Alaipayuthey! Will there ever be a title of a romantic drama more beautiful than this? When you translate the title in English, it says ‘Waves are flowing.’ The director of this movie, Mani Ratnam (who is probably the best Indian director in portraying human relationships in a subtle and sensible manner) , gives us a sneak peek of what we are going to witness, just by mentioning the title. In this movie, he shows us the wavering minds of two youngsters, who get to know what reality is, after their marriage. Indian love stories generally deal with a boy meeting a girl (or vice versa) , falling in love and how they come together and live happily at the end. Only a few movies show what’s really happening with these relationships, and only a select few show the post marital problems. Mani Ratnam has excelled in this department, which we are witnessing right from the days of Mouna Ragam. Though the storylines were marginally similar, the treatment from the director was completely different, which has made Alaipayuthey stand atop the list of the best romantic dramas ever made in Tamil (or probably in India too). The fact that no other film has been able to surpass the effect that Alaipayuthey gave, stands as an example of the movie’s standard.
For the Tamil youth of the millennium (especially the girls) , Alaipayuthey and Mani Ratnam presented a beautiful heart-throb in the name of R Madhavan. Right after the movie’s title is shown,we cut to see a charming, handsome, young man (Karthik), riding happily, with his headphones on, and the mighty hypnotic Endrendrum Punnagai running in the background. This scene might’ve worked even without the magic of PC Sreeram and AR Rahman. But, the duo took this scene to a whole new level, which made each and every person in the audience, who missed he first 4-5 minutes during his/her first watch, to rue about it for longer periods. Madhavan was very lucky, as no debut hero would’ve had such a lovely introductory scene. There are no voiceovers. There is no dialogue mouthed by anyone. Yet, we are able to capture the charm that the character carries and the early judgement of ‘this is how this character is going to be seen throughout the movie’ is made. This is where the director and the actor achieve combined success. Madhavan probably bowled everyone (well… almost) over within those initial two minutes. Mani is one filmmaker who doesn’t want to waste time in explaining things. He always keeps it simple and straight. So, we slip into the narrative straight away. The screenplay goes back and forth in time, in a non-linear fashion (this probably was Mani’s first non-linear screenplay) , which actually made the simplistic story rather more intriguing. We see an accident and that’s it. There’s no immediate explanation. Then, we see Karthik waiting for his wife Shakthi (the adorable Shalini) , who is a doctor, in a local railway station. She is missing and we get no glimpse of her yet.
We are taken back in time, where we are introduced to Shakthi, through the extremely playful number ‘Yaaro.. Yaarodi…’ , and we are able to come up with an overview about the character within the end of the song, yet again. Karthik and Shakthi meet during this time, in a village where the groom is a friend of Karthik and the bride, a relative of Shakthi. He thinks of her as a playful village girl, the thought Shakthi indirectly taunts during one of those fun-filled conversations in the wedding. We are also introduced to Shakthi’s sister Poorni (a graceful Swarnamalya) and her father in the meantime. Now, Mani, the man who has this never-ending penchant for details, shows us the families and the ways of living of Shakthi and Karthik. Once again, in just a single scene, he shows us the societal differences the two families have – Karthik’s family belong to the upper middle-class. This lifestyle makes Karthik, a software engineer, in becoming a carefree personality, without having any big responsibilities. In stark contrast to this, Shakthi belongs to the lower echelon of the middle-class society, who is pursuing her MBBS degree. This is pretty much explained by Mani just by showing both Karthik and Shakthi’s houses – a posh, two-storied building and a small flat in the Railway quarters. After all this setup, the obvious has to happen, right? The hero and the heroine see each other, in a rather clichéd scene by Tamil cinema’s standards (the major difference was the electric trains instead of buses or other vehicles.) Yet, this particular scene has set a benchmark of sorts for portraying the attraction between two persons. The man with the golden vision, PC Sreeram, makes this look lovely, by cutting back and forth to the faces of the hero and the heroine, who are travelling on trains going in opposite directions, with the slow-motion shots adding a lot of colour to it admirably, along with AR Rahman’s ‘Yaaro.. Yaarodi… Unnoda Purushan’ playing in the background, to imply what will happen in the story. Starting from this scene, the electric train starts playing a major role in bringing Karthik and Shakti close to each other, which is even shown as an integral part of the narrative to move back and forth in time.
