Something interesting is happening to Tamil village cinema these days. It is as if a bunch of directors have decided to throw away the Nattamai — Morai Maaman playbook and write a new one instead. This new cinema is defined, above all, by real characters. I could spend ages in the interiors of Tamil Nadu and not find a single individual similar to the ones Sarath Kumar and Vijayakanth play in their village movies. On the other hand, I could go to Periyar bus stand in Madurai, get into any bus going out of town and come across one of the guys I see in movies like Kalloori or Vennila Kabaddi Kuzhu. I cannot adequately express how refreshing that is.
Kalloori, for me, is a near-perfect example of how one could make a movie about a bunch of friends in college. It is not without its missteps, but none of them really stay in mind when the movie is over. What remains is the memory of spending two-odd hours in the company of real people from a village in Tamilnadu.
It is also the movie in which I got introduced to Tamanna Bhatia the actress. I had seen Tamanna the Babe in movies like Padikkadhavan where she did not, to borrow a phrase from Miss Congeniality, do anything better than convert Oxygen into Carbon Dioxide. But in Kalloori, she actually acts. And quite well at that.
She is well cast, to begin with. As the beautiful, fair-skinned city-bred outsider in a college full of rustic, dark-skinned people, she stands out. I am not being biased about skin color here — this is how the filmmakers want her to be perceived. In the context of the story, it works.
My favourite moment comes towards the end of the movie when Shobhana (Tamanna) finds out that Muthu (Akhil) reciprocates her feelings towards him. That it is done through that oldest of standbys — her handkerchief, treasured by him, falling out of his pocket at a critical juncture — is something I am willing to overlook in light of what follows.
Shobhana sees it, realizes what it means, and exults briefly before rearranging her features and joining a friend. That friend represents a complication of sorts — her views on mixing friendship and love is one reason why the couple refrain from expressing their feelings for one another. Cue a rather tearful conversation between the two girls, which seems to resolve things satisfactorily.
And then an ending that comes almost out of nowhere and changes everything. I am not going to reveal it here, but let me just say that it rules out the possibility of the couple singing happy songs in some scenic location somewhere.
Now think back to that moment where Shobhana spots that handkerchief. For Tamanna, it is a crucial moment because those three seconds are all she has to express her joy over her discovery. No songs, no scenes of her standing tall, looking up at the heavens and smiling while flowers rain down upon her and a thousand violins play in the background, nothing. Just a few seconds to herself where she needs to look like she’s bursting with joy. It is to her credit that she makes those seconds count.
A vast majority of our movies involve requited love, or at least require that both people know what the other is feeling, even if circumstances dictate that they can never be together. And where that cannot happen, there is much gnashing of teeth so that the audience knows exactly how much pain one of the protagonists is in. It is often overdone to the point where every bit of emotive power has been leeched out of the situation. The cardinal rule of storytelling is: Don’t tell the listener what to feel. Lead him there and let his mind do the rest. Amazing how few filmmakers understand this.
Which is why, when a filmmaker does it right as in Kalloori, it hits us so much harder.
ps: While on the subject, think about this: In Ghajini, if Sanjay had had the opportunity to tell Kalpana the truth about himself, do you think the flashback would still have been as effective?