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Saraswathy Srinivas | December 26, 2006 14:26 IST
Poi, veteran director K Balachander's 101th film, is different from the current masala; for a septugenarian director to handle a youthful theme without any box-office trappings is laudable. However, a stale theme, losely written screenplay, an overdose of symbolism and a clich�d ending dilute the film's aesthetic quality.
In a sense, Poi is just another love story fed on lies, half-truths and camouflage. The reluctance of the lovers to reveal their true feelings at the right time lead to disastrous consequences -- a plot point witnessed in films ranging from Oru thalai ragam to some of Balachander's own hits, like Sollathaan Ninnakkiren.
Kamban (Uday Kiran), or Bharathi, as he calls himself later, is an impulsive rebel with a short fuse. His politician father's opponents exploit an explosive situation the lad gets into, and make him a pawn in their wily games. Kamban soon realizes his folly and, thanks to some sound advice by his friends, flies to Sri Lanka as a means of wriggling out of the situation.
There, he falls in love with Shilpa (Vimala). A metaphysical character, an old man who can also be considered Bharathi's alter ego, takes over the reigns of Bharathi's life. Another character representing 'Vidhi' (fate) also enters the scene. The old man suggests kadhal (love) as the panacea for Bharathi's problems.
But Shilpa shuns love and all its trappings. She wants to achieve her own identity and make something out of her life. Another character Roshan, Shilpa's childhood classmate, enters the fray. He tries to unite Shilpa and Bharathi, but his ploy backfires.
Balachander's films rarely have a feel-good denouement, and this one is no different. The climax has shades of his Maro charitra (Ek Duje ke liye in Hindi) and Punnagai mannan, where the lovers are destined to end in a watery grave.
On the good side, there are quaint Balachander touches throughout the film: for example, the snakes and ladder game the old man and 'Vidhi' indulge in. The two are like the vidushaka in Sanskrit dramas or the chorus in Greek and Shakespearean plays. The ups and downs the players go through in the game are symbolic of the highs and lows in the protagonist's love saga. The breaking of the hundi (given to Bharathi by his mother to fill up with money whenever he tells a lie), and the way he almost loses the book he buys for her, all foreshadow the end to come.
There are, however, too many stumbles in the narration. For instance, once Bharathi reaches Colombo, he completely forgets about seeking a job or building his career; apparently such mundane considerations are unimportant when one is in love. The attempts to trace Bharathi when his doting mother passes away appear half-hearted, and it is strange that he is never intimated about the tragedy; the reason given for it is totally unconvincing.
Balachander has an affinity for the sea, and it is a character in Poi also. The trajectory of Bharathi's and Shilpa's love story is closely intertwined with the moods of the sea. The loud heartrending wails of the flower-vender, a tsunami victim, are a protest against the sea which can also turn into an all-consuming monster.
Cinematographer Viswanath deserves kudos; his camera has captivated the breathtaking beauty of the sea, the verdant countryside and coconut groves of Sri Lanka with precision.
Tamarai's dialogues are witty and expressive -- but why are they peppered with Hindi, especially in a film that puts so much emphasis on the correct pronunciation of Tamil words? Shilpa's oft -- repeated Samjhe? (Understand?) is irritating.
Balachander as the old man shows the fire is still burning bright in him. Telugu actor Uday Kiran, who makes his debut in Tamil with this film, is adequate in emotion-charged scenes, but otherwise has a long way to go.
Balachander has a reputation for creating superstars but he cannot do much for debutante Vimala. The former Miss India Australia is wooden, and totally miscast in the film. By contrast, Malayalam actress Geethu Mohandas plays an important cameo. Prakash Raj as 'Vidhi', in his strange costume, only manages to look like Mandrake.
Brand names raise sky-high expectations but conversely, when they fail to deliver the goods, the disappointment is similarly gigantic. Poi is a case in point -- you expect so much from Balachander, a genuine icon of Tamil filmdom; if you leave adulation aside, though, you have to say that his latest film disappoints.
Tail piece: Overheard in the theatre: "The best scene in Poi is the intermission."
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