Then we see Karthik following Shakthi, getting to know about her and all the other stuff. When one of his friends says to Karthik “Verum udamba mattum paathu varadhuku per, dheiveega kaadhal illa” , Mani hits out at the youth of the present generation, without explicitly mentioning anything about it. Just a single line which is tossed off casually, and that’s how Mani Ratnam rolls. Then comes the scene which is loved by the most, and the scene which has a never-ending legacy. yes, the proposal scene, and the lines uttered by Madhavan,
“Shakthi! Naan unna virumbala.. Un maela aasai padala.. Nee azhaga irukkanu nenaikkala.. Aana, idhellam nadandhudumonu bayama irukku!” ,
which has been registered in the minds of everyone who have watched this movie. Once again, it is handled in such a low-key manner, it takes time for us to grasp the gravity of the scene. I think, Mani, after his Iruvar and Dil.. Se, which were pretty serious by their nature, wanted to make a movie which has a lot of light-hearted moments, despite the heaviness that the script demanded, which he shot to perfection in Alaipayuthey. We then get probably the best shot song ever in Tamil cinema, Pachai Nirame, which has some beautifully written lines by Vairamuthu, where the hero compares his love and his ladylove to different colours.
Then, there is the kid who plays Karthik’s niece. Yet again, Mani Ratnam shows that there is no one who can create lovely scenes with kids like he does! Though she comes up only for a few minutes, she made all those minutes memorable. The kid telling the shopkeeper, “Avanoda illa… Avaloda”, ‘Chi.. Shakthi na pombala.. Aambala illa” , and later jumping with joy while telling her grandfather, “Thatha Thatha.. Naan rendu rooba sambadhuchuttaen!” are all downright innocent and natural. The sequences that follow this are segued wonderfully into the narrative – Karthik’s father walking past him coughing while he is speaking with Shakti over the phone; Karthik telling his mom that Shakthi is the girl he is going to marry in front of a whole lot of people, and the lady sitting next to him becoming curious (more curious than his mom) , asking him if it is true and starts spreading the news (which is very typical of the Tamilian upper middle-class – The joy some people derive from spreading news like this and the joy some feel on hearing it! Oh.. Priceless.) After all this, when someone goes and congratulates Karthik’s father on fixing his son’s marriage, the WTF expression on his face is riotous.
After this scene ends, another lovely conversation sprouts between Karthik and Shakthi which goes on like this.
Karthik: I Love You!
Shakthi: Apdina enna mean panra?
Karthik: I love you na I love you!
Shakthi: Appadinna ennannu seriya theriyamaye
Karthik: Unakkaaga enna vena seivaen nu artham
Shakthi: Train la irundhu kudhipiya?
After the meeting of Karthik’s and Shakthi’s parents ends up as just a clash of egos, where, Mani once again casually tosses off the tension brewing between the parents in a low-key way, just as he’s been doing throughout. While the mistake has been shown on the side of both the parents, I personally feel Shakthi’s father to be more reluctant in agreeing to this marriage, as his character might have thought this match is way beyond their societal status, which is generally the mentality of the lower middle-class people, who put their safe and peaceful living as the first priority over everything else. After this scene comes yet another of my favourite conversations in the movie, which goes on like,
Shakthi: Innaiku oru ponnukaaga Amma Appa ellaarayum vittuttu varuva. Naalaiku innoru ponnukaaga enna vidamaatta nu enna nichayam?
Karthik: Hello.. Unga logic sagikkala!
