Heavy spoilers ahead…

This film belongs to the VIP family of Dhanush dramas. It’s the third entry in this “series”, following the tedious Thanga Magan. There’s definitely a similar vibe running across the three – the voiceovers, the motta-maadis, realistic interiors, parental conflicts, multiple flames – it’s not much of a stretch if one were to call it a trilogy. This new addition, directed by Mithran Jawahar, is old-school, but comes without any flab. What starts off as a story about a dysfunctional family transforms into a by-the-numbers romantic comedy.

This transition happens without inviting too much attention to it, and it helps that the major conflicts happen within the two households and people we’re made to get familiar with. There’s only one external conflict involving Stunt Silva but the way it gets resolved with a surprisingly restrained fight, aids in keeping the film tonally consistent.

The all-male family has a weighty reason for their dysfunctional state. This backstory is revealed neatly through a divided flashback. Neelakandan’s (Prakash Raj) negligence while driving leads to the death of both the women of the family. Pazham’s (Dhanush) mother and sister. He’s been carrying the trauma for a decade now, with non-confrontation being his reaction to any fearful situation. Father and son don’t talk directly. But it gets contrived when it’s revealed that the father has been carrying a habit of beating the son up? It just doesn’t fit well within their non-conversational equation. Had the moment of him slapping his son at the station been a first, the latter’s anger would’ve carried more weight. This whole physical abuse situation is played for laughs, and even invites sympathy for how it’s endearingly “mass”-y of his father to beat his son up, in a moment where the former is physically challenged.

But seeing this trio of powerhouse actors tear up is undeniably affecting. All it takes is a single self-revelatory moment where Pazham realises how the lack of communication has been the problem all along. But the film stops at this realisation and doesn’t quite show them, well, communicating. Or him applying this to other situations. The actors are able to sell this quick arc of reconciliation without making any of the beats awkward.

Now pardon me while I slip into a rant. My primary problem with the film is its “90s kidz maa” energy. It’s a generation gap issue more than a mistake of the makers. I simply can’t get myself to sympathise with men who can’t answer a partially out-of-place but simple “why should we keep in touch?” question from a woman. Or the man who thinks belonging to a different, more conservative world, is some sort of a virtue. Whole-heartedly liking such a film depends on how much we can relate to the titular protagonist, because it has all the energy of trying to reach out to the gallery with his actions – errors and wins alike. Sure, it’s a coming-of-age story with the hero getting to a point where he realises his follies, but it’s also loosely functioning within the Tamil “mass” hero framework, where stars are tailored to be speaking to the audience before they even empathize with the star’s character in that particular film. So, I’d like to argue with this logic, that gaze matters. Films don’t quite exist in vacuums. Genre and politics are not mutually exclusive. Love is indeed, political.

Our hero proposes to woman with a poem and an “I love you” on their second date. She goes onto deny him and says flirting and love are not the same. Yes, they’re from very different worlds, understood. But the way the scene is written and pitched (aided by the music), makes it seem like her turning him down is a mean mistake. That it chooses to end on his reaction and not hers, is a choice. An editing choice that reveals the gaze. One that’s borderline incel-y. Then there’s Dhanush’s breathless rant (another staple element of this trilogy) about the pains men go through while pursuing women. Tiring.

The other thing I was sort of rooting for the film to not do, is taking a platonic friendship into a romantic zone. That’s the most predictable beat one can think of, and I still had my hopes up. But apparently our mainstream is not quite there yet. We’re still very much living in a culture where the “boy bestie” is unironically seen as a threat to a straight relationship. This is another film that can conveniently play into the narrative of how men and women can never be friends.

But within the world of the film, this relationship is rendered in an endearing manner by Nithya Menon and Dhanush. The very ease at which they walk into the other’s houses, sells their equation enough to root for it when time comes. Save the cringey moment of Neelakandan believing Shobana won’t take her flight to Canada because of her feelings toward Pazham, their romantic beats are convincing. Some may veer towards convenient, but are still very much in tone with the film.

We get a subversion of the airport climax trope where the hero misses the heroine’s boarding, and he’s then handed a bigger (and painfully conventional) revelation that she was always in love with him! How I wish it had been about these two childhood friends discovering a new equation within their friendship. But alas, can a man and a woman ever be just friends?

So now he’s taken her for granted all along, and the only way to gain back her affection is effort of a grand gesture. Though it can be seen coming because it’s the only sensible thing he can do in that situation, it’s irrefutably wholesome to see it play out for the time invested on these good performances. The bit involving a video call is rousing not just for the event, but also for the way Dhanush plays it in a restrained manner, keeping the moment real without carrying an over-the-top awareness of the “climax” on his face. The following scene showing how Shobana has to be reminded by Pazham of their newly transformed equation, and her reaction to it, is cute to no end. I eventually left the screening with a smile, realising I underestimated how far the charm of two good actors can override my political expectations from a film.


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