Sunday, March 22, 2015

Yennai Arindhaal: The Story of a Man

In Yennai Arindhaal, our salt-and-pepper haired Ajith plays Sathyadev, a man faced with a crucial life choice: is he going to channel his rage towards kicking bad guy ass or is his rage going to warp him into becoming a bad guy himself? As Sathyadev says in the film, it’s a fine line separating criminal and cop.

The plot unfolds with a standard pre-interval flashback. We start in the present day with sassy IT consultant Thenmozhi (Anushka Shetty) flying home from visiting her sister in America. She happens to be seated next to a studly older guy--Sathyadev (Ajith!). Obviously Themozhi falls for him immediately. (I mean, come on! It’s AJITH!) But the stud is acting suspiciously. Is he stalking her?! Protecting her?! She confronts him at a coffee shop but before getting any answers they’re interrupted by a gang of rowdies led by some guy named Victor (Arun Vijay), who seems to know our salt-and-pepper Sathyadev.

We flashback to Sathyadev’s past and learn that his beloved father was killed by gangsters and his mother passed away--presumably from grief--soon afterwards. What was young Sathyadev to do? We flash forward to a slightly older Sathyadev in jail. He befriends another prisoner about to be released… Victor! The two become quite close, to the point of Victor vouching for Sathyadev to join his gang.

(The friendship is really cemented in the song “Adhaaru Adhaaru”, a perfect use of a wedding song if I ever saw one. I loved this cam version with the crowd in the theater just going crazy!)

But… it turns out Sathyadev hadn’t chosen a life of crime after all! He was undercover!

Victor is betrayed. The gang goes down in a brutal blood bath but Sathyadev lets Victor live, telling him that he knows Victor has the potential to be good.

Sathyadev takes down a lot of gangsters. Taking down gangsters is his entire life until he meets Hemanika (a wonderfully mature Trisha). Hemanika is a professional career woman and single mother. She runs her own dance studio, performs concerts, and takes care of her little daughter Isha (Baby Anikha). Sathyadev loves her independence and spirit; Hemanika seems to find his tenacity and open-heartedness towards her just irresistible. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s AJITH. The two share a wonderful chemistry.

Unfortunately, Hemanika doesn’t live to see the second half of the film and Isha is left with Sathyadev, who takes his new responsibilities as a father very seriously and essentially gives Isha the childhood experiences he wishes he’d had with his father. Still his work weighs heavily on his mind and inevitably he must return to Chennai to do what only he can do--kick bad guy ass.

It’s in this final stretch that Thenmozhi comes back into the picture. Sathyadev figures out that she’s the next target of some gangsters that he’s chasing and fate plays itself out for Victor and Sathyadev.

The film was very satisfying on a number of levels but the biggest surprise for me were Ajith’s three leading ladies: Anushka Shetty, Trisha, and Baby Anikha. I was told that Gautham Menon's lady characters are always like this. I plan on finding out more because all three roles were so well-written and well-acted that I ended up really caring about what would happen to them. Anushka Shetty was a firecracker. As Thenmozhi she played the kind of “got her shit together” career woman who will burn a dude so fast at an arranged marriage meeting for surreptitiously trying to find out if she can cook that it will make your head spin. SHE AIN’T GOT TIME FOR YOUR BULLSHIT, BRO! In the hands of another director (or actress), Themozhi would be some spoiled rich bitch needing to be brought down but here we clearly understand that just because she’s wealthy and knows she’s beautiful, it doesn’t mean that she’s not also selfless and caring. Thenmozhi may be quick with her insults but she’s also quick to do the right thing.

It’s been a long while since I’ve seen Trisha on screen and in the intervening years she’s become such a lovely, mature woman. I never cared for her girlish avatar but I loved her as the independent, single mother. She’s not going to throw herself at some guy if it means her baby will suffer. Even if she really, really likes the guy and even if that guy looks like Ajith. Family comes first.

And Sathaydev’s relationship with them was so caring and respectful and, dare I say it--manly. I like machismo (on screen) as much as the next girl but there was something really refreshing about Ajith’s manliness. He wasn’t boyish or coquettish or teasing. He wasn’t demanding female attention outright or even passive-agressively whining that women weren’t paying enough attention to his navel-gazing pain. No, Ajith as Sathyadev was a real man. A real man who shows that he cares about women by treating them like fucking human beings with brains and feelings and not objects to be chased after.

Let me tell you the moment that Sathyadev won me over. I’ll start with a little flashback to the time I gave up on dating. A guy I’d been out with a couple times started hounding me to send him pictures. “There are some on my blog,” I told him. “I looked at that,” he replied. “It’s just Indian pop culture stuff.” Just Indian pop culture stuff. JUST INDIAN POP CULTURE STUFF?! That was it for me. I was done. Anybody who really cared about me would never see all this writing as “just” anything. It’s important to me. By the same token, when Sathyadev goes to see Hemanika perform, he watches her and is interested. He compliments her dancing at the end. He doesn’t just say, “You were beautiful.” HE TALKS TO HER ABOUT HER DANCING. I mean, game, set, match. I fell for Sathyadev right there and then. And I believe Hemanika did, too.

And then there’s Baby Anikha. What does it say about how mistrusting we, as a society, become of men that I had some initial misgivings over Sathyadev becoming her foster parent. I didn’t want to suspect our salt-and-pepper hero of pulling a Humbert Humbert; I shouldn’t suspect our salt-and-pepper hero of pulling a Humbert Humbert; there was nothing in his performance to even hint in Humbert Humbert’s direction but there you go. The thought crossed my mind.

And it’s because the thought crossed my mind that I think it was so wonderful to see their father-daughter bonding play out in the song, “Unakenna Venum Sollu.” Sathyadev doesn’t treat her like a little girl, he treats her like a person. A child. She runs and plays and scampers around. He wants to show her the wonder of life, to make sure that her mind isn’t poisoned by the losing of a parent the way his was. It was really, really touching. (And Baby Anikha is that rare creature--the charming child actor! I’m very glad that the film never showed her in peril. I wouldn’t want that image and I really thank director Gautham Menon for never giving it to us.)

Sathyadev, Victor… and Isha. All of them lost somebody important to violence. Will the cycle of violence continue? Are they the ones to continue it? The ending was actually a bit ambiguous on that point. Not Isha but Sathyadev. He crosses a line, is pushed too far. Will he make it back in one piece?

So, there you have it. Yennai Arindhaal is a good film. It has good music, good acting, and a nice story. It may not be flashy or full of meta-narrative gimmicks but one thing is for sure: if every man treated women like Sathyadev does--with caring and respect--instead of emulating Ricky Bahl or some “cool” Hindi rom-com hero, the world would be a better place. No, two things. Hair dye is overrated.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I saw it without subtitles, so in someways I feel like I didn't have a good handle on the plot, but the character interactions were charming and the action scenes were pretty good. Sathyadev is definitely the kind of hero we need more of.

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