Then the narrative cuts back to the present, where Karthik has started searching for Shakthi in a lot of places, to no avail. Then, we immediately cut back to the past, where they decide to split, in a scene which is beautifully shot by PC Sreeram, panning in and out and mixing the close-up shots with long shots to a great extent. After their decision to split, they both start missing each other so much. Karthik sets out on a trip to Kerala to find Shakthi, who is on a medical trip, to confess his love to her. Mani Ratnam uses the song, Evano Oruvan, once again brilliantly written, composed and shot, to showcase their missing each other so beautifully. She is missing Karthik and is drowned so much in thinking about him, she doesn’t even realize that she has to attend to a small child, a patient, even when she is standing right next to the child, until another doctor brings to her attention that child. When they meet again after all the mental struggle, it is Shakthi, the same girl who didn’t give in to Karthik’s words earlier, in spite of him trying to persuade her again and again to marry him, who, now, wants him to marry her immediately. Again, after a sweet conversion, they decide to get married.
Shakthi: En enna thedi vara ivlo naalachu?
Karthik: Unna pirinju ennala irukka mudiyadhu.. Nee illama ennala vaazha mudiyadhu
Karthik: Shakthi… I love you…
Shakthi: Enakaaga edhu vena seiviya??
Karthik: Enna? Train la irundhu kudhika solriya?
Shakthi: Enna Kalyanam Panniko.. Nee un veetla irundhuko.. Naan en veetla irundhukaren. Yaarukkum theriya vendam. Huh? Sollu.. Neram varapo sollikalam. Enna?
Karthik: Thiruttu kalyanam pannika solriya?
Shakthi: Enna yaarukavdhu katti vechuta?
Karthik: Nejamave Kalyanam panikalam nu solriya?
Shakthi: Apram nambala yaarum pirikka mudiyadhu.. Enna solra?
Karthik: Doctor sonna sonnadhu dhan
If the wedding where Karthik and Shakthi first met was so colourful, joyous and had a fun-filled atmosphere, their own wedding is not far behind in these aspects. Starting from Karthik’s lovely blue shirt and Shakthi’s long, beautiful (the kind every girl will be jealous of) maroon saree, to the white garlands and Karthik’s group of friends, along Shakti’s sister pulling their legs, and even the Registrar making his presence felt through out his screen time with all his funny dialogues, everything was shot to perfection, with a tinge of beauty. The colour tone used by PC Sreeram in this scene made everything and everyone look all the more beautiful. Shot at Kapaleeswarar Temple, the wedding of Karthik and Shakthi is the most beautifully pictured wedding sequence in Mani Ratnam’s films, with Mangalyam scored by Rahman playing in the background adding a lot of flavour to the mood. After Karthik cleverly manages to dodge Mrs. Prema outside the temple and runs in, the beat of the song starts and you have Karthik, getting ready for his marriage, taking the garland in his hand. If Mani Ratnam doesn’t utilize the songs appropriately, who else will? After that follows yet another set of lovely scenes, like the one where Karthik baords the bus which Shakthi is traveling, just to meet her, and a lady comes and asks him to get up saying it is ladies’ seat and Karthik asking her, “Ungalukku kalyanam aaiducha?”, for which she replies “15 years!”. Karthik witfully replies “Paavam purushan!’” , where the expressions on the faces of Madhavan and Shalini (Shalini trying her best to put on an act by controlling the laughter) make you enjoy this scene even more.
