Life can be monotonous until we experience a cathartic mind-altering moment. It could be when friends become lovers, when boys become men, when girls become women or even when parents become their children’s friends.
Gautham Vasudev Menon continues to explore such moments in his inimitable style in Neethaane En Ponvasantham, where he refines the threads he already used in Vaaranam Aayiram and Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaaya. In a way, Neethaane En Ponvasantham feels like the concluding part of a trilogy.
Varun Krishnan (Jiiva) and Nitya Vasudevan (Samantha) are childhood sweethearts who are unable to come to terms with their egos, as their love spanning several years blows hot and cold.
The narrative is mostly intense but Santhanam (as Varun's friend Prakash) brings the much-needed comic relief, with his occasional appearance in the movie. He jocularly remarks that he has “date problems” and it is very possible that some important scenes might not have him. But he brings the roof down with his snide remarks about the lovers' plight and even gets to spoof Gautham's Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaaya.
The director sets the mood for the movie using vignettes from student life in Chennai from the 1990s, such as street side cricket, school tuition centres and inter-collegiate cultural competitions. Anyone who went to school or college in the city will connect instantly to the settings. Kudos to art director Rajeevan for this.
Like Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaaya and Vaaranam Aayiram, Neethaane En Ponvasantham is a drama involving just a handful of characters. The narrative is highly sensitive, measured and slow at times. There are no massive twists or turns in the screenplay. Instead, the most poignant moments are the ones that are also the simplest: Like the realisation that dawns on Varun on his responsibility towards his parents.
The only drawback here is the similarity in the characterisation of Varun and Nitya to Karthik and Jessie of Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaaya. The audience has seen this only recently from the director.
There are plenty of positives though: Jiiva and Samantha are outstanding in every frame; Jiiva, the more established actor of the two, makes a tough portrayal seem all too easy — from being a school student to a newly salaried person coming to terms with life and love; Samantha comes up with possibly the best performance by a female lead in Tamil cinema this year, her transformation from a gawky teenager to an adult unable to overcome her ego is outstanding.
The technicians, like in all Gautham's ventures, are top-notch. The camera by Om Prakash and M.S. Prabhu, the editing by Antony and the lyrics by Na. Muthukumar all contribute handsomely.
We have to save the best part of the movie for the last bit in this review: Ilaiyaraaja.
A self-confessed fan, Gautham has said in interviews that Neethaane En Ponvasantham is about packaging Ilaiyaraaja's music for a new generation. It has been a really long wait for legions of fans to see the music director's glory on the silver screen, save for an odd encore here and there.
It is tough to explain the role music plays not just in movies. Apple's iconic founder Steve Jobs once remarked that he could relate to every important moment of his life through a Bob Dylan or a Beatles song. Most people who grew up watching the Tamil cinema of the 1980s and the 1990s would say the same of Ilaiyaraaja's music.
Neethaane En Ponvasantham is without a doubt the best homage to a man whose music has swayed millions. Not only are the songs outstanding, the manner in which the filmmaker has woven them into the narrative makes them even more special.
In a moment of inspiration, Gautham uses two songs back to back — ‘Kaatrai Konjam’ sung by Karthik and ‘Mudhal Murai’ sung by Sunidhi Chauhan. The ten-minute sequence is a vindication of Ilaiyaraaja's genius.
Neethaane En Ponvasantham is a treat for all Ilaiyaraaja fans. His music elevates a good film by Gautham Vasudev Menon into a must-watch for the season.
Neethaane En Ponvasantham
Director: Gautham Vasudev Menon
Cast: Jiiva, Samantha, Santhanam
Storyline: Childhood sweathearts Varun and Nithya are unable to control their egos as they grow up and their lives crisscross, culminating in a tumultuous climax.
Bottomline: Don't miss it, especially if you love Ilaiyaraaja. Watch it in a theatre with a good sound system.