Maalai Nerathu Mayakkam

Many Selvaraghavan touches in a mixed bag

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It has always remained a mystery why Selvaraghavan’s scripts treat sex as some nasty, depraved business. The characters are most awkward discussing it—yes, even by Indian standards—and when they just have to, they spit it out like a piece of food that’s been wedged in their teeth for a while. As Manoja (Wamiqa Gabbi, whose lip-sync is on the money) says, “ Paazhaa pona sex .” His rather brutish portrayal of sex is rather intriguing, as he’s one of the few directors who treat the truly uncomfortable everyday situations so casually. Like when Prabhu (Balakrishna), Manoja’s husband, makes a joke about the stink she’s raising while doing her business. In one scene, Prabhu actually says, “ Naan ava kooda sex vechirundhaa… ” I cringed instantly at the artificiality of that sentence. It’s neither crass, nor classy. Just… awkward.

Ironically though, sex is the subject matter of this adult-certified film (Question to censor board: Why beep out abuses in an A-certified film?). Manoja has problems in her relationship, stemming from her refusal to put out before marriage. She wants to be ‘thoroughly’ in love with a man first. Or, as her ex-boyfriend puts it, “ Idhayam avanukkaaga thudikkanum .” Unfortunately for her though, her boyfriend isn’t really interested in her for the long haul. Her mother, and I’m not making this up, actually tells her that the reason her boyfriend continues to be with her is because “ sila figure-a full-a pakkalanaa, aasai pogaadhu .” Make of that what you will.

Meanwhile, Prabhu is a typical Selvaraghavan protagonist. A reincarnation of 7G Rainbow Colony’s Kathir, complete with social ineptitude, random fits of rage, and a whiny manner of speech. He’s sexually repressed, and has never been in a relationship. Considering that his chief relationship strategy is to stare and stare hard at potential partners, you can see why. Maalai Nerathu Mayakkam is what happens when Prabhu and Manoja are brought together by means of an arranged marriage.

Gitanjali may be credited as the director, but there’s an unmistakable Selvaraghavan stamp on the film. Choicest abuses flow freely. I rather enjoyed that even Manoja, unlike the usual Tamil heroines who yell “Idiot!” when they get extraordinarily enraged, lets out quite a earful. There are extended close-ups of people who, for some reason, don’t blink their eyes as often as real people do. There are verbose conversations between characters, who recite their lines in a dull, almost uninterested fashion. He must be the easiest director for a male actor to make a debut film with, considering how inanimate their characters are. There’s even the typical Selvaraghavan dance sequence (in the song ‘Sarakka’), wherein people who’re in the background, suddenly jump in and begin grooving with the hero. Even if you missed the credits, you could easily figure out that the universe and the style of filmmaking is fiercely Selvaraghavan’s. And that’s a relief, for, Tamil cinema is all the worse for his sabbatical.

Like in many of his other scripts, there’s plenty of exaggeration in the writing for effect, but it works only sometimes. Like the scenes that show Manoja being traumatised by Prabhu’s snoring. Even when she’s trying to sleep in the restroom, she can hear his snores in amplified echoes. But when you’re shown that Prabhu, a well-dressed call-centre employee, has no idea how to read an Italian menu, you can’t but roll your eyes. He stutters and stammers, and acts like he’s straight out of some remote village. Prabhu also leaves restrooms in a tissue-soaked mess after using them. It’s all a bit overdone, but hey, it’s Selvaraghavan’s world, one in which a suave, educated man takes a girl on a trip, to see if she’s good in the bed, so he can decide if he wants to propose. They are exaggerations, but his universe, as it generally has been in his film career, is compelling. Part of the credit for this film must go to some great background music by Amrit.

And so, you’re invested in the story, and are able to empathise with Manoja. She’s stuck in an arranged marriage with a man whose problems range from restrooms to restaurants. His idea of fun is listening to ‘Manmadharasa’ aloud. She’d much prefer Simon and Garfunkel, who Prabhu will take an hour to name. Much like 7G Rainbow Colony ’s Kathir, Prabhu also has an instinctive mistrust for ‘upper class’ guys, usually illustrated in Selvaraghavan’s films by their English-speaking ways. This perhaps stems from an inferiority complex, due to Prabhu’s inability to talk the way they do, be the way they are. The problem with Maalai Nerathu… is that unlike 7G Rainbow Colony , whose story is partly the reformation of the wastrel for a hero, Prabhu doesn’t really evolve; not by a long way at least. These sort of apologist stories don’t just stop with subliminally propagating the notion that women should love their men despite their flaws (like in Mayakkam Enna ). They’re actually saying that women must fall in love with the flaws too, even if that’s all the man seems to have.

Maalai Nerathu… also brings to Tamil cinema a new, important issue, which I can’t quite mention without spoiling the film. But suffice it to say that it’s a bit disappointing that not enough screen time is spent delineating the after-effects on the victim, despite an entire half occurring after the incident. Sure, movies aren’t documentaries, but it’d have been quite interesting to see the scars on the victim’s personality, to see how their everyday life is affected. There’s one shot in the bathroom, and a couple of mental flashes to that fateful night, but little else.

But the most serious problem with the film is that you never really believe that Manoja is into Prabhu, even though she claims otherwise towards the end of the film and leaves you tearing your hair apart. You believed that Anitha in 7G Rainbow Colony had fallen in love with Kathir, after he wears her out with familiarity. In that sense, Selvaraghavan’s protagonists are themselves manifestations of the concept of arranged marriages: familiarity slowly, seamlessly transforming into love. In Maalai Nerathu …, you’d struggle to even make a case for Manoja liking Prabhu, let alone being in love with him. Gitanjali opens the film with a line that goes, “It’s difficult to explain some love stories.” Well, perhaps if they were really love stories, they could be explained.

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