Bombay Showcase

Not really a love story

It has always remained a mystery why Selvaraghavan scripts treat sex as some nasty, depraved business. The characters are most awkward discussing it — yes, even by Indian standards — and when they just have to, they spit it out like a piece of food that’s been wedged in their teeth for a while.

As Manoja (Wamiqa Gabbi, whose lip-sync is on the money) says, “ Paazhaa pona sex.” His rather brutish portrayal of sex is rather intriguing as he’s one of the few directors who treats the truly uncomfortable everyday situations so casually. Like when Prabhu (Balakrishnan), Manoja’s husband, makes a joke about the stink she’s raising while doing her business. In one scene, Prabhu actually says, “ Naan ava kooda sex vechirundhaa …” I cringed instantly at the artificiality of that sentence. It’s neither crass, nor classy. Just… awkward.

Ironically though, sex is the subject matter of this adult-certified film (Question to censor board: Why beep out abuses in an A-certified film?). Manoja has problems in her relationship, stemming from her refusal to put out before marriage. She wants to be ‘thoroughly’ in love with a man first. Or as her ex-boyfriend puts it, “ Idhayam avanukkaaga thudikkanum .” Unfortunately for her though, her boyfriend isn’t really interested in her for the long haul.

Meanwhile, Prabhu is a typical Selvaraghavan protagonist. A reincarnation of 7G Rainbow Colony’s Kathir, complete with social ineptitude, random fits of rage, and a whiny manner of speech. He’s sexually repressed, and has never been in a relationship. Considering that his chief relationship strategy is to stare and stare hard at potential partners, you can see why. Maalai Nerathu Mayakkam is what happens when Prabhu and Manoja are brought together by means of an arranged marriage.

Githanjali may be credited as the director, but there’s an unmistakable Selvaraghavan stamp on the film. Choicest abuses flow freely. I rather enjoyed that even Manoja, unlike the usual Tamil heroines who yell “Idiot!” when they get extraordinarily enraged, lets out quite an earful. There are extended close-ups of people who, for some reason, don’t blink their eyes as often as real people do. There are verbose conversations between characters, who recite their lines in a dull, almost uninterested fashion. He must be the easiest director for a male actor to make a debut film with. There’s even the typical Selvaraghavan dance sequence (in the song ‘ Sarakka ’), wherein people who’re in the background, suddenly jump in and begin grooving with the hero. Even if you missed the credits, you could easily figure out that the universe and the style of filmmaking is fiercely Selvaraghavan’s. And that’s a relief, for, Tamil cinema is all the worse for his sabbatical.

Like in many of his other scripts, there’s plenty of exaggeration in the writing for effect, but it works only sometimes. Like the scenes that show Manoja being traumatised by Prabhu’s snoring. Even when she’s trying to sleep in the restroom, she can hear his snores in amplified echoes. But when you’re shown that Prabhu, a well-dressed call-centre employee, has no idea how to read an Italian menu, you can’t but roll your eyes. He stutters and stammers, and acts like he’s straight out of some remote village. Prabhu also leaves restrooms in a tissue-soaked mess after using them. All exaggerated scenarios, but this is Selvaraghavan’s universe, and as it generally has been in his film career, is compelling.

And so, you’re invested in the story, and are able to empathise with Manoja. She’s stuck in an arranged marriage with a man whose problems range from restrooms to restaurants. His idea of fun is listening to ‘Manmadharasa ’ aloud. She prefers Simon and Garfunkel. Much like 7/G Rainbow Colony ’s Kathir, Prabhu also has an instinctive mistrust for ‘upper class’ guys, usually illustrated in Selvaraghavan’s films by their English-speaking ways. This perhaps stems from an inferiority complex, due to Prabhu’s inability to talk the way they do, be the way they are. The problem with Maalai Nerathu Mayakkam is that unlike 7G Rainbow Colony whose story is partly the reformation of the wastrel for a hero, Prabhu doesn’t really evolve; not by a long way at least.

These sort of apologist stories don’t just stop with subliminally propagating the notion that women should love their men despite their flaws (like in Mayakkam Enna). They’re actually saying that women must fall in love with the flaws too, even if that’s all the man seems to have.

Maalai Nerathu also brings to Tamil cinema a new, important issue, which I can’t quite mention without giving away spoilers. But suffice it to say that it’s a bit disappointing that not enough screen time is spent delineating the after-effects on the survivor.

But the most serious problem with the film is that you never really believe that Manoja is into Prabhu, even though she claims otherwise towards the end of the film. In that sense, Selvaraghavan’s protagonists are themselves manifestations of the concept of arranged marriages: familiarity slowly, seamlessly transforming into love. In Maalai Nerathu , you’d struggle to even make a case for Manoja liking Prabhu, let alone being in love with him. Gitanjali opens the film with a line that goes, “It’s difficult to explain some love stories.” Well, perhaps if they were really love stories, they could be explained.



The leading lady is stuck in an arranged marriage with a man whose problems range from restrooms to restaurants





Maalai Nerathu Mayakkam

Director: Gitanjali

Writer: Selvaraghavan

Cast: Balakrishnan, Wamiqa Gabbi

Run time: 123 mins



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Printable version | Apr 21, 2021 10:17:03 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/entertainment/Not-really-a-love-story/article13977789.ece

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