Pirivom Sandippom is an epic of non-eventual proportions. In other words, nothing ever happens in the movie.
Even the Italian masters of neo-realism, who tried to make art as close to life as possible, never took realism so literally as director Karu Palaniappan does.
In steadfastly refusing to define the dramatic, Palaniappan reduces this movie, which has its remarkable moments, into a manual for the newly-married.
Unusually, this is not a movie dominated by a male protagonist. Instead, it chooses to revolve around the life of the superbly-named Sala (Sneha), who when the movie begins is about to complete her master's degree. The only daughter of her parents, she marries into a joint family of assorted uncles, aunts and children, apart from her in-laws. When she moves out along with her husband from a house full of relatives into a house with nobody to speak to, the loneliness begins to slowly get to her.
This loneliness gives Palanippan the space he needs to make his commentary on family, particularly the Tamil family and "our way of living".
Even after all these years, it is easily to imagine the fresh-faced and slim Sneha as a newly-married. This is a credible performance from the actress who is suitably subtle and never overacts.
Cheran plays Sala's husband Natesan, an engineer with the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board. His is almost a supporting role and Cheran does it remarkably well, particularly in the climax.
The screenplay is a mockery of the very word because there is no play. In some sequences it appears as if the director lets the camera roll without saying cut. The predictable scenes that occupy the first hour beginning with the marriage proposal of the couple leading up to the wedding moves at a pace so slow that it is impossible to deduce what the director is trying to get at. It is as if Palaniappan is broadcasting a Chettiar wedding to aliens on a distant planet.
But the proceedings are directed with such sincerity, a rarity in Tamil cinema, that some of the scenes impress. In one sequence, Cheran leads Sneha with her eyes closed to a room promising to show her the best pooja hall she has ever seen. Inside, she finds a mirror instead of gods and, surprised, she plants a chaste kiss on his cheek (the first of six such in the story). At endearing moments like this, it become easy to believe that the two actors are indeed a loving couple and this illusion is aided by their onscreen chemistry.
A host of supporting actors, all of them well-cast, plays Cheran's extended family in the first half of the movie. The family predates modernity just like Sneha's Sala predates feminism. It's hard to believe that the average Chettiar family in Karaikudi is so regressive.
Vidyasagar's melodious numbers are very good. His background music is spare and deliberate. But it never supplies the scenes with what they lack and is instead content to accentuate the drama.
M S Prabhu's cinematography is functional, but the art direction is ridiculous in many scenes. For example, the houses look like movie sets and don't give a lived-in feeling. All the walls are freshly-painted and doors well-polished giving them a totally fake look.
If not for the sincerity of Palaniappan's approach and his clever use of dialogue, particularly his seemingly authentic recording of Chettiar lingo, this is a forgettable effort. Of the Pongal crop of movies though, this film might well be one of the better efforts.