things up! So these higher beings don’t seem very happy about this.

Nevertheless, the next day, he is taken to the police station. He is suspected of killing the birds. It looks like a similar incident happened last year, somebody from the village killed these birds, but the entire village bullied the police away and did not allow them to arrest anybody. The silly policemen arrest this man for the incident that happened last year.

The case goes to the court, the judge immediately recognizes that Mayandi is innocent. But he is not released, due to some legal restrictions, he has to stay in jail for the next 2 weeks. Mayandi resists, he wants to go back and take care of his land. The judge is even willing to compensate Mayandi by paying him the money, but he argues very clearly that no amount of money weighs equal to the life in the crops. This is Mayandi, this is what I meant by a close-up. A close-up that is not visual but something that comes out through great writing Judge is really annoyed that the police arrested this man, she orders the constable to take care of the farmer’s land and tells him to graze the cows. This constable tries to escape by giving this to Mayandi’s grandson, but it does not work. He ends up doing all of them and even starts enjoying it later.

The grandson (I don’t know his name and it’s not written in Google!) and his friend (the one without the hair), seem to be doing a lot of work for the big ritual that the villagers have planned. Later, he even convinces the police constable and watches over Mayandi’s land. What is motivating him? We discover later that he was the one who killed those peafowl last year. He feels guilty that his grandfather is taking the punishment for it now. Anyway, trying to lighten his conscience he plans a visit to Palani, which is a mountain where Murugan left after losing the divine test with his brother. He asks his friend to oversee the crops on his grandfather’s land.

Next, we see Ramaiah sitting under the tree near a temple, he has two packets of Prasadam (please google). Just as he is about to open and eat one, he sees a sage-like man who is eating the leftovers from a dump. Ramaiah takes the other food packet and gives it to him. With a judging eye, this man asks him to throw that packet in the dump. He gets up, applies Vibuthi on his forehead, and drops some more in his hand. Ramaiah does not understand why this man drops this vibuthi on his hand when he has already put some on his forehead. So he asks him and the man replies:
Anga orithi irukale, avalluku poosividu (This is for the lady sitting next to you)

Ramaiah breaks down completely; tears fill his eyes. For a second, he seems to have forgotten his lady. He has probably begun to let go of her finally. But all the heaviness and loneliness he went through did not go unnoticed, this man understood how he felt.

After visiting the temple, the grandson visits the old man in the jail and tells him about his encounter with Ramaiah. They both are standing on a small mountain top and Ramaiah, with his 2 bags, goes to the edge of the mountain rock and looks at the sky. The peafowl calls. He comes down, hands over the small pouch of Vibuthi to the grandson, and then suddenly disappears. We only see the two bags over the edge of the rock. Where did he go? The grandson looks spooked as he tells the story to Mayandi. But the farmer does not seem surprised at all, he just remarks saying, Avan apidiye parandhu poiruppan (He would have just flown with birds).

There could not have been a better ending. Ramaiah seems to have outgrown his own mind, his own ego. He is not dead, far from it, he is just… I will say no more, except that this is what taking an idea and putting it to motion feels like.

Now there is another problem, pests are eating the crops away. The grandson gets clear instructions from Mayandi to fix this. All the solutions that Mayandi gives come from the ground itself. And the grandson passes on the instructions to his friend and he screws up. He buys expired medicine and sprinkles them over the crops. The rationale is that pest-killing medicine becomes even more, stronger when it’s expired.

Mayandi falls sick in the jail, they bring in the doctor and give him an injection. He mentions that in all his life he has never taken an injection. This world seems to be fighting against him, it’s trying to change the Kadaisi Vivasayi.

The next day he is taken to the court, and he is about to get released. The police make him sit outside of the court as they get their tea. Learning that he has some time, he asks a young man, a relative of his perhaps, to quickly take him to his land. He cleverly escapes without getting caught.

But tragically all the crops that he planted are now dead. He is quite frozen. Very similar to the Naavi tribes in Avatar who are physically connected with their animals, he is connected with these crops. The police come back and take him to the court. The thing which he was connected to is dead. The judge declares the verdict, he is free to go, and the judge is also made aware of the dead crops.

After engraving his thumbprint, he lies down on a slab and closes his eyes. The policemen are still doing the paperwork, the judge comes down to the jail herself to move things forward. She looks at Mayandi. Why is he lying down? They try to wake the old man, but he doesn’t. The judge stands still looking at this man. A peafowl squeaks. The time has not come for him to go yet. It’s god’s own will that he does not die. He wakes up in a startling way. All’s well that ends well. The judge, the old man, and the police all go to the land. She also brings a whole bunch of people to work in the field. The elephant and her owner enter the field to help. They sow the seeds, cultivate the wheat, and conduct the ritual. In this ritual, we see that Ramaiah’s cousin, the dwarf is about to get married.

In the last scene, we see Mayandi looking at a peafowl, it spreads its wings, and we hear the sound of thunder. It is about to rain. Ellam Avan Seyal. After the movie ended I went and stared at a Murugan photo. I think I prayed. I don’t think I have done that for a long time. It could not matter less what my theological inclinations are. In fact what it means to me or what it actually meant could not matter less because the movie is not great because of its meaning. The movie is great because the characters are always close and we have an inside-out view of the character’s minds. And that’s what great movies are.

Enough said. Thank you to anyone who has made it so far.