Reflections on Mani Ratnam's Aayitha Ezhuthu

Guest Blog 9 – Anand Chandrasekharan

This is not a film review. You can catch one (some of them reviewing the filmmaker, than the film) here on LazyGeek, here and here. A prolific filmmaker like Mani Ratnam makes one think, by addressing contemporary issues from a human perspective, albeit to finally deliver a commercial film. And Aayitha Ezhuthu did make one think.

Before we move on to other ruminations, the point is worth making that the movie is unlikely to succeed in Hindi (as Yuva) for the same reasons that Nayak (a remake of Shankar’s blockbuster Tamil movie Mudhalvan) failed to impress. It’s surprising that Mani Ratnam, who has made a career of putting his finger on the urban pulse, did not see through this. A theme like Ram Gopal Varma’s Company (based primarily on a Bombay gang) may have local relevance and interpretations, but a screeneplay like Yuva (based primarily on student leaders and their effect on local politics) is unlikely to have much emotional association among North Indian audiences. The Tamil version is definitely a recipe for a blockbuster, and is unlikely to go the direction of Kannathil Muthamittal or Uyire (which received more critical than box-office acclaim).

The timing is impeccable: it comes at a time when the Indian public, primarily the 700 million living in 700,000 villages have spoken in a collective voice through their electoral franchise that India Shining is a farce, when their daily struggles for “Roti, Kapda, Makaan” and “Paani, Sadak, Bijli” are unceasing. The film’s emphasis that as long as the top 1% of India does not extend its hand to the remaining 99%, no one else will, is well-made. My friend and netCore CEO Rajesh Jain‘s As India Develops posts came to mind.

The movie’s theme, Identity, is beautifully expounded upon. People who complain that Mani ‘Sir’ had little to say, need only look at the subtleties in the film. When Michael Vasant spares Inba Sekar towards the end, disparaging not him but his dirty politics, the themed lyrics rang clear:

Aayutham Yedu, Aanavam Sudu…
Thee Pandam Yedu, Theemaiyai Sudu
Irulai Yeritthu Vidu.

(Kill ego with your weapons…Kill evil with your fire…and use it to extinguish darkness…)

A lot has been said about the film being inspired by the Mexican film Ameros Perros (‘Love’s a Bitch’), Kurasowa’s Rashomon, and even Pulp Fiction. To say that a three-way flashback used in a narration belongs to Quentin Tarantino is to say that Al Gore invented the Internet. Yes, there were techniques of story-telling that were unoriginal. But Aayitha Ezhuthu is definitely a good tasting wine, regardless of the fact that it’s packaged in an old bottle.

What does the coincidence, that forms the crux of AKK, have to do our daily lives? We may not remember the day, but certainly the moment when an incident changed the way we think. It may have been an article, a person, even a thought. But it changes everything. That fallibility of human thinking is brought to life well. Of course, one could not have trusted Mani Ratnam any less. It’s not a new theme in film (Amelie, Signs, and Run Lola Run all expound on this theme…more on these in a separate blog…) but has been handled well here, and leads to an excellent ending which respects the audience and does not hand them an over-simplified resolution to a complex and subtle issue (a la “Main Hoon Na”).

As for the events in the film, it definitely kept the audience engrossed. The black and white morality between Madhavan and Surya’s characters reminded one that for every ‘Gentleman’, there is a ‘Kicha’s Appalam’ to deal with. Madhavan’s Vote for Inba Shekar scene and Surya proving of mathematic formulae in jail and his tiffs with Bharathiraja are going to remain in memory for a long time, be filed away under ‘M’ for Mani Ratnam, and be compared with montages that evoke nostalgic memories even today from Dalapathi and Nayagan. It’s hard to deny that the new breed of stars have arrived in South Indian cinema. It also brought back to memory a cable interview that Tina Brown had with Irshad Manji, the author of “The Trouble with Islam”, where she brings out the concept of “Inshtihaad”, which is another way of fighting against an enemy in Islam, but through peace. She hoped that it would replace “Jihad” as the Islamist way of expressing their anger, and it was amazing to see both her faith in Islam as well as her optimism about the Middle East. Such optimism, the essense of Michael Vasant’s character, is contagious.

