It’s impossible to resist comparing Pasanga-2 with Taare Zameen Par. They’re both about disorders (here, it’s Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), they have a chirpy, animated protagonist who totally gets children, there are concerned parents who need to be counselled, and of course, both films make points against conventional teaching methods, and evaluation systems. Interestingly though, for the longest time, you’re not really sure if the seven-year-old (well, seven-and-a-half to be specific, which translates to ‘ezhara’ in Tamil) protagonists of Pasanga-2—Kavin (Kavin) and Nayana (Nayana)—are suffering from a disorder at all. They seem hyper-active, and naughtier than your average child, but as a doctor (Jayaprakash) points out, it’s only natural for them to be so when their routines are devoid of any physical activity, as are most urban children’s. And it’s quite refreshing that he doesn’t immediately diagnose them with an exotic condition, and for a long period, Pasanga-2 desists from becoming yet another ‘disease’ film. Well, until it eventually succumbs, and when it finally does, there’s little time in which to do justice to the condition, or stress upon its seriousness, as Taare so successfully did.
Both Kavin and Nayana are forced to move from school to school by disgruntled principals, who pay no heed to their hapless parents’ pleas. Eventually, the children get bundled into a hostel, and there’s a striking, even if a tad melodramatic, scene of wailing children, staring desolately through the window of their hostel, as their parents turn back home. There’s even more melodrama when Kavin, standing in the middle of the hostel’s campus, looks up, and yells a question at the sky: “Amma, nee enga irukka?” Hostel education is compared to imprisonment; that’s not gonna make wardens kinder at all. And it’s just one of the many social messages in Pasanga-2, which also makes several statements about and chiefly, against the school system. In a cute little cameo, Samuthirakani, playing a parent who’s taking his child to a government school, makes a cheeky dig at government school teachers who prefer to admit their children in private schools. He says that the difference between the schools is that while children abuse in Tamil in one, they abuse in English in the other. Pasanga-2 also makes a complaint about schools that take in only the smartest, in order to bolster their reputation. In that sense, there’s much, much complaining and preaching, even if sensible. Take the scene where a random old man on the street makes the observation that while in the past, the government was responsible for education and private companies for wine shops, the roles are now reversed. As one-liners, they’re effective and elicit applause, but really detract from the story of the children, and make the film seem like some sort of reformative exercise.
Suriya, as child psychiatrist Dr. Tamil Nadan, infuses the film with much energy, even if the character he plays, shows no signs of weakness or vulnerability. Tamil Nadan seems way too perfect, way too sure of himself, that I wouldn’t have been surprised if the good-natured smile he sports at all times gets mistaken by quite a few of his patients for cockiness. That perhaps explains why when he first offers his visiting card to the parents, they simply fling it away. His wife, Venbaa (Amala Paul), works as a school teacher at The Dream Unschool, a utopian educational institution that believes, as a character says, not in “madhippengal” but in “madhippaana yennangal”. Incidentally, the doctor’s two children are shown to be perfect little angels, and when asked how they are so incredibly talented and well-mannered as opposed to Kavin and Nayana, there’s an avoidable flashback of how his wife and he created a peaceful ambience at home during pregnancy; how they read to the foetus, how they played Ilaiyaraaja’s music to it. You get the idea. While it’s commendable that the film encourages mothers-to-be to be physically and mentally healthy during pregnancy, it’s another to make the unsubstantiated leap that music and literature somehow conspire to make the foetus a future genius; and the implied insinuation that perhaps Kavin and Nayana’s parents are to be blamed for their children’s condition, is almost vile. But these are minor grouses. Like when Suriya tells Kavin and Nayana’s respective parents that celebrities like Michael Jackson and Bill Gates were hyper-active children too; that the children must be encouraged to follow their subject of passion. Commendable suggestion, sure, but is he really wiping away the burden of excellence from the children, or just transferring it from academia to the arts?
Pasanga-2, nevertheless, makes some pertinent points about parenthood and the education system, even if it’s not the most entertaining children’s film out there. Perhaps it didn’t want to be, and simply wished to create some social change. Who can blame it for being as preachy, when the elderly gentleman sitting next to me wasted no time after the film, in making a phone call to somebody, and asking them to check the film out? “It’s about your children,” he said. Some people don’t just want to be entertained; they like to get educated too. And Pasanga-2 could well end up doing a lot of that.