*No Spoilers Ahead*
As you stroll down the dark cinema hall to watch Aayitha Ezhuthu and if you are a few minutes late, you might assume that the climax is around. So begins the latest Mani Ratnam flick Aayitha Ezhuthu. And hey, you needn’t worry for there is lot more to come and even if you miss this first scene, the scene repeats more number of times than the cost of your popcorn. Aayitha Ezhuthu is about serious cinema and not just for the popcorn eating cinema commoner.
Aayitha Ezhuthu’s premise is all about the rare species of progressive youths who are not opportunists and escapists from stamp paper scams and water-scarce society of the modern day India. It is Mani Ratnam’s expression of the angst against the middle class escapist mentality of the country and his endeavor to handover the country to such modern, intellectually progressive youth.
While conveying this Mani Ratnam chooses to adopt a style of film-making which is still in its experimental state, at least in India. The basic rule for the screenplay is that there no rules. There are only directives. Playing with this fact, Mani Ratnam has taken liberties to play with the style of film making. While he has adopted the classic structure that demands to introduce the characters, create the conflict and give an ending, he has just meddled with the timing of each the above mentioned components. Though I haven’t seen any of the movies they say has inspired Aayitha Ezhuthu like Ameros Perros, City of God or Kurasowa’s Rashomon, I personally think they might have had little to do with this film. As reported Aayitha Ezhuthu doesn’t sport overlapping events or even points of view. The movie, if observed meticulously, is told from a third person’s point-of-view.
In Mani Ratnam’s earlier super hit Alai Payuthey, the movie oscillates from the past to present and in one point the flashback merges with the present event. This same thing if you deploy as three flashbacks which gets merged with the present through a common incident, you get Aayitha Ezhuthu.
Pity the media as it reports the highlight lies in this connection of three stories to one point. It merely takes a pulp-fiction writer to manufacture such stories. The ‘Maathiyosi’(think different) lies in shaping these characters and using them to unfold the story in the later half. But in Aayitha Ezhuthu, the character build-up occupies for more than two thirds of the movie. The reason being all the three characters form the core of the movie and the movie details up their lives and their view of life. So every character’s story is detailed until which the other characters wait for their chance.
The risk involved in having such a story-telling style is that, relating to a character becomes tougher as there is no one central character that gets focused. It is only finally when the repercussion of that common incident gets focus, we clearly see the main theme and the protagonist of the movie. Despite these risks and shortcomings, it’s Mani Ratnam’s sheer ability to keep up the interest of the viewer with his character sketching. But after the two flashbacks and one common incident, one will tend to feel what the director wants to convey. Well, there is a long dense second half to come. But patience waits for none and you tend to loose it by the first half.
Madhavan as Inba Sekhar fails poorly to portray ‘the guy from streets’. Just because of Writer Sujatha’s Chennai slang the character of Inba Sekhar escapes without a curse. His Chocolate boy image and his intonations bring out the urban actor in him. With the kind of character that Mani Ratnam and Sujatha has etched out, one would expect a splendid and powerful performance from Madhavan. Though by his characterization Madhavan would tend to get noticed it is one of Mani Ratnam’s biggest mistake is to cast Madhavan for this role.
Surya as Michael Vasant, a child prodigy who comes from a middle class Christian family. Mike is rigidly violent and a genius of his own kind. Be it the way he rigs the politician or the way he proves that the universe is made of dense matter with a single equation, the character of Michael Vasant is here to stay with us. Surya has played his role very subtly like Kakkha Kakkha and gets full points for his perfect body language. Surya enters the flashback with the same walk into a mall just like Karthik in Mouna Ragam. The strength of his character doesn’t lie in all the powerful stunts he does with Madhavan but by the intelligent dialogue delivering skills of Surya.
Sidharth, the rascally flirtatious young man comes as a relief to the rather serious movie and his flashback just after the second half of the movie reminds us the romantic yester-year Mani Ratnam. For Sidharth is very natural and he portrays the present day $ dreaming yuppie youth. Actually it is Sidharth’s life that get entirely changed by the Napier Bridge incident and not the other two.
Bharathi Raja as Selvanayakam is convincing and does his role better than expected. A great find. Meera Jasmine who pairs Madhavan has done an appreciable job and it is her character that earns all the sympathy. Easha Deol’s character could be easily avoided because she does nothing more than just appearing on-screen. Trisha is also convincing as Meera.
Writer Sujatha again steals the show with his appropriate dialogues for the three characters. The difference he has shown in the dialogues of each character shows the genius he is.
Ravi K Chandran excels with his camera techniques, as expected. The kind of hand-in-hand exercise Ravi K Chandran, Editor Sreekar Prasad and Stuntman Vikram Dharma has done makes the stunts very remarkable.
Art Director Sabu Cyril is certainly a let down. His sets for Madhavan’s house, near the Chennai port is very artificial. The streets and roads leading to Madhavan’s house is clearly noticed as sets. We all know that each character gets a color. If only it was subtle, it would have won the praise. But these contrasting colors is so evident even in the sets and costumes. Madhavan’s neighborhood is fully painted red which makes it very artificial. For Surya, even the prison walls also are in Green. And the worst thing is for Sidharth, from the discotheque, his basketball walls and his bike, all feature blue. Even Trisha is forced to wear blue costumes to pair Sidharth. Not the kind of color thrust that we expect from a Mani Ratnam film.
Not all songs are picturised like typical Indian film songs. That’s however a relief. But Fanah and Hey Goodbye Nanba songs fill up that gap. A R Rahman also scores very subtly for Aayitha Ezhuthu. The extra bit song for Surya-Easha Deol in pallavan bus is a surprise. Mani Ratnam – A R Rahman deliver this surprise every time. Each character gets a theme of music and the music flows throughout the flash back for all the three characters. This background score is however very subdued and the difference can be heard only in a theatre. Having said that, this is certainly not the best of Mani Ratnam – ARR combo.
It is a fact that time pass films de-humanize the viewers and give a superman image to the heroes. Mani Ratnam has always tried to portray his heroes as practical humans. So he does that with class in Aayitha Ezhuthu too. Mani Ratnam spontaneously evolves towards the leftist line of thinking as his protagonist believes the change should not only be made in urbanized cities but also from villages like Neikaaranpatti.
Just like how Shakespeare’s Macbeth starts very sensationally with the introduction of the three witches, Aayitha Ezhuthu story starts right from the first second of the movie. It is just that Mani Ratnam takes time to set the dramatic need to the characters; the movie looses the chance to find a place in the viewer’s heart. If the movie fails it is because of this experiment that he has chosen to make. Though this effort may prove costly for him, Indian Cinema would go a long way because of such pioneering efforts. Mani Ratnam proves again that good film-making is an exercise in style.