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‘Mehandi Circus’ review: A simple, effective love story

A still from ‘Mehandi Circus’

A still from ‘Mehandi Circus’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

This love story takes place at a time when Ilaiyaraaja songs filled tea stalls and Rajini-Kamal posters dominated the streets

The opening credits of ‘Mehandi Circus’ give away a basic one-liner. It begins with a folktale-ish narration about a princess and prince who fall for each other. When the prince gets defeated by a Mongolian king, he goes into exile. The king, in the meantime, makes several failed attempts on the princess’ life, to attain immortality. Like most fairy tales, the princess is eventually saved by the prince, and they live happily ever after. The folktale, presented in an animated sequence over the beautiful song ‘Mayilpola Ilavarasi’, mirrors the lives of Jeeva (Madhampatty Rangaraj, in a role tailor-made for Attakathi Dinesh) and Mehandi (Shweta Tripathi, in a role she can sleep-walk through).

Mehandi Circus
  • Cast: Shweta Tripathi, Madhampatty Rangaraj, Vela Ramamoorthy and RJ Vigneshkanth
  • Director: Saravanan Rajendran
  • Storyline: Jeeva and Mehandi come from two different worlds. Are they destined to be together?

When we meet Jeeva for the first time, he is drunk, but steady. He picks up a fight with a fellow drinker over the name of a vocalist who sang a popular 80’s song. The man credits K.S. Chitra while it was actually sung by Vani Jayaram. This isn’t limited to one song. The men at the bar further challenge Jeeva, and he rattles off the names of every singer — from TMS, Jensy, Janaki to SPB Shailaja — all in one breath. When someone asks him about a song from the post-Rahman era, he wonders if it’s indeed a movie song. Jeeva lives in the past or as his friend puts it: “He’s not updated after 1992.” A few seconds later, one can literally hear his heart beat at the mere mention of ‘O Papa Lali’ from Geetanjali. Memories from years past flash through his mind. He is reminded of Mehandi. Their love story takes place at a time when Ilaiyaraaja songs filled tea stalls and Rajini-Kamal posters dominated the streets. Set in 1992 in Kodaikanal, the first half, beautifully staged and executed, pays a glorious tribute to Ilaiyaraaja, Shankar Ganesh, A.R. Rahman and Kishore Da. Walls are adorned with original posters — of Kaakki Sattai, Dharma Durai, Karagattakaran, Nayakan, Thalapathi, Maine Pyaar Kiya, and Sadma — possibly reflecting the period Raju Murugan (who has written the script) grew up in.

Jeeva runs a musical shop called Rajageetham Musical, that has on its walls, of course, an Ilaiyaraaja poster. Mehandi, a circus performer from Rajasthan, moves to Kodaikanal along with her father. They are like seasonal birds, shuttling between cities for work. Jeeva is smitten by her beauty and innocence. He can’t stand people ogling at Mehandi during the circus acts. There is an interesting angle on how men use circus as an excuse to objectify women. In fact, the line: ‘Ellarukum ava heroine’ in the soulful ‘Vellattu Kannazhagi’, has something on those lines. But the film refuses to explore that grey area. Every scene written around the couple has music (either by Sean Roldan or Ilaiyaraaja) playing in the background. And the terrific choice of songs – ‘Ye Raatein Ye Mausam’ for instance – makes you buy into their romance. These portions are anything but cute. You feel for Mehandi’s helplessness when she says, “Pona maasam varaikkum nee yaarunu kooda theriyathu...ippo dhan konjum bayamairuku.” (Till last month, I didn't even know who you were. Now, I’m a little scared.”)

But the problem arises in the second half, where it becomes the character’s self-inflicted journey. The structure of ‘Mehandi Circus’ reminded me of Raju Murugan’s previous work, ‘Cuckoo,’ in which the protagonist goes in search of his lost love. The presence of a cunning villain, an uninteresting subtext about caste, and the story of a pastor’s secret life, all come across as less than convincing.

The writing, a tad ordinary, doesn’t aspire for more, and functions within its small world for the most part. This could also be seen as the film’s achievement.

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Printable version | Jul 3, 2020 1:27:27 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/mehandi-circus-review-a-simple-effective-love-story/article26885974.ece

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