Twenty years without tears

Vaanam paarthen… Pazhagiya vinmeen engo poga…

A song of angst, of yearning. A song not about Rajini, but about Kabali. A song in no rush to get over. You can already imagine a hundred eyes welling up at once in the theatre. Grappling with the melancholia injected by the song, I asked myself when I last shed tears in a Rajini film. And the answer, as Buzzfeed will probably put it, is nothing like you will ever imagine.

For a lot of people, cinema is simply entertainment. We all have that friend who says, “Enough sorrow in real life. I don’t need it in the theatre too.” But I’ve always found cinema to be much more than blithe entertainment. There’s deep satisfaction in getting lost in films, in laughing and crying in theatres. Art that moves you to tears reaches into your inside, into corners even you haven’t explored in a long time. As a wise man put it, tears are often the telescope by which men see far into heaven.

But when had a Rajini film last moved me to tears? Tears of pain caused by the unbearability of sitting through a film don’t count, and that rules out a recent couple of his films without having to name and shame. Rewind to Enthiran. If the film had confined itself to being a romantic drama, Chitti’s unrequited love could potentially have elicited a tear or two. But Shankar films usually aim more to awe than to move. So, rewind to Kuselan, which, without doubt, wants to leave you tearful. The climax scene that has Rajini delivering a speech about the importance of friendship definitely goes for the jugular, but unfortunately, too much damage is done by that point. Moreover, the impact of the scene also gets diluted by all the reaction shots of dozens and dozens of people who are all united in their weeping. Director P. Vasu is no master of subtlety, and so, makes it painfully obvious that he expects you to join them. Of course, you don’t because you can’t summon up the feels at gun point.

Rewind further, and you get Sivaji. It’s Shankar again, and the closest it comes to breaking your heart is during a fleeting moment when Rajini is in police custody and some conscientious policemen refuse to beat him up because it so transpires that their relatives either study at his engineering college or work at his mill. He is even pronounced to be dead by a doctor, who, for some reason, doesn’t really consider the magic of CPR. We absorb all of this all from a safe distance, saving our energy for the next bout of cheering, for the next awesome moment. There is, of course, Chandramukhi before that, and save for Prabhu’s immortalised line, “Enna kodumai saravanan!” that likely was the founding father of all Tamil cinema-related memes, there wasn’t much attempt at making you tear up.

Just how deep must we wade into Rajinikanth’s filmography for that elusive film? Behind Chandramukhi is the infamous Baba. But as distributors and despondent fans don’t count for the purposes of our discussion, we move further back. There is Padaiyappa, and before it, Sundar C.’s Arunachalam, both successful and without any effective tragic moments. And then, K.S. Ravikumar saves the day. The search finally comes to a halt at the doorstep of Muthu. Yes, Muthu of ‘Vidukathaiya’ fame that got people of all age groups bawling like babies.

So, believe it or not, but it has been 21 long years since a Rajini film made most of us tear up. ‘Neruppu Da’ may be a worthy successor to a long list of Rajini songs that have got the audience roaring in applause, but I’m more excited by the prospect of being dispirited by ‘Maya Nadhi’, of being dejected by ‘Vaanam Paarthen’. My tissues are ready. Let’s hope they get used.

This column was written for The Hindu. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share this review.

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