Selvaraghavan is one director in Tamil cinema who is impossible to dismiss. You may love or hate his films but it is simply not possible to ignore him. Mayakkam Enna is his latest offering and as always the response has been mixed with some calling it a masterpiece and others tending to bash him for his unabashed and unapologetic portrayal of all things that are likely to make you squirm in unease ranging from a man stealing his friend’s girl to a heroine who punishes her husband for the assault he has subjected her nostrils to by drooling over him like an annoying, overly friendly, saliva – happy dog.
Leaving all that aside, Mayakkam Enna is in essence the portrait of a struggling artiste and his lifelong romance with his great passion which simultaneously is the scourge if his existence as it takes him to the brink of suffering and nearly succeeds in destroying him as well as the woman who loves him with a simple desperation despite being fully aware of his warts.
These two characters – Karthik (Dhanush) and Yamini (Richa) are masterfully done. Clearly Karthik is inspired from Ayn Rand’s Howard Roark and the awe and happiness with which he wields his camera reminds you of that immortal character. Dhanush turns in a subtle yet powerful performance. Yamini is yet another fine creation. Too bad our directors are still having trouble finding actresses who don’t belong only in fairness commercials. Kudos to Selva for understanding that every woman has the attributes of a lady and a tramp and that does not necessarily make her one or the other. Unfortunately, most of the audience in the theatre in Sivakasi where I watched it, did not have his insight as they kept calling her unspeakable names for falling in love with her boyfriend’s (sort of), best friend. But even her harshest critics fell silent when she took all the crap her verging – on – the – brink – of – full blown – psychosis husband threw her way. How chauvinistic! Men love it when a woman takes a beating like a man!
After these two characters, the rest of the cast comes across as lame. It was like Selva drew two beautiful figures, did not like that the rest of the canvas was empty and simply threw in some stick figures. How else do you explain a character like Sunder (Sunder) who feels the need to have his photographer buddy tag along with his gal on Valentine’s day then proceeds to get drunk and wraps them in an embrace thereby bringing them together both literally and metaphorically?
The rest of the 'buddies' gang is equally lame. They are all supposed to be 'friends for life' but someone like Venkat Prabhu does a far better job of bringing across the group dynamics of his band of boys than Selva does. This motley crowd of friends somehow never show the slightest sign of the unbreakable bond we are told they share and not only because the boys are forever coveting a buddy’s wife or girl. It is like they are fragmented creatures from a dream, Selva had trouble remembering.
And the climax! It was such a disappointment though many swear by it. What made Mayakkam Enna so beautiful was that it was such a gorgeous composition of poignant truths. Yamini allows Sunder to get all touchy feely with her because she is hoping to provoke Karthik into fighting for her not because she is a skank. And for the same reason she leaves the door open when she is bathing, knowing that he is outside. Karthik tells her that he is happy as long as he is snapping away with his camera and he would be perfectly okay even if his chosen profession reduces him to beggary. But of course he is only kidding himself as he wants the entire package – fame, recognition and all the other trappings of success with a hunger that borders on madness.
Unfortunately, he has his Ellsworth Toohey in the form of a mentor who is an internationally renowned photographer but is something of a big – time creep who does not hesitate to steal another person’s work and thereby poops all over his dreams and his future (there were lots of references to poop in this film for those who were wondering at that particular choice of word). A lot of people would identify with his pain because it is a sad truth that the world is populated with such villains who would drag a person down without the slightest remorse.
In most Tamil films, heroes take their blows with a stiff upper loop, sing a rousing song and get back on the top at the end of it, but in Mayakkam Enna, Karthik is too weak and he gives over to despair and the lurking madness in his soul. This portion of the film was brutal and heartbreaking and it was touching to see Yamini struggle with the resilience of an Amazon to help her husband piece his life back together again while herself taking the beating of a lifetime.
And then the hackneyed climax came along and ruined everything. It was like Mayakkam Enna had suddenly become a Vikraman film from the 90s where somebody is receiving an award in the climax scene and making a long – winded, sentimental acceptance speech. Those climaxes made me tear up for those films as they had led up to it but here it made me grit my teeth as it was such a cop – out and Selvaraghavan is hardly the director you expect to chicken out at the penultimate moment.
Finally, now that Mayakkam Enna has really pushed the envelope in terms of portraying the impossibly complicated relationships between men and women it will be nice to see someone make a film where a man puts up with the crazy – ass crap his wife gets up to. After all what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Hackneyed but true!
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