Thirakkatha

 

Ranjith’s Thirakkatha is supposedly inspired by the relationship between Srividya and Kamal Haasan. I have zero interest in the love lives of celebrities but this is also a thoughtful look at the film industry, it’s a reasonably sane romantic drama except when it isn’t, and Priyamani steals the show.

Warning, spoilers ahead! There are some things that struck me so hard I don’t want to omit them.

Young gun director Akbar Ahmed (Prithviraj) is awarded for his first film hitting 100 days. He is given a trophy by industry legend Ajayachandran (Anoop Menon). Ajay’s internal monologue is all about himself and how he fought the odds to become a star. Certainly judging by some of the chatter amongst other guests, he is not universally loved. Akki is inspired to make his next film on the story of Ajay and his ex-wife, the star actress Malavika (Priyamani). She hasn’t been seen in years and nobody really knows much about her, despite all the gossip. Akki obtains diaries and letters written by director Aby Kurivilla (Ranjith himself) from his son Appu (Vineeth Kumar), and starts to piece their story together from both the private and public sources. The film unfolds through a series of flashbacks, interspersed with Akki telling the story as he knows it to his crew. When it seems that a story is all they have, they locate Malavika. Now terminally ill and alone, her life is a far cry from Ajay’s success and acclaim. What happened, and why?

Anoop Menon had to battle with some unflattering wigs and 80s attire that did an excellent job of obscuring his alleged charms, but Ajay’s determination is loud and clear. His break came playing a villain opposite Malavika and some producer’s nondescript son. He fell for Malavika at first sight, his heightened emotions helping him deliver a convincing performance. Whether shyly flirting with Malavika or pushing his career agenda, he didn’t back down when reminded of what people saw as his place. Ajay is obsessed with success and Malu was a lucky charm for his films. After a secret registry office wedding, Malu fell pregnant and planned to stop acting and be a mum. Ajay had been in a string of flops and was relying on Malu’s box office pull for their next movie to rescue his career. He told her she was ruining his life in favour of an unborn child and persuaded her to have an abortion, triggering events that ended their marriage. When Ajayachandran finds out about the movie, he tries to divert Akki to making a film with him rather than about him. Even Ajay’s wife thinks he’s a selfish bastard. Ajayachandran’s father was a makeup artist and people are snide about his lowly beginnings even now he is a legend. He became a big hero, but sometimes petty villain seems more his calling. Anoop Menon is most convincing as the selfish Ajay with his ambition and inferiority complex driving him. He benefits from a kind of halo effect in scenes with Priyamani, but seems lacking in the emotionally complex moments.

Malavika is a reluctant star, with a pushy ex-star stage mum (Mallika Sukumaran) and a loyal, almost silent assistant, Valarmathi (Surabhi). She’d rather get a job after graduating, but her mum hit Malu with a guilt trip of how she had to dance on film to raise her family and now the alcoholic dad is gone there is no money. Malavika is an assertive girl with everyone but her mother. I like the way she firmly shooed Ajayachandran away when she needed a moment between scenes. The flashbacks show all the drama behind the scenes as well as the vintage acting and dance styles of the early 80s.

Priyamani is just gorgeous, deftly showing Malavika’s star quality (the camera loves her), and her more pragmatic everyday personality. She berated Ajay for learning to kiss from watching local films, cheerfully telling him classic French films were the best reference. I loved Malu’s confidence in herself and her growing understanding of her power in the film industry. She has a drink with a producer but when he makes a pass she is comfortable and articulate turning him down. She doesn’t want to change who she is and she won’t be pressured or made to feel ashamed. Priyamani’s performance kept me invested in the story through even the most melodramatic plot contortions.