The two things that stood out were how well the cast and crew brought out the theme of AKK (the last letter in the Tamil language) and the media hype that preceded the movie’s release. Everything I wondered after seeing Ameros Perros came back after AKK, and was summarized by Vairamuthu’s lyrics in “Hey, Goodbye Nanba”:

Andha Saalai Yil Nee Vandhu Seramal…
6 degree yil yen paarvai saayamal
Vilagi Poyirundhaal thollaiye Illai…. Idhu Vendadha Velai.

(If only you hadn’t been at that street; If only my eyes hadn’t tilted 6 degrees; There would have been no trouble…)

Mani Ratnam would probably be wishing he was a little known director whose work gets discovered each time. The only factor that seems to be selling this movie short is his larger than life image. Expectationos, Perros!

10 thoughts on “Reflections on Mani Ratnam's Aayitha Ezhuthu

  1. a4avaiz… Dont depend on any reviews, this good one by Anand nevertheless. Just go and find out for yourself. Lot of negativity floating around and though the intentions are sometimes honorable and meant to clear the air, ppl seem to lose the point. Go watch the movie!

    Anand, good one dude. Btw, I just realised something. How fair is it to label this movie thus, when a variation of the techinique has been used by MR himself in Alaipayuthey? The flashbacks interweaved with real time.. Is this question even relevant?

  2. Go see it for Maddy’s performance. He and Meera Jasmine were the best of the whole lot. When will you get to see him in such a negative role? His next film will probably be something like Jay Jay or Ethiree 🙁

  3. I dont think its fair to generalise that patrons of Hindi movies dont appreciate serious movies. Have you forgotten movies like Ardh Satya? Nayak failed because it was a bad movie with equally bad performances. U cant even compare it with Muthalvan, which was very entertaining n a good movie.

    As for Yuva, there is no doubt that the movie disappoints. Student politics is nothing new, esp if you can recall Prafulla Mahanta and Assam. But Mani Ratnam failed to make it realistic. It was almost a cakewalk for Ajay Devgan n Vivek Oberoi to win the elections in the movie! If that is not simplistic, what is?

    Even the three way flashback doesnt impress much, because by the time Vivek’s story starts, the audience is already restless and wants to get on with the main plot.

    But the biggest failure was when Abhishek refuses to change. For a moment when he suffers from a personal targedy, u hope that things will change. But unfortunately it doesnt and he gets further involved into the mire till the point of no return. That was really sad, b’coz ultimately it was Abhishek who is the protagonist in the movie. Ajay Devgan wasnt very convincing as a student and you dont really empathise with his character. Maybe Mani Ratnam should have chosen someone else to do this role. That might have made a difference.

    And the music fails too, the Hindi version!

    Havent seen the Tamil movie as yet, hope that is better than Yuva.

  4. Mr.Anonymous:
    If you can accept a one day muthalvar firing 1000 employees in 1 day, then this is more plausible scenario indeed.
    To each one his own…

  5. Mr. Anonymous: with all due respect, Prafulla Mohanta/Assam is not mainstream North Indian politics. So North Indian audiences don’t have real-life themes to associate with in this case. That said, any gaps in communication is certainly the director’s responsibility, not the audience’s. This was certainly not meant to be a sweeping statement about patrons of Hindi movies, their neighbours or even their pets 🙂

    My opinion is that the Tamil version jumps over some of the hoops that Yuva has (and you pointed out!) and is a better, more believable watch.

  6. I have not watched Yuva so I wouldn’t know how to comment on that movie, but I did watch Aayitha Ezhutu, and I must say I enjoyed watching evry bits of it. I especially liked the chant Oh!Yuva Yuva Oh! Yuvaaa…, thought it was very inspiring.

    An institution’s success very much depends on the idealism of the youth (YUVA) and the wisdom of the elders; shown to us by Shankar in Mudhalvan. Someone has to assume the role of a leader, if the institution fails to deliver. AE is all abt that, and Mani is probably hoping the same can be done in reality….whats wrong with that? Have we asked ourselves that question?

  7. Nice perspective. I liked the Tamil version… I would like to see Ameros Perros after reading this post, seems intriguing. Quentin Tarantino is a great director but I think Aayitha Ezhuthu still keeps its originality…

  8. Two reviews in one place… both the one by Anand Chandrasekharan and Guru are well written, and are totally different perspectives. Surya has delivered a double whammy with this and Perazhagan…

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