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Director: Shankar | Year: 2014 |  Language: Tamil

All our lives we have been told, true love is not about looks; you love a person and not his or her  physical appearance. But how many of us have been put to test on this?  Would your love be the same the same if your loved one’s face is scarred with an acid attack,   or the body disfigured hideously with a debilitating disease? Not the kind of theme a faint-hearted film director would like to touch with a ten-foot boom mike.

But you can accuse Shankar of many things, but not of not thinking big, or out of the box. Like Dostoevsky in fiction an Einstein in science, Shankar believes you can only get to the core of truth only by pushing the envelope. What if a poor student decides to kill his landlady because he thinks she is not doing one ounce of use to the society and he could make better use of her money? What if I chase a beam of light as it travels through space?

So what happens if the man you love turns physically grotesque one day? Most of us would like to see the girl continuing to love him. But to live with him? Yes. But is it possible? How would it feel like? It is to Shankar’s credit that he SHOWS us and makes us believe.

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And he is not like Raj Kapoor in Satyam Shivam Sundaram who shows only fleeting glimpses of Zeenat Aman’s face burnt on one side. He walks the talk. We see Vikram’s face with multiple bee-bite boils and the ugly lump on his hunchback in closer-ups as he talks and interacts with different characters in the film. And it is to the considerable credit of both Shankar and Vikram that this person with all his grotesqueness comes off so totally human.  (The other welcome departure from Raj Kapoor is in avoiding the pitfall of being obsessed with the heroine’s sexuality. Shankar shows off the erotic charms of Amy Jackson /Diya at the start, but slowly tones it down , making her grow  as a character, drawing us into the narrative.)

Actually, Shankar has been pushing the envelope right from his first film, Gentleman. With every film we go looking for what he is going to come up with this time. And each time he comes up with a new idea. And new levels of excess. But after Robot , one thought how much farther can he go now? What more can he show us now? May be that is why he did the 3 Idiots remake after Robot. But then comes back and he pulls this out of his hat.

Of course we know better than to expect any kind of psychological subtlety or controlled narration from Shankar. It is all sledge hammer and more of everything, never knowing where to stop. But I wasn’t complaining – except for the fight scenes which are choreographed unimaginatively and go on and on. But not so the songs. Each of Shankar’s songs is a well-scripted music video with a complete story and a definite concept. The fish ending in Mersalaayiten   is so damn cute. And Ennodu Nee Irundhal makes you wonder why can’t  Shankar make a full-length fairy tale. And it was such a brilliant idea to use Aila Aila to string together a series of ads for different ads. I like the way Shankar thinks songs. Lip-synced songs are not real any way. So why use them if you are not able to give your imagination a free run and show something that you can’t as a normal narration. Thankfully we have Rahman’s  powerful score to partner Shankar’s extravagant imagination.

I went for a 6 O’clock show instead of the usual late night one fearing its two-hour-plus length. But the minutes just passed by because Shankar tells an engaging tale.  One trait Shankar shares with Raju Hirani apart from having a big idea at the core is  peppering the narration with quirky observations from everyday life and using the with a dash of humour. Take the scene where Vikram / Lingasen goes to a old paper ( raddi) shop. He admires this model Diya ( Amy Jackson) no matter she is modelling for soap, face cream, or sanitary napkin. So he goes to this shop tears off all these pages featuring her ads…and  hold your breath…places them on the scale to weigh! The other funny bit is how he demonstrates the humiliation that the villain Upen Patel feels on being worsted as a top model. Now he is down to endorsing third-grade products. And the last nail on his coffin is the ad he has to do for a local housing project, Arun Nagar, getting off his stud high-horse, putting white on his hair  and putting on white dhoti and shirt, donning the role of a middle-class genial Tamilian uncle of sorts.

Shankar may not be subtle, but he is never off the mark when it comes to the core psychological truth. The obsessive love that the transgender stylist feels for Lee  and the ensuing antics save the long Chinese portion from becoming a drag. The paedophilic obsession  of the doctor uncle for Diya continuing through her adulthood is also shown convincingly, though wee bit more graphically that  the more squeamish among us  would like.  The same goes for the gory revenge that Lingasen wrecks on each of the wrongdoers. Was it necessary to show all the physical degradation in that kind of graphic detail? In Shankar’s book of aesthetics, yes. He just does not believe in holding back anything. You want something to happen, and you want to see it happen …you better have the gumption to see it till the ned,  and see what it is really like.

But if this penchant for excess was limited only to the violent and the gory. , his films won’t have been worth visiting. But he can visualize the limits of sweet love or extreme kindness, again in all its mundane detail and take you where no other director usually takes you. Just the scene in the coda after the end – no it’s not real, it cannot be – where the hunchbacked Lee and a devoted Diya are cutting vegetables, both beaming with inner glow of happiness, makes you believe in true love…and movie magic. And makes you forgive all of Shankar’s excesses.

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