Then, the song Snehidhane! lights the screen up, (Alaipayuthey Trivia 1: The song was beautifully shot at Maheshwar temple on the banks of the river Narmada. Mani Ratnam ensures that he uses at least one location in each of his films that you would want to visit at least once in your lifetime) , has everything, starting from the lighting, excellent choreography, and, of course, Madhavan and Shalini’s costumes, which looked so elegant on them. After the song comes one of the most important scenes of the movie. A match comes up for Poorni, and when they plan to marry Shakthi to the younger brother of the person who is the potential groom for Poorni, Shakthi breaks her silence. She tells everyone about her marriage, which in turn affects Poorni’s marriage. Many have mixed opinion on this scene, with a few saying that it was not right for Shakthi to have been saying about her marriage at that point of time, but in my point of view it was the best part of the script that Mani and Selvaraj wrote for the movie. For the umpteenth time, the tension was captured very well on-screen, with the actors hitting all the right notes.
After this, when Karthik and Shakthi leave their homes, the way the scene shifts from the one where Karthik and Shakthi are in the auto, to the scene where Karthik’s friends ‘furnish’ their house with the start of the music of Pachai Nirame was admirable, to say the least. My opinion is the use of Pachai Nirame’s music in the background for this scene acts as an indicator for the happy times ahead in Karthik and Shakthi’s life. Talking about Pachai Nirame being used as in the background score, another instance of it coming in the movie is when Karthik tells Shakthi that they will go and visit her father in the hospital. Like all the newly wed couples, they also embark on a journey that is filled with joy, love and fun during the first few months. The awesome song Kadhal Sadugudu, followed by the ‘suda suda news’ scene, ‘thaali’ scene and then, the mock ‘fight’ followed by the marking of the dates in the calendar scene are one bunch of sweet scenes. These scenes slowly show the differences in character of Karthik and Shakthi, despite the love that they have for each other. Mani is an expert in showing these kind of emotions and he once again shows who the master is, by showing how the ego starts to slowly overtake the love between the two.
Shakthi, a girl from a lower middle-class family, who fulfills her father’s dream by becoming a doctor, with the family making a lot of sacrifices to make her a doctor, sort of fails in her duty as a daughter and a doctor when she didn’t go and visit her father in the hospital when he was seriously ill. Being a doctor, how could she have not gone and seen a patient, adding to it the fact that the patient was her father and the chance of his life getting saved would have been higher had she gone and seen him? Had her husband’s words become more important to her than going and seeing her dying father? This very guilt strains her relationship with her husband, the very guy for whom she left all her loved ones in her life and the one she is still so much in love with.
Karthik, the guy who loves his wife so much, that, when her father dies, he is not able to see her suffer, since he does have a very good reason to feel that he was indirectly responsible for his death. But, would anyone want to go see someone who had slapped him right in front of a huge crowd? After all, would our ego let us do that? (The general perception always goes like this – What one did for getting slapped is forgotten and all that remains in memory is that person slapping.) But, had he gone and seen him with his wife or let his wife see her dying father at least, wouldn’t there have been a chance of his father-in-law being alive today or wouldn’t he have died, at least with the satisfaction that his daughter is living happily with her husband? Had he not acted in a rage, wouldn’t their lives be different now? Wouldn’t he at least have the courage to comfort his grieving wife now, had he not been consumed by guilt?
This marks the turning point in their lives. The same woman, who had been, just for fun, marking each day in the calendar as the day they ‘fought with each other’, so as to show how difficult married life is, is now at a stage where married life has indeed become difficult and not even a single day goes by without them really fighting with each other. Now, who is in a mood to mark the day in the calendar? Karthik and Shakthi don’t have the courage to face each other with each one consumed by guilt of their own. Though Karthik speaks freely with his house owner and tells him the mistake that he had done by not taking her to meet her dad, he doesn’t say that to Shakthi. Had he told her that in the right manner, wouldn’t the strain in their relationship have eased out a bit? But, what he does is to tell her, “Nee azharapo ellam ipdi senjuttiye da nu solra madhri irukku!” There’s always a way of saying things, and if that goes wrong, everything goes haywire. After a series of heated exchange of dialogues, with Shakthi telling that it was her who ‘killed’ her father, by leaving everyone and running away from home which makes Karthik shout at her. Then, the situation seems to cool down a bit when Karthik comes and apologizes to her. But, the clash of egos come into play once again. Shakthi tells, “Appa illama iruka mudiyum na nee illamayum irukka mudiyum..” , which divides them further apart. What happens here is, both of them have expressed their feelings of guilt to each other, but the way it has been done has made all the difference which further strains their relationship. The way Mani Ratnam delves deep into the human feelings and emotions, and brings it out from his actors is second to none. These set of scenes show the auteur in Mani Ratnam that we all love and look up to as an example.
