Only two kinds of people can stomach the harsh, in-your-face cruelty of real life -- the stinking rich and the starving poor.
To the majority of the masses, which hangs somewhere in between these two extremes, this movie can be something of a sock in the gut.
MR Productions' Katrathu Thamizh (the title was Thamizh MA first) starts out with the promise of being something different -- a word that's been bandied about so much that you hardly know what to expect these days.
Debutant director Ram's offering, however, tosses you through a maelstrom of emotions, before bringing you back to earth. And the actors he has used to drive his point home don't just act -- they live.
Prabhakar (Jeeva), the protagonist, is a Tamil postgraduate, settled in a meagerly satisfying job as a Tamil teacher that leaves him with barely enough to fend for himself. He doesn't complain, though. Life hasn't lost all its charms yet for him.
Until destiny decides to toss him like a pebble in the street. In a swift succession of events beginning with getting thrown into prison for a trivial matter, he undergoes severe mental trauma, thereby deciding to end his life, which is easier said than done.
Death has no wish to visit him yet, and he makes it through, and thereby commences a peep into Prabhakar's brief journey through life, thus far.
In the beginning, it's a first person narrative; later it switches to camera, filmed by cinematographer Yuvan-Hsuang (Karunaas, in a great comic role).
If you thought a chronically depressed suicidal young man had had a trouble childhood, think again: Prabhakar's childhood home was a happy one, filled with normal parents, good-humoured neighbours and most of all -- his bosom buddy and confidante, Anandhi (Newcomer Anjali).
Together, they spend a childhood concocted of dreams, stringing paper lanterns in the twilight, rushing through windswept hills here S R Kathir's cinematography is breathtaking -- and witnessing their first death, that of Prabhakar's dog, Tony. You have to hand it to Sriram and Keerthi, who play the children; their acting is real, natural and blessedly simple.
The idyll comes to an end all too soon, as Prabhakar's mother and grandparents die in a horrific car crash, picturised so vividly that you blink in horrified sympathy. The hapless boy is soon sent to a hostel, away from his father, but discovers another mentor here, a guardian who's the stuff of dreams -- his Thamizh teacher (Azhagam Perumal).
Years later, upon the death of his beloved mentor, Prabhakar runs into Anandhi again. Death, it seems, has become a constant for Prabhakar, and love breathes new life into him.
The brilliantly shot montages highlight all that is the best of a blooming, heartfelt relationship. But destiny, as though unhappy with this brief respite, soon drives him into a series of twists and turns that will eventually push him to the limit -- and shape Anandhi's fate.
Even during the sickly sweet Aasai Aasaiyay days, you could see the promise glinting in Jeeva's eyes -- despite the straitjacket imposed by hero-centric roles, he managed to bring into them a spark of life. Then came Ram, which was a milestone, whichever way you looked at it. And now, as Prabhakar, Jeeva leads you through dimensions that are frankly amazing.
As the young, vulnerable Prabha, he's endearing, his shy pauses and hesitant body language bringing a mofussil student in front of your eyes. He's perfect as the ganja-smoking near-lunatic who prances in a river and freaking brilliant as the frustrated Tamil graduate who rages in the middle of the night. And in the end, as a clean-shaven innocent again, he's heartbreaking. When he rants against the vagaries of a life that will not offer any opportunity to one such as himself, the applause hits the roof.
Anjali, the latest to join the heroine bandwagon is a breath of fresh air. Her calm face, sans make-up looks up at you with frankness and honesty -- the perfect foil to Jeeva's plethora of emotions. You can only hope she'll get meaty roles in the future as well.
Debutant director he might be, but Ram's apprenticeship under filmdom's greats shows. The dialogues are crisp and supremely natural, the events zigzag swiftly enough that you don't lose interest, and best of all, all the players stay in character.
No unnecessary fast-paced songs mar the tempo. While the one fight is a natural bout of fisticuffs without irritating special effects. Although the continuous onslaught of sadness, sorrow and hopelessness that permeate the whole movie can give you a headache.
There's also not sufficient motivation for why exactly Prabhakar chooses to study Tamil, other than that his mentor chose it; it would have added depth to his privations, had he shown more love for the subject, as such.
Yuvan Shankar Raja's music perfectly accompanies the tones of the movie: sharp and tangy, as in the Para Para Pattamboochi song, mellifluous and heart wrenching, especially whenever Anandhi appears, and is unobtrusive when needed. A laudable effort.
Sreekar Prasad's editing is an exercise in brilliance: slick, fast, and an art unto itself.
For a dose of hard-hitting life, Katradhu Thamizh is your cup of black tea.