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Review: Kaviya Thalaivan (Epic Hero) (Tamil Film)

March 20, 2015

Normally don’t watch in-flight videos and prefer going to sleep but this time QA I found had changed by original seating (as per booking) by window side. Online check-in revealed I had been moved to nearby aisle. My adjoining seat was taken by a healthy looking middle-aged man for whom the seat was hardly sufficient. Every 2 minutes our hands or shoulders brushed – don’t blame him. So couldn’t simply go to sleep. The man made himself extra comfortable not bothering whether I felt uneasy or not. One hand I had to keep to myself or my neighbour didn’t mind about sharing the armrest with me!

Browsing the programme revealed a Siddharth’s picture listed, latest, a runaway hit even in Doha. Kaviya Thalaivan (Epic Hero). Why not I thought.

Actually my neighbour expected me to fidget about the gadgets and headset and seemed eager to help! There was an incredulous look on his face as I zoomed on the picture to watch. What are these guys thinking? My husband and son tease me and call me, ‘technically zero!’ (my nickname) but it is too much when every male you come across in life has to think the same about you!! They seem to want you to ask for help assuming you are such a dumbo as Amitabh comes to Sridevi’s rescue in ‘English Vinglish!’

Wanted to give the man a tight slap! Educated in India, working in UK but mentality is still the typical Madarasi mentality. (He tuned into Jigarthanda, another Sid’s movie which was also on menu).

For the first time therefore in all these years actually watched a picture in flight. My neigbhour changing flight from UK in Doha was even more interested in knowing what I watched. No sooner than the ebola & the immigration/customs forms were distributed and I started filling them up, he started snooping on me straightaway without embarrassment trying to read details. Ah, Indian men and their decency! A woman on her own is an object of curiosity for them.

No chance of closing my eyelids even for a minute. Picture was anyway very engrossing. Never bored. A big victory for Sid really having given 2 heavy back-to-back mega hits in a span of 1 year. Substance.

A critically acclaimed period film, Siddharth plays hero in the picture. One of Tamil cinema’s best in recent times. This is second film I am watching with Sid playing the lead. Terrific performance.  A natural. Good he is not getting bollywood offers! Why play second fiddle to Aamir Khan when you can come thro’ much better and too good here in local industry.

Producer: Varun Manian (actress Trisha’s beau) and director/screeplay: Vasantha Balan

Music : A R Rahman – transports us to another world.

The story is of the stage-play (theater) era which was the scene in India before celluloid pictures became mass entertainment.

It reminded me of my family’s addiction or obsesson to Theater in those days. And we weren’t alone. In Mylapore, proximity to the sabhas/halls was the main reason we had access to a variety of performing arts. We had a great exposure – even today I can vouch, rundown as my birthplace could be, it is still the best place to grow up in Madras. You have the best schools, libraries, music, dance and arts and sports facilities, temples, beach and middle-class background that is down-to-earth humbling. 

Until I completed my schooling, we held memberships in RR Sabha, Mylapore Fine Arts, Karthik Fine Arts etc where routinely they screened Tamil plays.

My parents, until my mom was alive, attended the dramas twice a month. A sabha staff would come home with his sales book as we were club members.

S.V.Sekhar and Crazy Mohan troupes were top draws – both known for their comedy scripts and sense of humour even today. Both sold out for entire seasons. The dramas used to run to packed auditoriums. Would never miss any of them by any chance! The second grade were Mouli and Kathadi Ramamurthy who also we watched. Given the limitations of live theater, the subject/scope of the dramas invariably remained social/familial. 

Tamil theater had once reigned as a powerful voice of expression – especially in 1930s and 40s during the run-up to India’s independence. It attracted the educated elite and its shortcoming was that, it might not have appealed to the masses. So this is where and why cinema succeeded.

We went as family to dramas, and live performing theater was as important for us as cinemas, if not more. In late ’70s and early ’80s, celluloid pictures still had not done enough damage to the Tamil stage. Tamil cinema and Tamil Theater co-existed and ran parallel to each other. But there were predictions, the live stage was starting to lose out to mass media at last and one day, the curtains in the sabha stages would be down for indefinitely…

I think I liked theater better in those days to cinemas. For a variety of reasons!

