United Arts' Tamil movie Mayandi Kudumbathar (Mayandi and Family), directed by Rasu Madhuravan grabs your attention right away because its got ten directors acting in it, and a eleventh one at the helm, coordinating their efforts.
You're a bit wary of the plot and its execution, though; it might be a record to have so many directors on board, but this is like a doctor undergoing an operation -- he knows too much to let someone else take the reins.
As it turns out, once you've gotten past the rather irritating voice-over introductions, things aren't that bad: each character is introduced in a steady fashion, giving space to all, starting from Mayandi (Manivannan), his strong and affectionate sons Thavasi (Ponvannan), Virumandi (Seeman), Cheenichamy (Jegannath), and Paraman (Tharun Gopi). His brother Virumandi (G M Kumar) and his sons, Chokkan (Ravi Maria), Chinnu (Nanda Periyasami) are permanently at loggerheads with their cousins, barring Mayandi (Singampuli), who's mentally challenged, but nevertheless likes his uncle very well. Added to the mix is the money-grubbing Sonakkaruppu (Raj Kapoor), who, with his wife Mayakka (Deepa) -- Mayandi's daughter -- often makes unreasonable demands on them. Still, Mayandi's sons are so good-hearted that they grudge not a penny.
Essentially, this is more a family saga than a plain story: Mayandi's first two sons are already married with wives Thavamani (Poovitha) and Pavunu (Kaniya) who patently dislike the joint-family system and are desperate to move out. In the meantime, there's the widowed Azhagamma (S Priya), Mayandi's widowed sister and her daughter Pecchi (Thamizarasi), living nearby, and who have to be provided for.
It's a happy family more or less; Paraman, the last of the brothers has never known his mother and his affection for his father leads him to emotional outbursts. Romance blooms while he's still in school with the fresh-faced Poongodi (Poongodi), and the two carry on long after college.
In the meantime, there's the happy-go-lucky Cheenichamy who arranges sound systems at fairs, and whose marriage is arranged to Dhanam (Hema). Plenty of good-natured family hilarity ensues, with Virumandi's son Mayandi providing laughs. Virumandi (Seeman) is an activist who spends a good deal of his time parleying for the rights of villagers -- which merits him an introduction song anyway.
But no family can continue in paradise; troubles creep up one by one. The biggest catastrophe strikes when Mayandi dies in a freak accident -- and suddenly, everything and everyone threaten the brothers' love for each other.
Sometimes, there's a strong whiff of Vikaraman's screenplay, especially when Sabesh-Murali pop in with their theme song (the musical duo supposedly said they were moved by Rasu Madhuravan's narration, during which he wept often), at others, you're reminded very strongly of the sentimental sagas of the 60s, when every character had miles of dialogue to cover, and spoke reams about love, loyalty, duty and country.
And yet -- perhaps it's because the actors are directors who are well aware of emotion and just how to bring it onscreen -- their body language and dialogue delivery, no matter how stilted the words, are almost perfect. Their affection onscreen, instead of making you cringe, actually does induce genuine sympathy and understanding.
By the end of it all, you begin to wish that you really had brothers like these who stuck to their convictions, stood by ach other and weathered life's storms. Kudos to the director who managed to get such performances from them. Special mention had to be made of the wives -- they're spot on, and their dialogues are superb.
Where the director could have improved is by getting Suresh Ars to edit out the whole cousins-conflict; it seems superfluous. It's obvious he's been influenced a great deal by Subramaniapuram, Paruthiveeran and others -- practically every scene seems inspired.
If you're a fan of sentimental tear-jerkers shot with a healthy dose of rural life -- this one's your cup of tea.