When crass exhibitionism and crude overtures are cardinal rules of romance in cinema, here is a director-actor who proves time and again that dignified on-screen love can sell. It doesn’t matter whether he is helming a film or just playing its hero — Cheran’s projects spell dignity. He clearly shows that getting physical isn’t always necessary to showcase true-to-life love. Be it Bharati Kannamma or Autograph, Raman Thaediya Seethai or Pirivom Sandhipom, his love stories are realistic. Pokkisham (U), his latest, is another example.

This period film, set in the early 1970s, much before the communication revolution shrank the world, deals with long-distance love. Lenin, a marine engineer employed in Kolkata, meets Nadira (Padmapriya), a Muslim, at a hospital in his hometown, down South, where his father is undergoing treatment. Nadira’s mom has been admitted to the same hospital for a surgery. Soon they go their ways but interest in literature draws them together, and exchange of letters (Why do they always have to be in chaste Tamil?) between Kolkata and Nagore begins. But, as expected, it is a path strewn with thorns …

The struggles Nadira and Lenin undergo just to meet each other are in flashback mode. Cheran very beautifully contrasts the current scenario of cell phones and the net, which are at people’s beck and call.

When we actually get to know about the life Nadira had been leading for more than four decades after vanishing from Lenin’s life, the intensity of her feelings hits you. An unforgettable climax! Only that too much loudness in the background score makes crucial details inaudible!

As an actor, Cheran has to travel a long way. In the scene where he flares up when Ilavarasu’s wife teases him about a letter that didn’t arrive, he is spontaneous. But the rest is laboured. However he has seen to it that the rest of the cast delivers. Padmapriya is brilliant. Expressions of yearning for her lover, lingering fear and the way her eyes light up on seeing Lenin at Nagore … it’s an award-deserving show from her! Vijayakumar’s underplayed portrayal as Lenin’s dad deserves plaudits and so does Srinivasamurthy’s (Nadira’s father Jallaluddin) subtlety. Ilavarasu is natural as always while TV actor Kalpana who plays his wife is a pleasant surprise. Another apt choice is Rajesh — the hero of Vasanthabalan’s maiden venture, Album, returns to Tamil with Pokkisham. But was he sporting a wig or was his hairstyle queer? The postman Debabrato Roy’s perplexed expressions, and the scenes at the post office in Kolkata, in general, lend levity.

The interplay of silence and sound and single-stanza songs and lengthy numbers, add lustre to a soft, poetic tale of love between Lenin and Nadira. The best part is Cheran credits the viewer with some intelligence, without going out of the way to make situations explicit.

Great work comes from art director Vairabalan whose creation of the ambience of the past is authentic. His eye for detail transports you to the era straightway.

The soothing nature of Sabesh-Murali’s melodies makes you wonder why the duo with such potential hasn’t yet arrived as top composers! However, their re-recording in certain vital scenes is more a hindrance than help.

Rajesh Yadav’s camera, the blend of grey and colour, the superimpositions, the DTS effect (Sivakumar), the special sound (M.J. Raju) that add to the naturalness of scenes, the dialogue that gets transferred seamlessly from one scene to another … a superb technical crew backs Pokkisham.

A marring factor is Padmapriya’s old-woman look. Chronologically she ought to be in her 60s. But she is made to appear at least 20 years older! The wrinkles look so artificial that you feel sorry for her. And does Pokkisham need so many sad solos? When the last song, ‘Nadira …’ begins, melodrama touches a low. You know Cheran’s penchant for length but surely this one number at least could have been pruned.

While Cheran, the actor, is still in the initial lap of the acting race, Cheran, the writer and director, scores impressively, as always.

Pokkisham

Genre: Romance

Director: Cheran

Cast: Cheran, Padmapriya, Vijayakumar

Storyline: A story of two ardent lovers separated by distance and religion.

Bottomline: Authentic depictions …