As a kid I always looked forward to the recess of 30 min before the second half. In that interval, hot hot bondas to bajjis to vadas and pakoras and coffee sold like hot cakes. No paper plates – everything was handed down to you in banana leaf (vaazhai ilai) or dry palm leaf (2 or 3 stitched together into a stiff plate) or ‘dhonnai (a sort of folded cup made with dried lotus leaves). Remember: it was a time before the fast foods became fashionable. 

The crowds that attended the theater were an educated lot – of mostly upper middle-class and middle-class background. It was a good social setting for like minds to come together. Families met with each other regularly during the plays.

Besides dramas, our clubs also intermittently featured Bharat Natyam dances etc. Jayalalitha Jayaram debuted with her Bharat Natyam arangetram (first stage dance) when she was 16 I believe in RR Sabha in Mylapore. My grandparents had been there watching from audience. My granny always told me what a bright kid she was even then. She did not live to see JJ become our CM but I think she would have approved!

So the social scene in my childhood was quite a lot different. I nowadays very much think, how the quality of life of my parents was much better in many ways than what we have today. They were only middle-class and went to work by bus. They owned neither any automobile nor phone but they seem to have enjoyed a kind of life unthinkable for us today. Serene, lonely and clean stretches of beaches, uncrowded peaceful temples, meaningful cinema, good literature and reading, unpolluted air and pesticide free vegetables, unadulterated water ….. life filled with spirituality not bordering on fanaticism, calmness, contentment, soul-filling arts and music and dramas  … a rich world of culture and tradition…

Watching Kaviya Thalaivan brought back so much memories for me.

R S Manohar, who can forget him. Remember him for donning the villainous roles in his dramas. And quite strangely he was always the anti-hero in his creations! Anti-heroes were his heroes to put it in other words. Famous for his histrionics on stage, Manohar always screened historical plays/epics like Ramayan, Mahabharat or mostly some select episodes/branch stories from them. His most famous play was ‘Ilangeswaran.’ (Lord of Lanka meaning Ravan)

Manohar had a cult following playing the hideous villain laughing loud and shaking the stage with his over-acting. The period costumes and settings were a big thing for those days. Glamorous! Every detail used to be given its due attention. His plays were over-booked always and the sound stereo would render your eardrums deaf! He would roar on the stage like a lion!

I think when I was young I watched him play Ravan once in Ilangeswaran. Even crackers were burst on stage! For 10 heads, he had attached 9 extra heads I think! As a little girl, I got scared of him actually! It was like watching a grand cinema in real. I have never seen such a production on stage until now after him.

Today, Tamil theater is in doldrums. The likes of Crazy Mohan have adapted well with filmy dunya in course of time. Crazy is behind many Kamal Hassan scripts including ‘Chachi 420.’ The transition has been rather smooth for him.

S V Sekhar entered politics and also was a B grade tamil film hero for over a decade. Not bad.

I did miss the era of stage plays of the K Balachander and Y G Parthasarathy genre. My parents literally soaked in the dramas of those times. KB made successfully to the pictures in ’50s and until today there is no match for him in entire India. Too late to receive Dada Saheb Phalke Award (only because he was south Indian) (while those as crass as actor Pran could win it), I wish he had rejected the award. Some of us have chance to watch both Tamil films and Hindi films. Hindi films of ’70s and ’80s were good but even so were no match for Tamil pictures. Story narration and dialogues and characterization is something that bollywood can never match south Indian films in. I rate Kerala films the No.1. Don’t know much about Bangla films but I undertstand they are at par with Marathi & Tamil/Mallu pictures. 

From 1940s upto ’50s to ’60s, you could not head to Tamil cinema without making a name in Tamil theater first. Tamil stage was your launching pad. All leading heroes of those times from Thyagaraja Bhagvathar to MGR to Shivaji Ganesan debuted first in Tamil theatre. Today’s Kamal Hassan also owes his origins to Tamil theater and perhaps is last of the ‘cultured’ crop.