Burdened by guilt on one hand and a wife who is not willing to understand him (as if he acts like he is able to decipher her feelings) on the other hand, Karthik sets out to re-unite his sister-in-law, Poorni, with her fiancé. This does help him free himself off some of the guilt and gives him the satisfaction of having done something for the woman who played a major part in helping him marrying his lover. It is another fact that the kind of person Karthik is shown to be, he would have done the same thing, if there was any need for it, had his father-in-law been alive too. Karthik and Shakthi’s relationship is tested again and again (which seems like a never-ending loop, at least for a while) , with Karthik being forced by Poorni not to tell Shakthi about her re-union with her fiancé till things get finalized (as she fears, if things don’t materialize, along with her, her sister would also have to suffer, seeing her sister’s life getting shattered once again) and Shakthi thus ends up doubting her very own sister and her husband. One can think, ‘How can Shakthi doubt her very own sister?’ But, given the emotional turmoil that she’s been through and her state of mind, Shakthi can’t be blamed for her thoughts. This takes us through the September Maadham song, which, though seems a bit useless during that point of time in the movie, actually increases the rift and puts Shakthi in a more uncomfortable situation. Just when life seemed to have become a total mess for Shakthi, she comes to know that it was her husband who had played a major role in bringing back the lost happiness in her sister’s life and feels embarrassed for doubting her husband. From the expressions on her face, you could very well have expected her to run and happily hug her husband, by putting everything behind them. Exactly at that point of time, Karthik achieves an important milestone in his career and rushes to share his joy with his wife. But, that’s when the harsh reality of life strikes, with Shakthi meeting with a fatal accident. Had she not met with an accident, wouldn’t their lives and the movie too, have ended with everyone living happily for the rest of their lives?
During Karthik’s search for his lost wife, the scene where he meets his mother-in-law (Alaipayuthey Trivia 2: This happens to be the first-ever scene that Madhavan shot for the movie) and the one where he goes to the police station to enquire what happened to the FIR that he had filed, saying his wife is lost. In the first scene, the mother’s concern for her daughter, though they are not in speaking terms anymore, is shown with a dialogue like, “Enna panna en ponna?” In the second scene, Karthik telling the inspector, “Adhu un pondattiyaa irukkum!” , when the inspector tells him his wife must have run away with someone, brings out Karthik’s frustration at that time, at not being able to do anything to find his wife and having to listen to that Inspector’s nonsense talk. This scene showcases the maturity of Madhavan’s acting, and one can hardly believe that this movie marked his debut in cinema (Probably the best ever debut performance in Tamil cinema, along with Arvind Swami’s performance in Thalapathi.) Instead of using lengthy dialogues or showing some stupid scenes to make Karthik understand what married life is all about, Mani Ratnam introduces two new characters, Ram (the evergreen Arvind Swami, charming us even with his limited presence) and Meera (Khushboo, showing her innocence in a lovely way) after Shakthi’s accident. Just by visualising the way they both talk to each other, Karthik actually realizes his mistake and understands how caring a husband can behave, even in the worst of situations.
