Unlike Mani Ratnam, Mahendran, or Balu Mahendra, Visu was an intelligent film-maker who literally brought drama to the centre-stage in his films and tasted commercial success. Tamil cinema had been in the past a ‘sucker’ to Melodrama.
It wouldn’t have worked except for the few things that he did right – he essayed the chief character role and others were truly support cast. In facts he didn’t use any stars in his movies. Effectively this lowered the cost of production significantly for his movies. And he had a way with words and could create witty dialogues even if the screenplay was a formula. Eventually the novelty ran out though and his later movies were mostly ‘also-rans’.
I guess any Tamil kid growing up in the 80s would have seen Visu’s movies for sure. And while one may wonder today about the political correctness of his themes and characterization, one certainly cannot ignore his popular movies. There was a distinct method to the madness, if you wish it to be said like that. And it did entertain a lot many people, so one fails to understand why often his movies are reviled now and many hate to admit to have enjoyed them while growing up.
I guess it had all to do with the stereotyping of the characters – typically Visu would remain the lynch-pin of the story. Sensibly playing for his age, he would be the wise patriarch of a lower Middle Class family who holds the key to his elaborate joint family chiefly consisting of grown up married children and the neighborhood. Typically he would be accompanied in his fight for justice by an acquiescent and long-suffering wife. The problems would be diverse such as money, knotted marital relationships, a blind aping of western manner and culture, neglect of parents,the decay of the joint family system etc. These may sound like jaded themes now but they were certainly relevant in the 80s.
Visu will begin the story on a happy note and the joint family will be shown to be an assorted celebration of various odd -ball characters. (Visu must hold the honor of casting his brother,Kismu, in the weirdest possible roles) Then the troubles will begin and ratchet in earnest. By the interval break, we will have Visu facing a mountain of issues with no hope for redemption. As if to illustrate the motto, ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’, we will then see Visu get into his groove. He will employ a variety of devices in smoothing out the problems particularly the one’s pertaining to the chasm in relationships.
Of course the climax will come in true style as well. It will show Visu assemble the entire cast together for a final face off where he will invariably triumph and come out smelling Roses. You will be regaled by his witty dialogues – my Tamil improved a lot trying to follow his discourse. True to style, the rest of the family and characters at large will be truly contrite and accept the wisdom of their ‘Head of Family’. There were very rarely real villains in his stories – his typical style was to portray minor peccadilloes and quirks of character that could be well addressed by his histrionics and deft screenplay.
And the final act would typically see a round-up of the family for the grand reunion and family photograph. It must have been very reassuring to troubled souls that a wise patriarch can wisely ease out the wrinkles all the vicissitudes that beset an average family.
His ‘Top 5’ movies are likely to include –
Kudumbam Oru Kadambam – Visu’s take on the perennial debate on the ‘Home Maker’ v/s ‘Working Wife’ syndrome. Some of his arguments are parochial and sure to raise the hackles of the women liberation groups. He tries to balance it by also portraying it to be problem of resources that is faced by the lower middle class rather than any bias against women and their right to freedom.
Manal Kayiru – Possibly his most popular movie – Visu makes a monkey of the S V Sekar’s character who has set 8 weird conditions to select his wife. It is a pure delight to watch him strum along all the other characters to his tune.
Samsaram Adu Mimsaram – The prime plot is his face off with Raghuvaran, who plays his skinflint son and challenges his mismanagement of the family affairs. But for once Visu cedes space to Lakshmi and Manorama as they set about fixing the niggling interpersonal problems. And the end is original and sensible – though it may not have appealed to the masses.
Penmani Aval Kanmani – Visu for a change occupies himself with the problems that beset his neighbours. His intrusive antics show scant regard to any individual’s privacy. To balance things out he has story where a daughter-in-law is tortured by her mother-in-law, a daughter-in-law tortures her in-laws, and finally two wives who are troubled by the alcoholic Father-Son duo. You enjoy the asides where Visu enthralls his own family consisting of Pratap, Kutti Padmini and couple of cute kids.
Vedikai En Vadikkai – Visu plays the affectionate brother to Manorama who takes up the challenge of ensuring marriage of his 2 nephews and 1 niece much against the wishes of his brother-in-law.He tops it up by scripting a rapprochement between the warring couple.
I think these movies may be enjoyed by the average Tamil movie lover. Some of them went on to win critical acclaim as well including State and National Film Awards.
The trouble could be on account of him abusing his formulaic narrative to make a dozen other films that proved to be real ‘Turkeys’ and were much out-of-sync with the realities of the modern world. And a ‘Smug Patriarch’ became his signature image in many of these narratives.
The Millenials may well laugh at the quaint stories and the contrived plotting to achieve the happy end. They may well point out that many of the ideas like patriarchy, rants against individualism and feminism are just not acceptable. We will have to cringe and agree when they point out that the children – particularly the boys – may have married and sired kids, but never seem to grow up.
All the same he does know his craft and family drama is indeed his forte. I guess we still need to stand up and say that he did entertain us in our childhood. So anyone game for a re-run of ‘Manal Kayiru’?