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!