Parthiban is known for creating quirky and thought-provoking cinema so it is but natural that he wades into the ‘meta’ cinema on display in Tamil Cinema – Jigarthanda, Uttama Villain, Papanasam to name a few classy ones.
So we have a brilliant but struggling director, Tamizh (the name is a right touch as well) with a sassy wife, Daksha, and a gang of 5 odd-balls helping him unearth a story that would get the ‘green-light’ from a top-notch producer.
The title – Kathai, Thiraikathai, Vasanam, Iyakkam (KTVI) – is quite appealing as Tamil movie-makers are narcissists who have had a penchant to don multiple hats and such credits are far more common in our movies than say in Bollywood or Hollywood. Bhagyaraj and Bharathiraja instantly came to my mind when I first read the title.
Parthiban deserves kudos for the attempt though on occasions it is too clever by half and at the end of it one enjoys the high of an inventive climax but still wonders that the package didn’t quite come off with a killer punch. He is primarily playing court to the multiplex audience armed with Facebook and Twitter triggers but trust Parthiban to retain some of the crustiness that would possibly reach the lowly but relevant ‘B’ and ‘C’ centres as well.
So what works –
The movie stays true to its original premise – a film without a story – as things turn bizarre and outlandish every 5 minutes and one seems to be drifting perfectly to no-man’s land. The director doffs his hat to Kamal Haasan for having delivered ‘Pesum Padam’ – a film that had not dialogues. Rather cheekily he states that a ‘screenplay’ is required to ‘direct’ a film so he only has the option of killing the ‘story’ element in the KTVI quartet. It is indeed intelligent film-making that holds our interest when apparently there isn’t a story to be told.
Thambi Ramaiah is a genuine article – a well-defined role that he plays with finesse. In terms of characterization, Parthiban, puts a lot of effort into his back-story that is typically a tragic-comedy. Imagine an ageing unsuccessful assistant director well past his prime days who is saddled with two wives and a ’28-years-old’ unmarried daughter. The ‘over-the-top’ delivery is hilarious as even the gang and Daksha love to rile him. Yet he gets a fine comeback when he pours his heart out for having literally lost his life chasing the fame of the silver screen.
The story wrap up is tops – uncertainty, the 50:50 chance conundrum, ‘live the moment’ and a final climax is not really required for the modern audience who are capable of drawing their ‘closures’. Parthiban handled this really well – suddenly a lot of meandering stuff falls in place – the riddles about his marriage, the puzzled reunion of the estranged couple in his story, the fate of whether he gets to direct his first movie, the future of his gang all sums up deliciously to a great question mark! The meta moment of the movie has indeed arrived in style and we can understand the ‘trying’ themes that poked us till now.
The tribute to classic Tamil cinema is tops as well. Through Ramaiah as his mouth-piece he gives us a sense of the grammar of Tamil cinema. He doffs his hat to commercial film-makers like ‘Devar Films’ and also expresses his sardonic appreciation of a flop like ‘Aval Appadithan’. He mentions Kamal and of course he has to mention his mentor K Bhagyaraj. Talking about the climax of ‘Andha 7 Naatkal’, he emphasized how Bhagyaraj became a runaway success story. Yet Parthiban acknowledges the power of the modern audience so creates a movie that not only doesn’t have a story – it doesn’t have a climax as well.
So what doesn’t quite works –
Overall characterization is weak even if it is a deliberate ploy. Of Tamizh’s gang of 5 we get to know Thambi Ramaiah the best and of course Murali’s character twist catches us napping. But nothing quite defines the remaining 3 – Arvind, Shirley and Murthy are like plain fillers in the film.
Daksha’s portrayal lacks coherence as well – an IT professional madly in love with Tamizh and shown to be a headstrong woman her antics are nonetheless inconsistent. Apart from fooling us to think that she is Nayanthara when she showcases the ‘romance’ in the marriage, a lot of the rest she does just can’t happen like that in real life. Her ‘fight’ with Tamizh that throws the gang on streets to hold their ‘discussion’ sessions is contrived and not quite convincing.
And a pregnant lady walking out on her husband imagining a troubled re-run of ‘Thambi Ramaiah’s’ life is such a cliché. In today’s modern times we get ‘bubble-wrapped’ feminism that looks cool but in real life is pure nonsense.
The crusty moments with real audience come but don’t sustain. So you have an old maid-servant question why they get to see such trash if the creators put so much time and effort in marking their movies. The money-bag producer’s atrocious English and king-sized ego are predictable stuff. The daft watchman reliving tales of a ‘dead master’ is again realism. But Parthiban doesn’t take trouble to develop this theme – his core audience seems to be ‘multiplex’ millennials so he can play only so far to the gallery.
‘KTVI’ comes across as a well-intentioned attempt to give us vignettes of Tamil cinema and its unique idioms. But it comes across a bit like clockwork – functional and even chic but the heart beat is kind of missing.