Right from the very first scene where Ram is introduced, you can see that he is a man so typical of Mani Ratnam’s movies, an understanding and a caring (albeit being straight-forward) man like Chandrakumar (Mohan) of Mouna Raagam, Rishi (Arvind Swami) of Roja and Shekhar (Raghuvaran) of Anjali. While Ram initially does shout at his wife for not waiting enough after the accident to ensure that the girl was safe, and also for driving the car when she doesn’t even have a license, he later comforts her, and then takes all the responsibility himself to see that everything is done to save the girl’s life. At no point of time does he scold his wife for letting the accident happen (in fact, he asks her to relax at home while he checks what happened to the girl!) and goes to the extent of taking the blame upon himself, so he can prevent his wife getting arrested. On seeing all this, Karthik, at the end, says ,”Veliya oru purushan car aala ethi nasikittu vandhurkara pondattiya paathu nee onnum seiyala ma, naan paathukaren nu sollitu poraan!” Meera too doesn’t want to let Ram take the blame and tells that it was she who did the accident, when she is no longer able to bear seeing Karthik shouting at her husband.
Having understood his mistakes and how ego kills a relationship, Karthik tells Shakthi, “Enakku purinjuduchu. Inime namakulla sanda nadakkaadhu.” When Shakthi finally regains consciousness, the conversation between her and Karthik is one of the sweetest (probably the sweetest ever climatic conversation in Tamil Cinema) Shakti telling him, ‘Pondatti poita??’ and struggling to bring the next word out of her mouth given her condition, before which Karthik panics on hearing it, and then Shakthi jovially telling him, “Pondatti poita jolly ah irukalaam nu nenachiya?” , which leads to the lovely dialogues that finish the movie off, with Snehidhane running on the background. The conversation goes like this:
Shakthi: I love you
Karthik: Enakaaga edhu venalum seiviya?
Shakthi: I love you
Karthik: Enakaaga train la irundhu kudhipiya?
Shakthi: I love you
Karthik: Hey. Apdi na enna mean panra?
Shakthi: Theriyadhu.. Aana, I love you
Well, I have said a lot about everything. Yet, here is a round-up of everything. Madhavan gave an outstanding performance, which has now made him the lead actor to act in the most number of Mani Ratnam movies. Shalini was yet another pillar of the movie, bringing Shakthi to life in a magnificent way. Swarnamalya, Azhagam Perumal, Pyramid Natarajan, Jayasudha, Raviprakash all gave memorable performances, within the scope given for them. Vivek deserves a special mention, as he brings about his charm and holds the key for one of the major turning points, within the very limited number of scenes that he was given. PC Sreeram can’t be raved enough to what he’s done to this movie. He is a world apart from every other cinematographer who’s been working in Indian Cinema. AR Rahman – the second hero of the movie after the story, gave us an album that is hailed even 16 years after its release. Starting from the classic Alaipayuthey kanna to the extremely modern September maadham, he made sure that Mani Ratnam will never be let down. Every other technical department gave their best, which took the movie to a whole new level. Even the cuts of Sreekar Prasad played a vital role in bringing the non-linear screenplay on-screen. Coming to the story, Selvaraj and Mani Ratnam made sure that the treatment to the story should be low-key and effective, putting a lot of effort towards making the movie simplistic and reach out to the audience of all levels. Mani, as we all know, is a visionary director, who made sure that the newcomer always felt at home and at ease, and extracted the best out of everyone, and from himself too.
The only thing that has been disheartening me is, half-baked products like Raja Rani being hailed as the next Alaipayuthey. Well, there can only be one Alaipayuthey, and a movie that can come marginally close to that is Vinnaithandi Varuvaaya, directed by the effervescent Gautham Vasudev Menon. Alaipayuthey is the movie that made me utter the word favourite for the first time in my life, and this will stand atop the list of my own collection of favourite movies forever and ever. There has to be no reason that one can find to hate Alaipayuthey. Some might say that there is lack of enough drama, but they have to look deep into the movie to see all the drama unfolding in a subtle way. Another problem is, the movie can be completely understood only by a matured set of audience, which might be a problem for a few. Yet, this was, and is one of the best romantic dramas ever made in Indian cinema, which will make you happy, sad and make you smile at the end, and this movie will definitely stand tall forever.