Major spoiler(s) – highlight to read:

Malu is told that during the abortion they found a growth that had to be removed. Later on her doctor friend Vasanthi tells her that Ajay lied – He requested that her tubes be tied so she won’t fall pregnant. It turns out this is not exactly true but that did nothing to quell my outrage. Firstly, bullying her into an abortion when she clearly wanted the child – BAD. Not telling Malu about the medical situation and not getting her consent or allowing her to have any part of the decision – BAD. Persuading the doctor to keep a cancer diagnosis from Malu so she would make another film instead of perhaps getting treatment that may have saved her life – BAD. Ajay believing that he was right because he wanted her to be happy and she would be happy when he was happy and he would be happy when he was a big star – BAD. Akki bringing Malavika to his place to recuperate although she didn’t know him at all, which is a nice gesture but once again there was no consultation with the actual patient, so therefore – BAD. The doctor who let Akki take a terminally ill stranger away just because – BAD. Everyone including Malavika apparently forgiving Ajay because he felt so sorry (for himself) – WTAF?!?

/rant

Ranjith is disparaging of some practices in his industry, calling out examples and mocking the results. Akki is very much the guy who got there because of his passion for film making. He’ll sign with a producer but he won’t let them dictate what he does. The line between life and story fodder is also explored through Akki as he grows closer to Malavika and has to decide how and if he will use her story for his career.

Prithviraj is low key and generally likeable as Akki. He is hampered a bit by the narrative structure that uses his character as an agent of voiceover, and from being in the modern day part of the story which is for me the least interesting. He works with a small group of trusted friends, running a restaurant with them in between films. Akki is prone to the unilateral decision, and most of his friends are followers. I was sometimes annoyed despite his good intentions just because he was so self-righteous. Akki and his capable girlfriend Devayani (Samvrutha Sunil) have a no fuss relationship and make a nice couple. As Malu and Ajay’s romance is explored, they realise maybe they need to think about theirs.

The songs (by Sharreth) fit better in the flashback. Onnodu is a random and quite uncoordinated song between prologue and titles, perhaps just there for the Prithviraj fans.

There is so much that I liked, but the flaws are equally striking. Some of the discussions about film making felt out of synch, but I liked the extra layer about interpretation and storytelling. Ranjith handled the multiple timeline structure more deftly in Paleri Manikyam, but the 80s flashback section is a highlight. 3 ½ stars! (BIG deduction for the medical ethics)

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10 thoughts on “Thirakkatha

  1. Great review! I remember having mixed thoughts about Prithvi’s role too (I hate narration). But I kind of liked how anup Menon’s character got redeemed in the end and the difference in the narrative when you look through different lenses.

    Not sure how much this movie really depicted the kamal-srividya relationship, but Srividya undeniably had a really tragic life (not sure how big the part Kamal played in it. For he always cast her in his films and they seemed like good friends who might have had a fling early on)

    (Sorry for the following a bit of a long hearsay history, but she’s one of my favorite actresses and each time I think about it, I get incredibly sad and also a bit angry)

    Srividya’s mum was a very famous singer, MLV and wanted Srividya to also be a classical musician (She was actually trained and quite good!) I think Srividya entered films instead and this caused a right between them. From what I understand, after Apoorva Ragangal where she took the gusty decision to play the role of a much older woman (a young Kamal is enamoured of her in the movie) , most of her roles that came her way were really not heroine roles.

    Anyway , she also apparently married later (somebody not so well known) and it was an inter-religious marriage which further deepened the rift with her mother’s family. Unluckily the marriage was a failure and the husband I guess a wrong un. They went for a divorce and I know at around this time she was very badly off with respect to her finances. She had to do a slew of really bad Tamil films (mostly mother in law or older roles) to be able to become financially stable. And Kollywood certainly hasn’t treated her well. It aged her prematurely, and gave a very talented actress shoddy roles. Malayalam industry on the other hand probably did a bit better. But it is just very sad she died of cancer and probably alone. But I think she was a gutsy woman till the end, comfortable with and confident about herself, and Priyamani did a nice job playing her like that.

