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August 26, 2000


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Deconstructing cliches


Prashanth and Simran A man standing on his feet is no big deal. Stand him on his head, and passersby -- no matter how blase -- notice.

Ditto with cliches. In itself, celluloid cliches are yawn-inducing -- and no cliche is as hackneyed as the love triangle. But turn it upside down, and you get an intriguing plot line.

That is what Sharan does, to good effect, in Paarthein Rasithein. He takes the love triangle, and he puts it on its head with its legs waving in the air, and comes up with a worthy successor to his previous superhit, Amarkkalam.

The story is easily told. There is Raghuvaran and his half-sister Simran. The brother adores his sister, is protective of her. The sister can't stand the sight of her brother, for reasons to do with their common father and respective mothers.

And staying in a rooftop lean-to of their home, as lodger, is Prashanth. The amicus curae in this uneasy familial mix. For Simran, he is trusted friend; for Raghuvaran, an intermediary in his dealings with his sister. The relationship between Simran and Prashanth is etched early and sharply -- there is camaraderie, fellow feeling, mutual trust and respect. And not an iota of romance.

Laila and Prashanth None that is evident, at least, on either part. One day, while whiling time at a bus stop, Prashanth sees a feminine face that captivates him. The bus stop, at that time of day, becomes his favourite haunt, as he increasingly becomes enamoured of Laila. From her glances and general body language, he has reason to believe she is enamoured of him, too.

Enter cliche number one -- the tradition-bound, MCP father and ailing mother requiring operation. The mother wants her son to marry -- a girl of the father's choosing -- before she goes under the surgeon's knife. The son wants to get out of the trap without hurting the mother he loves.

Simran takes charge. And falls back on that other cliche -- the two, Prashanth and Simran, pretend that they plan to marry. Everyone's happy, and the mother agrees to the surgery. Prashanth, meanwhile, continues to dog Laila's footsteps. The romance builds, through glances and such. Until Raghuvaran stumbles upon it.

Outraged, he accuses Prashanth of betraying his sister, of breach of promise. Prashanth tries to explain, then decides that explanations are best left in the hands of Simran. So he appeals to her. "Tell him the truth, tell him that our talk of getting married was just a farce," he appeals. This is where Simran would laugh at her brother and go, "Hey, April fool."

But no. Simran, wide-eyed and innocent, asks, "Farce? I don't know any such thing, I thought we were really going to get married..." There you go. Cliche inverted.

Prashanth realises that Simran loves him and wants him for her own. He realises that this is why she suggested the ruse in the first place -- to get him to commit to her in front of his parents and her brother. He tries to make her see sense. Instead, what he sees is love turning to obsession, to a fierce desire to get her own way irrespective of the cost. And that makes for an explosive situation. Thus much of the plot, we can reveal. The rest lies in the seeing.

Overall, the film is a shade more loosely structured than Amarkkalam, a bit less taut in its pacing. One reason could be the comedy track (courtesy Sharan regulars Dhamu, Vayyapuri and Charlie), which goes its own way, divorced for the most part from the main story, and therefore creating little interludes when the story lurks, in suspended animation like a bus caught in a traffic jam.

This part of a film review is always a problem for me -- I like my comedy merged into the story, not standing out like a sixth finger. But then, there is a sizeable section of the audience for whom the comedy track, and the entertainment to be derived therefrom, is the main reason for watching a movie.

Another slightly jarring note is the extended climax, a mix of Prashanth showing nifty fighting skills, interspersed with cuts to a bunch of striking doctors in a government hospital, and the resulting confusion. The climax itself is fair enough -- it is the length that has you fretting. More so because the fight is followed by another climax, this one emotional.

Having got those cribs out of the way, we'll get to the good bits. The first is obviously the story itself. By revealing the love and desire lurking behind friendship, Sharan explores a whole new emotional matrix, and quite convincingly at that.

Then there is the cast. Laila (the ballet-trained Bombay girl who debuted in Kallazhagar opposite Vijaykanth, and has in time developed into a reasonably busy actress in Malayalam and Telugu) is needed to look sweet and shy, and she delivers. Interestingly, she speaks less than ten words in the entire movie, and none of them to Prashanth. Yet, despite this lack of verbal interaction, the romance between them is palpable to the point that we empathise -- and that is a triumph for the director's skills at delineating feelings and emotions, without going the talking-heads route.

Prashanth has been in the business long enough to be able to deliver in the kind of role given to him. As has Raghuvaran. They do.

And then there is Simran. Not so long ago, she was the flagbearer of the glam brigade on the Tamil marquee -- the babe with the waist. Slowly, but very surely, an actress has been emerging, over the last year or two -- and in this movie, the babe is completely overshadowed by an actress very sure of her skills.

Paarthein Rasithein Incidentally, this is the third Prashanth-Simran pairing in Tamil -- following the moderately successful Kannethire Thondrinaal and the successful Jodi. The two seem to have a good working rapport -- there is an easy chemistry in their on-screen interaction that helps make their characters more believable.

A point worth mentioning is Sharan's penchant for making his backdrops assume a character of their own. In his first film, Kaadhal Mannan, a mansion forms the backdrop for the story, and it is as real a character as the lead players, with a life and purpose of its own. In Amarkkalam, it is Srinivasa Theatre in Madras that forms the backdrop to the tale -- and again, the theatre becomes an integral part of the storyline. Here, it is the bus Laila travels on. Route Number 23C, thus, is not merely a vehicle to transport Prashanth's lady love to and from his site, but develops a life of its own, helping to carry the plotline forward in its own way.

Venkatesh's cinematography is crisp and clean. It would have been surprising if it hadn't -- these days, even dud Tamil films are characterised by outstanding camera work. The dances are nifty, thanks to choreographer Lawrence. You will remember him as the guy who captured attention with a debut appearance in the Maha Ganapathi dance number in Sharan's earlier Amarkkalam.

Here, the one-time assistant of Prabhu Deva graduates to playing a key character role, besides holding dance fans in thrall. Bharadwaj is Sharan's composer of choice, having featured in all three of his movies thus far. His score here is again a touch under the Amarkkalam class, but it is the kind of music that grows on you -- aided and abetted by Vairamuthu's lyrics, ranging from the hip and the romantic to the erotic.

'Super' Subbarayan completes the crew put together by the producers, Serene Movie Makers, and takes responsibility for the elaborate stunt sequences.

Overall, though, this is a director's film. And despite his indulgence in some rather long-drawn scenes of comedy and action, Sharan doesn't disappoint an audience primed to expect good things from him.

Related links:
Paarthein Rasithein music review
Paarthein Rasithein songs in real audio!

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