Having seen and quite liked the Hindi film “Saathiya“ some time ago (mainly for Rani Mukherjee) we were thrilled to know it was originally a Mani Ratnam Tamil language film starring the ever charming Madhavan. In a broad generalisation, we find the interpersonal and romantic relationships in Tamil films to be more credible than their Hindi counterparts – people discuss their likes, dislikes and fears, sex is not such a secret, there seems to be more thought given to how couples will live once they are severed from their families and people do get second chances. Alaipayuthey is no exception to this. Told in flashbacks, the story reveals layers of the relationship that go beyond the usual frothy boy-meets-girl rom-com.
Madhavan plays charming middle class boy about town Karthik. He spots Shakti (played by Shalini) at a friend’s wedding and is immediately interested. Shakti is a smart, studious girl who is being educated with the support and financial sacrifice of her working class family, who want to see her move up in the world. Shakti isn’t a push over to be dazzled by Karthik’s floppy hair, dental perfection and easy manner, but eventually (after some traditional filmi stalkerish behaviour) she succumbs. They continue to see each other around town, sharing glances across the train tracks, and Karthik continues to find ways of placing himself in Shakti’s path. The attraction is mutual, and the struggle between wishful thinking and practical considerations is well developed without being laboured.
The young lovebirds enjoy stilted phone conversations and long awkward silences as they attempt to keep their romance under wraps.
In due course, Karthik pops the question and the families meet. The casual manners of his more moneyed family clash painfully with Shakti’s father – the socialist with a chip on his shoulder – and the union is not agreed upon.
Fear of a forced marriage to a suitable boy pushes the couple into deciding on a secret marriage, which doesn’t remain a secret. Forced to leave both their homes, Karthik and Shakti move into a half built apartment and try to build their lives. And this is where the story gets deeper and more engaging. This couple struggle. They are both used to having their own way, to being the golden child in their respective families, to following their own priorities and now each has to deal with someone equally determined and ambitious.
Shakti is never going to give up her medical career, and Karthik won’t back away from his dream of becoming successful in his own IT business. The relationship deteriorates and they fall into recrimination and an angry silence. The half finished apartment then seems an apt metaphor for their hastily constructed life and the shortcoming become more noticeable despite attempts to decorate and patch over them.
Things come to a head when Shakti fails to meet Karthik at the station one evening and he fears that she has left him. How things are resolved does indeed travel through full blown melodrama but having built so much goodwill and emotional investment in these characters, we stay with it to the end.
Madhavan doesn’t shy away from showing the negative aspects of Karthik’s character – his arrogance, sense of entitlement and lack of empathy. Shalini plays Shakti as a girl caught between her traditional upbringing, her ambition to make something of her own career, and her love for Karthik. She is selfish, sulky, cheeky and loving by turns and all the more credible. Vivek Oberoi and Rani Mukerjee on the other hand seem to live in a much cleaner and more sanitised India which is almost Disney-like. They look almost airbrushed and never seem to be quite as real as their Tamil counterparts.
The soundtrack by AR Rahman is great, although there is too much of the dreaded montaging for our liking. We know Maddy is not famed for his dance ishtyle but he tries really hard and we would have preferred to see more dancing!
Heather says: I really enjoyed this film, – thanks to everyone who recommended it to me. The young couples’ story is realistically portrayed, and rather than making marriage a ‘happy ever after’ the film shows the commonplace reality. The end of the film is more contrived, but in such a way that it doesn’t seem to intrude too much into the atmosphere created earlier in the film. Madhavan does seem to fall naturally into the role of the spoilt rich kid, but is also excellent as his character matures and has to deal with the reality of life without the support of his family. Shalini fits her role as the medical student from a working class family, and the two actors are very well matched. Their increasing frustration with each other as they try to live together and the problems they encounter within their marriage and are very believable, and certainly will ring true with most married couples. Really good performances from the lead actors and the supporting cast who ensured the story’s realism. I saw Saathiya a few years ago and thought it was a good Mani Ratnam film, but this version was so much better. Having seen both Hindi and Tamil versions of his newest film as well, I will try and stick to the Tamil in future. I am deducting half a star because there wasn’t quite enough dancing – 4 ½ stars from me.
Temple says: I’m so pleased Heather liked this! This is a well constructed story with memorable characters in a fairly realistic setting. I particularly enjoyed the low key portrayal of the growing discord in the new marriage as it was neither a happy ever after fable nor an overwrought tearjerker. While it follows a standard boy meets girl storyline, the relationship evolved in a way that I could identify with, and I was emotionally engaged. The soundtrack is never intrusive and the songs are well integrated into the story. Visually the film is lovely with rich sun-faded colours and lots of texture, and shot on an intimate scale which made me feel closer to the story. It seems to be a strength in the Southern films (I have seen so far) that there is diversity in the look of the backing dancers and extras that is really charming, and certainly seems different to the Bollywood Beauty Standard. Overall, while the romance genre is not my favourite, I did really enjoy Alaipayuthey. I would have liked more dancing too, but not sure the lack of it detracted from the film for me. I give this four stars – a deduction for the melodramatic ending which was almost too too much.