There’s a lovely moment in the opening monologue of Mayakkam Enna (delivered by its protagonist Karthik) where he talks about how his friends took care of him and his sister after his mother died as well. Now, I don’t remember him mentioning his father in a previous line, but the “as well” tells you what you need to know.
It is an early indicator of the method Selvaraghavan employs to tell this story — what you need to know is often told either in shorthand, or not at all. Indeed, Mayakkam Enna is eloquent when it tells a story through its silences. But when it descends to talking, or when it makes use of silence as a plot device, it loses much of its momentum.
The first half concentrates on two subjects — Karthik’s struggle to become a professional phtographer, and the love triangle between him, his best friend and the girl the friend is dating. The former plot line is elevated by the moments of wordless communion between the photographer and his subject. There’s a scene in the jungle where he is overwhelmed by the beauty of what he is seeing. The scenes involving the reputed photographer whom Karthik wants to work with feature dialogue that is a lot harsher than it needs to be. But the story is really told through the desperation you see in Karthik’s eyes during those exchanges. The love triangle is almost entirely narrated through the way the girl looks at him (and how he tries not to respond, in deference to his friend).
The second half concentrates on the fall and rise of Karthik as a photographer, and the price that is paid in the process. This is where the film goes pear-shaped, really. Think about it — if you’re so pissed off at your husband that you literally stop talking to him, would you still boink him anyway and get yourself knocked up? I highly doubt it. Come to think of it, her character makes weird choices throughout the story. I can see the point of creating an intriguing character, but I don’t think it’s the same as creating one who needs her head examined. The sheer implausibility of it all is a big distraction.
Having said that, there are some isolated moments that keep you involved. My favourite is the one where he begins to turn his life around and does the usual dramatic thing — dumping a bottle of booze. Ah, but first, he pours himself a drink. (Why does he do that? Is it because he feels he cannot quit cold turkey?)
You might notice that nearly every scene I speak of involves Dhanush. This is no coincidence. Karthik’s story is told through a series of uncomfortable moments with the odd interlude of inner peace, and Dhanush responds to the challenge with a magnificient performance. This is an actor at the peak of his abilities, pushed to the brink by a director who knows what he is working with.
Now, if only we could convince him not to intersperse these efforts with turkeys like Mappillai… movies for which the most apt description is a paraphrasing of a term from this movie itself: aai padam.