Alai Payuthey Review
A medical student and a young entrepreneur exchanges glances during their daily commutes. Gradually they fall for each other, but, as is ever the way, the course of true love does not run smoothly for them. As their different social backgrounds mean their parents do not approve such a match, they marry in secret, only to be found out and thrown out of their own homes. Believing their love to be strong enough to carry them through all hardships, they set up home together, but soon begin to learn that there is much more to married life than just falling in love...
Alai Payuthey (which translated means Waves) is the first example of Tamil cinema I have ever seen. Obviously, then, I am unable to say how it compares with other films of its ilk and therefore this review is entirely based on how I responded to it as a film in its own right, taken away from any cultural knowledge of Tamil cinema. (For a comparison of how it rates with others, check out Noel’s review of Kannathil Muthamittal, another film made with the same director and star, Mani Ratnam and Madhavan respectively.) As I sat down to watch it, I rather naively expected something along the lines of traditional Bollywood fare, something I'm not really very keen on, but instead, I was very pleasantly surprised. It is a much calmer film than the hyperactive films we more usually associate with India, with only a handful of songs, none of which are intrusive or excessive, and a story that is familiar to anyone, no matter what part of the globe they are from.
Ratman's professed aim in making the film was to tell a simple love story, and to that end he succeeds perfectly. It takes an extremely traditional approach to the subject - parents disapproving, youngsters going ahead anyway and finding that harsh reality is very far from the romantic dreams they envisaged - which, depending on how you look at it, can be seen as a strength or a weakness. There are no surprises here, and from about ten minutes in it's not hard to predict pretty much everything that happens during the course of the picture. There are no sudden twists, no third parties to complicate matters, nothing that you have not seen a hundred times before. The climatic crisis, when it comes, is actually a bit of a let down, relying on a deus ex machina device to finally make the lovers realise what is truly important, and thus arguably negating the very message the film is trying to put across. Pulling together and realising what's important in times of stress is all very well, but surely their ultimate love should be based on something more than a crisis out of the blue? What happens six months down the line? A year?
Fortunately, even though the story itself is rather simplistic, the telling of it is so engaging that, if you turn off your more critical faculties and just allow the tale to wash over you, there is much enjoyment to be had. This is not least down to the engaging two leads. Madhavan is a handsome young actor with an easy naturalism about him that is charming to watch. We see him fall totally in love with his bride-to-be, and never for a moment does he shatter the illusion of his being a passionate man who follows his heart always, whether it be pursuing his chosen wife or his chosen career. Likewise Shalini as his bride is both beautiful and impishly playful, making it easy to see why Karthik falls head over heels in love with her. Shalini shows her character first blossoming while falling under Karthik’s spell and then slowly wilting when she realises that life is not the fairytale she was beginning to believe it to be. The pair have a perfect chemistry, and whether they are frolicking in their new apartment with sheer joie de vivre or arguing as the pressures get too much, it is difficult to take your eyes off them, or will them on to a happy ending.
Mani Ratman is one of Tamil cinema's biggest directors, and it's easy from this to see why. He brings his story alive, both with the actors and in the location, the city coming to life in a way that's almost tangible. This is a place you feel you want to be, both colourful and at the same time completely real. Ratman does veer away from showing the more unpleasant side of city life - we never go near any slums and even when the lovers have to move into their own digs the apartment they find themselves in is picturesque with a fine outlook - but as his story is essentially a love fable his desire to not allow gritty realism onto his canvas can be excused. There is a lot of colour and vitality to this place, from the initial scenes where Karthik meets his future bride, though to the beach and even the railway station sequences that provide the framework to the story, all shot with a loving lens that nevertheless feels totally authentic. This realism even extends to the songs, which are not nearly as jarring as they might be – the dance sequences are balletic and graceful and the music surprisingly (to me, anyway) accessible (with one tune going round my head even now).
Fittingly for a film about real love, there is a lot of heart in this film, something to be valued when you consider a lot of the equivalent Western fare. I can’t say that it’s converted me completely and made me want to rush out and see more of Tamil cinema, simply because the story itself is a bit thin and predictable, but as an advertisement for what the industry can produce it does itself proud. Excellent production values, seductive leads, and a director with a very apparent cinematic eye all combine to show that there is more to Indian cinema than just your standard Bollywood fare. As an education, you could do a lot worse than spend an evening with this beguiling concoction, which is far better made than a lot of the dross we see currently coming from Hollywood. A journey worth taking, then, just don't expect any surprises along the way.
The film comes on a single sided dual layered disk (the layer change being in a rather awkward place, in the middle of a scene). There are English subtitles only, which must be turned on manually from the main menu. The subtitles themselves are obviously written by someone whose first language is not English, but, aside from the odd grammatical or spelling error, generally make sense. The only complaint is that, in scenes with faster moving dialogue, some do not stay on the screen nearly long enough, with the odd one literally flashing on and off instantly.
Mediocre. The image is a little soft most of the time, but not distractingly so. The print is marred by occasional damage or white specks, and there are several instances of blatant digital artefacting, that are a little distracting. There's nothing that doesn't make it perfectly watchable, however, but it could be better.
A 5.1 mix that's not bad at all, but doesn't really tax speakers. The soundtrack is obviously heavily dubbed, which is not the disk's fault, and while the music doesn't have particular weight it comes across nicely enough.
The ability to skip to any song straight away, should you want to.
Although it's by no means a remarkable film, it is a very entertaining, sensual one, which makes it worth anyone's time. The disk is not the greatest I've ever seen, but we should be grateful that it, and others like it, exist at all, in bringing to attention an area of world film-making that otherwise we would have little knowledge of, which would be a loss indeed. Well worth a look.