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More than sixty years ago, a master writer wrote a legendary historical romance that involved a peerless dancer, a great sculptor and a prince that captured the imagination of an entire generation of readers.
That writer was Kalki Krishnamurthy and the work was Sivagamiyin Sabadham. The influence of that novel is still evident in J Nandini Arts' Tamil flick Uliyin Osai (The Sound of a Chisel), directed by Ilavenil, and written by Kalaignar Karunanidhi.
The story is set in different times, 1005 AD to be exact, and you feel you're in for an interesting ride as you're transported back to the court of King Raja Raja Chola I (Sarath Babu) as he embarks on his project to build the magnificent Brihadeeswara Temple in Thanjavur.
Despite the mandatory court dances amid gaudy and patchwork-like settings clashing horribly, the story moves at a brisk enough pace. The King desperately seeks a master sculptor to build the 108 dancing sculptors that rest within the temple complex, upon which the Crown Prince, Rajendra, finds one -- Iniyan (Vineeth), who is so talented that he can sculpt Lord Buddha blindfolded.
Iniyan, however, suffers from a serious lack of muse, and hunts high and low for the perfect dancer who can pose for him, with the help of comic sidekick Soodamani (Kanja Karuppu), who struts around wearing coloured ribbons in his hair.
Along the way, Iniyan manages to fall foul of Muthunagai (Akshaya), a dancer who prides herself on her beauty and dancing skills. Enraged during a court performance where Iniyan out-dances her, she first tries to commit suicide, and later, with her brother Manikandan's help (Thalaivasal Vijay) tries to wreck Iniyan's work. Her sidekick, Sokki (Kovai Sarala) shrieks her way through every conversation, even as she carries on a half-baked romance with Soodamani.
Meanwhile, as Muthunagai frets and fumes at her failure, Iniyan's search for the perfect dancer continues. Azhagi (Manorama), an old goatherd informs him of her granddaughter's superior dancing skills.
Enter Samundi (Keerthi Chawla) the heroine, who, even though a goat-herd herself, wears nail polish and dances with all the grace of an accomplished courtesan. A delighted Iniyan promptly begins work and even more promptly, falls in love with her.
As each sculpture is finished, Iniyan's love grows, as does Muthunagai's preoccupation with him. She performs weird snake dances, wounds him with his chisel, and then, inexplicably falls in love with him.
Her brother in the meantime, tries every trick in the trade to kill Iniyan, while the King's minister, Brammarayar (Bala Singh) gives bloodcurdling laughs and strange pronouncements from time to time.
Yes, there's a twist in the tale, for Samundi hides a great secret. To reveal anymore would be to unravel the whole story (what little of it there is) -- and in any case, the second half is such a drag that it practically stops.
Vineeth plays his usual softie role; if only his wig weren't so terrible, and his pronunciation without an accent. His dancing skills are far better than either of the heroines, as is evidenced by the one song he performs.
Keerthi Chawla has nothing better to do than smile mysteriously and dance passably. Poor Akshaya has to drop her clothes half the time, speak double entendres, smile and simper coquettishly.
Sarath Babu apparently thinks speaking chaste Tamil means grunting Ahs! while Manorama and Bala Singh are the only ones who pass muster in the modulation department. The rest, thankfully, have been asked to speak colloquial Tamil.
Almost half the film has been devoted to the silly comic antics between Kovai Sarala, Kanja Karuppu and Manorama, which makes you yawn every ten seconds.
The costumes are terribly tacky, while Mahi's sets, though elaborate, remind you of old Doordarshan dramas. The only scene that shows originality is the one where models of the Thanjavur Temple are placed outside Iniyan's home, for the sculptors to work by. Otherwise, there's absolutely no indication of the historical magnificence and feel of the 11th century, which is a big let-down, considering that even Imsai Arasan 23-aam Pulikesi did much better in the set-department.
Conversations, at least, are not so tedious, courtesy the script-writer, Karunanidhi, even though he has succumbed to include 'commercial' aspects for the frontbenchers.
There are also the mandatory political announcements and predictions in the conversations. But the biggest flaw is the script itself, which based on a tiny story, has been stretched to two-and-a-half hours.
Ilaiyaraja is one of those composers who are incapable of delivering bad work even when their hearts are not in it. His songs, especially, Kallai Irunthen and Ethanai Baavangal are worth a listen.
We possess an incredible culture, and an extraordinary history. It's a pity that there aren't enough historical movie-makers.
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