‘Thiruchitrambalam’ movie review: Dhanush and Nithya Menon are charming in this cuddly slice of life drama

Mithran R Jawahar puts a delightful spin on the Velai Illa Pattadhari template. Yet, this is a film that has a charming innocence at its core

August 18, 2022 02:02 pm | Updated 02:39 pm IST

A still from the movie

A still from the movie | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

There is something sombre and lifeless about the rose-tinted frames of Mithran J Jawahar’s Thiruchitrambalam that screams sorrow and grief. That is what the film is about: suppressed emotions. Yet, the film is not as painfully sad as you might think. It is, in fact, the opposite and brims with life and laughter. This is a film that has a charming innocence at its core. Speaking of which, Dhanush plays the titular role and he is constantly referred to as Pazham, which often means someone who is innocent in Tamil. And who in Indian cinema can sell innocence as sweetly as Dhanush? When the actor plays an innocent, good for nothing guy, there is something austere about the way he does it. We have seen that in Polladhavan. Aadukalam. VIP. Raanjhanaa. Vada Chennai. In many films. There is Nithya Menon, of course, who can equally sell innocence. And they are in a movie together. How great is that? The answer to that is ‘Megham Karukkatha’, where they dance like two butterflies.

Firstly, Mithran R Jawahar puts a delightful spin on the Velai Illa Pattadhari template. This film still follows VIP’s structure and perhaps borrows a few highpoints and Anirudh’s score, but the similarities end there. In fact, it is hard to say if Thiruchitrambalam is a rom-com or a slice of life drama on domestic life. Perhaps it is both. It has the garb and language of a rom-com because it is Dhanush with three heroines. Yet, it is also a slice of life drama about letting go, powered by a terrific Bharathiraja and Prakash Raj.

The “rom-com” is just a layer and never at the forefront. It is, in fact, remarkable how Mithran writes these characters and the respective worlds they inhabit. Pazham tries to pursue his highschool sweetheart Anusha (Raashi Khanna) in the present. He works at a food delivery company and she comes from what looks like the upper class. Then comes Ranjani (Priya Bhavani Shankar) who comes from Thiruchitrambalam’s own village, where she remains firmly committed to her roots. In both these cases, Thiruchitrambalam becomes the beautiful middle guy who cannot climb atop nor down. He is neither here, not there. And there is Shobana (A terrific Nithya Menon. Well, when has she ever not been terrific?) who is just there. Mithran uses Anusha and Ranjani’s background not as an excuse or to make a statement. He just uses it to highlight this: “What you like and what you want are different.”

Cast: Dhanush, Nithya Menon, Priya Bhavani Shankar, Raashi Khanna, Bharathiraja and Prakash Raj
Director: Mithran R Jawahar
Storyline: Thiruchitrambalam is looking for a potential partner everywhere. Is he actually seeing?

Forget about taking itself seriously, this film doesn’t even think big; its aspirations are the size of the colony where Pazham and Shobana live. That in itself is a great blessing for a film full of life…the fact that it is strongly anchored through emotion. Thiruchitrambalam is also one of those rare rom-coms that maintains an even tone throughout its duration. And for every tense moment, we get a subversion from the characters.

Take for instance the scene where Pazham dresses up to meet Anusha for a date, not knowing she is going to break his heart in a later scene. And the film swiftly subverts this with a cheeky moment with Shobana saying, “Why are you dressed like a server?” We laugh. Not at the expense of the characters but the absurdity of their very nature. In essence, the joyous mood is maintained all through. Even the terrific scene where Pazham is shown his place in a world alien to him, when he is tipped by someone, we get a delightful subversion. This lack of judgement, this ability to laugh at your worst times with someone who has your back, is what makes Thiruchitrambalam closer to life. Sure, there are bumps in the tone especially for a portion in the second half. I, in fact, felt nervous for an old wound that comes back in the form of a fight sequence. But even the “fight” is still within the framework of the screenplay. We don’t see Thiruchitrambalam fighting a bad guy in that scene. Instead, we see him beating himself and his inner demons of suppression. This is remarkable screenwriting.

Mithran has so many chances to go wrong. But for every landmine that comes in the form of cinematic cliches — childhood friends, unrequited love; a hero who is a consistent failure and has daddy issues and a buddy grandfather — the director keeps throwing in surprises by doing a few corrections (inventions?) here and there. For example, take the scene where Pazham feels the weight of guilt, watching his father paralysed. Mithran doesn’t immediately go into the sentimental zone. Instead we get a fantastic dialogue from Bharathiraja: “Unnaku avan appa, enakku avan pulla da.” I wept. This is a director who knows what not to do. There are so many fulfilling moments in Thiruchitrambalam that made me sob, take a pause, and laugh in the same breath, like a method actor in an artsy film.

Somewhere in the last quarter you kind of guess where the film is headed. You don’t mind that actually. You root for Dhanush and Nithya Menon, nevertheless. You want their characters to be together in a happy marriage, make lots of babies and just be — watch out for Nithya Menon’s reaction, especially what she communicates through her eyes, in that scene on the terrace when Dhanush stutters and swallows his emotion for the first time. There is so much sadness in her eyes yet there is so much hope. It is as if she is saying, “Please, say it but please don’t.” I was stunned. That is what this film makes you feel. And there is nothing wrong with rooting for childhood friends-turned-potential romantic partners. This is a very basic human emotion and sometimes in movies, the basics are just about fine. Thiruchitrabalam is also that rom-com where you almost get an airport climax. What more do you need, man?

Thiruchitrambalam is currently running in theatres.

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