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    • Thank you 🙂 And thanks for all the additional detail. I didn’t know much of Srividya’s work before I saw this film. My reason for watching it was Prithvi and Priyamani. So it was interesting to do a little bit of reading afterwards, and get a sense of what a talent she was and how her career was blighted by some of her other life decisions. Malavika/Priyamani says something like “I thought everything over at least a hundred times before I made any decision, and still everything went wrong”. I kind of disagree about Anoop’s character being redeemed. I think he thought he’d redeemed himself and Malavika forgave him, but he never seemed to genuinely regret anything other than being, as he saw it, misunderstood. But after the surgery episode he was dead to me so it’s fair to say I am biased 🙂
      Also – if you don’t already read Anu’s blog http://anuradhawarrier.blogspot.com.au/, you should take a look. She is far more structured and meticulous than I am, and her excellent writing has added so many films to my to-be-watched list.

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    • I would have liked the flashback to be less episodic and have fewer interruptions to poor Prithviraj stuck at a table, reciting the contents of letters. But it’s an engaging story (until my head exploded with fury anyway) and I always like seeing strong and interesting women with substantial roles. Which of Srividya’s films would you recommend for a newbie like me?

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  2. With ref: to the ideal’s comment above: Kamal did visit her in the hospital during her last days. Like ideal, I adored Sri Vidya as well. She did the maximum number of films in Malayalam, where she did get plenty of good roles as well as the arm candy ones. She was a fantastic actress

    p.s. Ideal, great to meet a fellow fan. 🙂

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    • Hello hello! It is nice to meet you too 🙂 [I am a silent lurker in your blog ;)] I haven’t seen too many malayalam films of Srividya (mostly because of lack of subtitles), but have seen most of her tamil outings.
      @Temple
      I am a bit hesitant to suggest, but you should check out ‘Apoorva Raagangal’, featuring Kamal, Srividya, Jayasudha and Rajini in a cameo for an incredibly weird and terrible story but great story telling and songs by K.Balachander. This was Rajini’s debut. And Kamal plays a younger boy obsessed with her
      (very long post about one song in that movie : http://ideallaedi.tumblr.com/post/112191695032/music-movies-and-that-one-song-which-made-a-movie)
      I actually also like two *very melodramatic* movies of hers where she is not the heroine (one with Amala – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karpoora_Mullai which was an original Malayalam movie with the same cast) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nee_Pathi_Naan_Pathi (where she plays the heroine’s mother).
      Balachander also cast her in Nootruku Nooru as a headstrong student, in Sollathaan Ninaikiren as a shy silent woman in love with her lodger, but she isn’t the leading lady in either of these movies. It is a shame Kollywood didn’t give her more films as a leading lady 😦
      Btw, tracing Srividya-Kamal film appearances, for instance she has a nice cameo as Kamal’s elder sister in Nammavar, as his mom in Apporva Sagodhargal (appu raja in hindi), then as his prospective mother in law in Kaadhala Kaadhala.
      And she did play Mrs Dashwood (though with a hint of Mrs Bennet) to great perfection in kandukonden kandukonden 🙂

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  3. Temple, definitely Chenda, Rachana, Idavazhilyili Poocha Mindapoocha, Adaminte Variyellu, Puthiya Velicham (the remake of Phool aur Patthar), Panchavadi Paalam and Kaatathe Kilikkoodu. That will do for a start; of course, if you want the ‘masala’ component, try any of her mythologicals/Kerala ballads like Thumbolaarcha, Amba Ambika Ambalika, Thacholi Marumakan Chanthu etc. And these are just her Malayalam films. 🙂

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  4. Even though its said to be based on kamal-sri relation, ranjith included various other real life personalities, topics, movies, themes into this story which were irrelvent to sri vidya.

    Anoop’s charater’s is actually based on mohanlal. The movie is actually more about mohanlal -“the untalented new comer to great actor to superstar journey” than sri vidya. There is so much to write but I am too lasy to write in detail. ;-). Hope anu wites a review detailing mohanlal aspect.

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