Mayakkam Enna

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.

ps: Also read a couple of lovely articles on this movie, by Gradwolf and Baradwaj Rangan.

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12 thoughts on “Mayakkam Enna

  1. Laks says:

    A good movie. A very important subject matter treated in a fresh way. Its good to see popular actor and director taking up such a subject.

  2. Aiyo BR and me in the same line!

    But yes, I didn’t get why ppl walked out of this during the interval. a) It was nowhere near as bad b) The second half is really key!

  3. Daya>> I love masala movies. But there’s a distinction to be made between good and bad masala, no? My problem with Mappillai is not that it is a commercial entertainer — it is that I was not particularly entertained by it.

    Laks>> What I love about Selvaraghavan is the way his movies start out looking like genre exercises but suddenly pull the rug out from under our feet. As for Dhanush, he has been putting himself out there quite consistently, even though some of them don’t work out as planned. The problem stems from the turkeys he keeps signing in between.

    Gradwolf>> With Selvaraghavan’s films, the scale of his flaws seem to be proportionate to his ambition. Both here and in Aayirathil Oruvan, the second half is more ambitious and consequently more flawed. The difference is, AO had a more insipid first half than ME.

  4. A.SriKrishna says:

    The movie was riveting for most part…however the climax left me unimpressed. It was like watching ‘A Beautiful Mind’ all over again.

  5. Haven’t seen it, but it occurs to me that in most Tamizh movies, the women make some pretty odd choices that in “real life” would have led to their heads been examined.

    • True. Then again, it occurs to me that people make those choices even in real life. I sometimes wonder if the way to sell an implausible event in a movie is to claim that it is based on reality. Which may be what the Coen brothers were aiming for in their own sly way when they used that trick in Fargo.

  6. S says:

    I haven’t seen Maappillai (thank god, eh?) but I have seen ME. I felt pretty ambivalent about it (I liked Selva’s 7G way better as a similar “mood” piece, if I may call it that).

    Agree with you on para 4 that while he’s the one that falls and hurts his head, she’s the one that acts like she needs her head examined (maybe that’s intentional, not incidental — to show that they are indeed “of one piece”? Also, there are husbands and wives who kill each other and who kiss each other too, you know. It can happen). But I REALLY liked Richa in this film… she was perfectly cast as Yamini, I thought. I haven’t chanced upon one good thing written about her performance, but she was the only thing in the film that worked for me. While her (pseudo) relationship with the boyfriend didn’t work at all (and didn’t look believable for one second, from the beginning), the many moments of tension between her and Dhanush in the first half were the best aspects of the movie for me. Take her out of the film, and I wouldn’t/couldn’t have sat thru it for 5 mins.

    I haven’t seen Aadukalam yet (hear Dhanush is really good in it) but his performance in this one was below par, in my book. I felt that he had phoned it in. I felt a bit let down, can’t say exactly why. And usually in films like this the supporting characters are great, but each one in this was a cardboard cutout. Maybe I expected the moon from Selva style of storytelling (“what you need to know is often told either in shorthand, or not at all” is right) and he fell short. And oh, the National Geo. pro photographer who wouldn’t mentor Dhanush – omg, he was TERRIBLE, a caricature. Like I said, the tension between Dhanush and Richa, thru the end, was the only thing I found believable/bearable — wish they’d built the film around just that.

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