Tamil Nadu’s first Dravidian party CM Anna Durai was a renowned playwright whose dramas were revolutionary and marxist. Just like Jayakanthan’s whose were rebellious. Anna eventually scripted for Tamil pictures before becoming our CM in late ’60s. His plays carried messages mostly for masses. Similarly even our immediate ex-CM Karunanidhi was first and foremost a very successful playwright. The old man has quite a few laurels to his credit. His most famous dialogue for Shivaji Ganesan’s debut tamil picture ‘Parashakthi’ continues to haunt us even today … after over half a century. Its about a desolate woman driven to the edge of her life, for who the brother argues in the court of law. 

So the Tamil theater – Tamil Nadu politics nexus also existed right from the ’60s which is why it does not surprise us that 2 leading actors became our CMs – M G Ramachandran (in 1977) and now his prodigy & beloved heroine in silver screen Jayalalitha. They’re by no means flukes riding on wave of popularity. They worked their way to get to the station with years of party service. 

One more dramatist – Cho Ramaswamy known all over India for the wizard and king-maker he is (in Tamil Nadu) was also popular on stage for his political plays. He had his own select faithful followers.

K Balachander used to be a brand on his own. I know him only from cinemas. Proudly I may say I have always wanted to be/live like a KB woman!

Not only KB, YGP also made some of his plays into unforgettable celluloid pictures. I cannot forget his role in the film ‘Oru nadigai naadagam paarkiral’ (an actress is watching a drama). Incidentally this film in b&w is also about a retired stage play actress. Even a prostitute can have the choice of choosing her men. That’s the point. Women have their own desires. 

Theater thus was my childhood passion. Even in my college days I was still watching 1-2 every year but was falling behind. My father cancelled all subscriptions. All good things in life came to a temporary halt.

Last Tamil drama I saw was with my law friend and her senior. I was the necessary third party in ‘their’ play in front of audience. I was upset because I was being used up – they had booked the tickets but now I am glad they dragged me along. Because I wasn’t to know then, it would be my last attendance in a performing theater. The year was perhaps 1988-89. I think we went to an S V Sekhar show.

Tamil theater was already critically ill, with cinema winning over… No, the theatre could fight cinema for decades from the ’40s up until the late ’80s. It was the mass media – television that did in the live stage. I don’t know if one exists today.

Kaviya Thalaivan is of a far-preceding period. Dating from pre-independence era. Good to see the fight for independence made a part of the theme/subject. The younger generation cannot connect with India’s freedom struggle at all. Atleast through cinema, let them know how we have made it to the millennium.

Shankardas Swamigal was very much behind the initiation of Tamil theater who lived over a century back. I have read about him in school (Tamil language) text books, but it is only now I could actually relate to him from the film. Our youth do not know him. The director has rendered yeoman service to entire Tamil population in our planet introducing him to one and all in a grand and unforgettable manner. The name has to go down in history. 

As the story winds through the rich tapestry of performing arts, we get an idea of how it was 100 years back. Its an unchronicled history if I may say so. I can’t think of a better presentation in modern times.

I don’t want to reveal the plot of the story here. The picture has to be watched from first frame to last one with rapt attention.

2 leading heroes, both favourites of mine: Siddharth and Prithvi Raj.

Nasser has played as usual an immaculate character role. None could have played it better than him. How ‘saraswathi’ plays in his tongue. Art has no religion or race or language bias.

In the last scene as Prithvi Raj is seen performing ‘thidhi’ the plane touched down in Chennai airport.

My next seat man was more disappointed than me as the screen went blank! Looks like he wanted to see me happy with the film ending! He could barely contain his curiosity as I waited alone for my luggage at the baggage carousel lolz. Because my flight landed at 1.30 am.

Nirbhaya and other cases have scared my son enough perhaps who knows. For the first time ever, he came to pick me up in the airport! But I allowed it because it was sunday as day dawned.Should there be college next day, I refuse outright. Because college bus arrives at sharp 6.15.

Nobody – no blood relative normally drops or picks me up from railway station or airport in India. So really felt great! But its a waste, i hate to disturb people.

Meanwhile I am still searching the web for those last 1-2 minutes (closing) of the picture unsuccessfully but have read the story to know the ending.


Nothing hurts like a guilty conscience.

Beautifully made picture, well delivered.

Real epic.

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