My relation with Chennai is restricted to a very short period of time. That’s probably why the little memories I’ve had here makes it all the more special for me. One of them being my first movie watching experience. Not that I significantly remember the first time but one of the earliest films I’d watched was Alaipayuthey. My parents took me to watch it on the open grounds of the Prarthana Theatre. 20 years later it still holds a very special place in my heart.
While recently rewatching the film for the nth time, I realized that I only kept growing more attached to the film rather than growing out of it. Today being a remarkable day in the film’s journey, I decided to pen down some reasons as to why this film deserves the love it has been receiving and why it’ll always be a piece of cinematic brilliance. So if you end up watching the movie again tonight, you can thank me later!
Karthick and Shakthi have gone on to be the household names of Love in the hearts of several film enthusiasts! Although I don’t believe in Love at First Sight, the undeniable compatibility and chemistry between the actors had me drooling over them ten minutes into the film. They meet in the most cinematic manner possible at a wedding ceremony. Their later meetings are also extremely coincidental and a matter of chance mostly. Yet, it didn’t seem like a hindrance to believing in their love story coz the mindless romantic in me couldn’t but give in to their wonderful chemistry!
AR Rahman truly creates magic. But AR Rahman in a Mani Ratnam’s direction is something that is beyond mortal understanding. The album was selling like hotcakes when it released, with each song significantly influencing a number of people. Kadhal Sadugudu for the lovers, Yaaro Yaarodi for the wedding enthusiasts, Evano Oruvan for the ones in despair and Endrendrum Punnagai for the hopeful ones. If you haven’t gone on a ride while listening to Endrendrum Punnagai or if you haven’t wrapped a yellow dupatta around your lover while lip-syncing to Kadhal Sadugudu, are you even a true fan?
The Magic of the Dialogues
What I love the most about this film is that the writing isn’t too preachy. The characters aren’t cinematic for the sake of it or they don’t indulge in extensive conversations to get their point across. So, the little they speak truly touches my heart! Be it the realistic approach to the conversations or the immense emotions that Mani sir’s words can convey, even a “Hello unga logic sagikkala!” ends up bringing a smile on my face.
Women I Look up to
Yes, most of Mani sir’s films are known for their female leads but this one is a league ahead! Shalini is shown as a bold character who gives up her family for Madhavan. She is independent, egoistic and financially more stable than Maddy who is still just setting a startup. She isn’t someone who would sacrifice her independence or her way of living for anything else. But this film has more than just one strong character.
Poorni, a willing accomplice in the love game, is equally admirable as an independent working woman. Unusual in Indian cinema, she sacrifices her own desires in order to help her sister out. The two sisters are the breadwinners of the family and contribute majorly to the financial stability of the household (contrary to popular representation).
Not only is Mani sir a great director in terms of the stories he tells but also in terms of the people he picks to tell his stories. P. C. Sreeram is a master in that sense! His shots and visual contribution to the film goes on to significantly affect the route of the story being told. Alapaiyuthey is filled with such stellar shots that don’t just portray a character’s actions but also further go on to show emotions like fear, vulnerability and so on through their compositions.
Karthick is not an ideal hero. In fact he is a lot of things that a hero isn’t! He is financially unstable, he is messy, he cries if he feels like it, his anger can get the better of him leading him to make stupid decisions and he is more carefree than he ought to be. Not sorted, not financially dependent and most definitely not your ideal breadwinner! But it is these very flaws that make him a household character. Somebody who is very real thus leading us to embrace his flaws.
The Marriage of Music to Visuals
Alaipayuthey has one of the most beautiful song visualizations in Tamil Cinema. Be it Yaaro Yaarodi or Pachai Nirame, not only are they visually stunning but they also help take the story ahead rather than being extra additions to the movie. The compositions, the choreography, the colours and the story just perfectly fit into the melodies giving us some soulful audiovisual content!
This is a film where not only the lead characters but even the supporting characters are given importance. Be it the Paatis singing Carnatic music while propagating Karthick’s desire to marry Shakthi, the grocery store Anna with the only telephone in Shakthi’s colony for Karthick to call her or Karthick’s kutti niece who happens to byheart the phone number that’ll later help bring the lovers together; everybody has a significant role to play. Their relevance and appeal make it easier for us to become a part of their world.
Alaiapyuthey did a brilliant job with its set design and artboard. I mean Karthick and Shakthi’s unfinished house is such a mood that I was insistent that my room has to have a mattress placed on the floor just like in the movie! The film’s set design goes on to define the character’s background and further add on to their personality. Be it the railway quarters, Vakeel’s bungalow or the Newlywed’s humble abode, the set goes on to define the characters and their mind space at every stage of the film!
Marriage as an Institution
Yes, the film has a happy ending but it’s not really your fairytale love story. The film in fact is more about the characters’ journey towards embracing each other’s flaws rather than having an unrealistic happy arc. From the honeymoon phase to the insecurities, the jealousies and the ego clashes between the young lovers, marriage as an institution is beautifully and more aptly, accurately portrayed in the film! Gender roles are redefined and so is Modern Love which surprisingly makes sense to this day!
It is only in a Mani sir’s film that you see inanimate objects become a significant part of the story. How many of us had started incorporating trains, buses and rain into our romantic fantasies purely being inspired by a Mani Ratnam film? For instance, a storm in the film becomes a representation of a villainous character propagating something negative like the distance between the lovers. The train is a significant part of Shalini and Karthick’s love story and in a sense becomes a medium for expressing their love. Accompanied by stunning visuals and compositions, these objects truly come alive in the story, thus elevating the mood of the film.
Relevance through Time
Although Alaipayuthey became a defining love story in the early 21st century, it is relevant to date! The story is timeless in the sense of its portrayal of romance and the characters. The emotion they convey is so genuine that it’ll take a long time before the film can get outdated. You could be watching the film for the first time today and it would make as much sense to you as it did to someone who watched it twenty years ago!
This second-gen love story from Mani Ratnam’s popular Romantic Trilogy has gone on to inspire generations of lovers. It’s not even funny the number of times I’ve heard the old and young use references and dialogues from the film. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and it’s only natural for the hopeless romantics in us to draw inspiration from a classic like Alaipayuthey. I mean if someone genuinely walked up to you to say -
naan unna virumbala un maela aasai padla, nee azhagaa irukkannu nenakkala,
aana idhuelaam nadandhudumonnu bayama irukku!’
How long would you really be able to refrain from smiling?
While watching one of Mani Sir’s videos where he answers some questions, I came across this very interesting reaction that he had towards a compliment. When he was told that some shots in his films blows the audience’s mind, he responded by saying -
“What about the rest of them? Coz we put as much effort into every shot!”
That’s the beauty of a Mani Ratnam film. Every Sequence, Shot and Frame is Magic! And so is every character and emotion. I don’t know how far this stands true for the rest of his films but I’d any day vouch for Alaipayuthey! How else do you explain a story that can charm us with its magic even twenty years later?