Directed by: Radhamohan
Starring: Jyothika, Prithviraj, Prakash Raj,
It is very rarely that one comes across a film within the trappings of commercial cinema that tells a simple story in a simple manner. It is particularly refreshing to find it in Tamil cinema which, like its Telugu counterpart and much of Hindi cinema in general (and even certain films by certain Malayalam 'superstars'), likes its heroes to be supermen, its settings to be larger than life, its heroines in roles more miniscule than their outfits. As actor, Prakash Raj has amply proven that he can slip into characters' skin with ease. As producer, he has made films where story is king, and where the characters that people the narratives are simple, ordinary folk, with simple, ordinary feelings and emotions.
In Mozhi, he dons both hats, producer and actor, leaving the directorial baton in the capable hands of Radhamohan in what is his fourth collaboration with the acclaimed director.
Karthik (Prithviraj) and Vijay (Prakash Raj), called Karthi and Viji, are two musicians who work with music director Vidyasagar (incidentally the music director of this film). Their camaraderie is evident in their repartee, and when we first meet them, Karthi has just rented an apartment in a vibrant apartment complex. Viji will stay with him off and on. Outgoing and friendly, they decide to make themselves known to the immediate neighbours, and that is where the problem begins. The next door neighbour, Ananthakrishnan (Brahmanandan) is the secretary of the apartment complex. At first welcoming, his mood and attitude change when he learns the young men lack spouses.
Bachelors? In a family complex? No way, he declares.
Viji finds the perfect solution - Karthi should get married. Eh, what? says Karthi. One cannot get married just like that. One has to find the girl of one's dreams. And how, pray, does one do that, enquires Viji. Well, explains Karthi, it is like this - when one sees the girl one is destined to wed...
Viji, not being very romantic, decides that that can happen only if Karthi changes professions to that of an electrician or the bell ringer at a church. However, Karthi is sure he will find the light bulb of his dreams. And he does. (Not exactly the way he, or Viji, imagine.)
But by the time he comes out of his light bulb-induced daze, the angry young woman has disappeared. The night brings another incident with Ananthakrishnan and sorely tried, Karthi decides that it is not worth it to start a battle over something so trivial. After all, there are other apartments in the city. However the morning after, something happens that makes him change his mind, much to Ananthakrishnan's chagrin.
But Karthi's romance doesn't seem to be going according to plan. What's that they say about the best laid plans of mice and men? Forget falling in love with him, the girl of his dreams (Jyothika) doesn't even react to Karthi's conversational gambits.
In spite of running into her twice in the apartment compound already, he hasn't been able to find out her name. It takes an accident for him to learn that she is deaf-mute.
But it doesn't take him very long to realise that handicap or not, she is still the girl of his dreams. And even though Viji sounds a note of caution - It's okay, he says, if the spouse does not understand music; but if she can't even hear it? - Karthi is undaunted. Music doesn't need words to be understood; neither does love. He has found out that her name is Archana; she teaches at a school for the deaf-mute, and her best friend's name is Sheela. They decide to meet Sheela in a bid to know more about Archana.
From Sheela (Swarnamalya), Karthi and Viji learn that Archana's troubles had begun as a toddler. She was three years old when her parents discovered that she would never be able to hear or speak. Her father, unable to deal with his daughter's handicap, separated from his family, and very soon remarried. When she was six, her mother passed away, leaving her to the care of her grandmother. Archana's trauma over her parents' regular fights has led to intense anger that she internalises. Her father's abandonment of her has also led her to distrust men in general.
Viji is aghast; this is a bucket load of problems. But Karthi is not to be turned back. His quiet determination impresses Sheela. It also paves the way for Archana's grandmother to give her consent to his wooing her granddaughter.
One would think that Karthi's problems have all been solved. Unfortunately, they are only beginning. For one, he's nowhere close to even telling Archana that he loves her. (The last time an unfortunate young man told her that he loved her, she broke his nose.) For another, as Viji sapiently points out, so far Karthi has needed Sheela to interpret Archana's responses to him; is he figuring on having Sheela live with him and Archana if they get married? Even though taken aback, Karthi is undaunted.
After a few days, he decides to try out his new-found knowledge on Archana. She is impressed. Slowly, they become friends, and along with Viji and Sheela, form an inseparable quartet. However, the hurdles aren't yet cleared. In his bid to get closer to Archana, and to free her from what he sees as the burden of her disability, Karthi stumbles. Badly.
It creates a misunderstanding between him and Archana that seems insurmountable. Now, Karthi not only has to apologise for his well-intentioned fumbling, but before he succeeds in gaining her hand, surmount two obstacles - one, tell her that he loves her; and two, prove to her that his love for her is not based on pity. And will that be enough for her?
Well, I suppose that is a given, but the way it transpires is endearing. And on the way, we are introduced to some very interesting and often, quirky, characters - Archana's grandmother (Vatsala Rajagopal), Prof Jnanaprakasham (MS Bhaskar), the lovelorn Preeti (Neelima Rani), Ananthakrishnan's put-on wife Janu (Sriranjini), with their own little narratives. What is interesting about Mozhi is the way disability is treated. It is neither pitied - in fact, there is a scene where Karthi says that his love for Archana is not about 'giving her a life'; it is about sharing his life with her - nor is it deified. This is not a story of a struggle against insuperable odds. It just is.
Archana's handicap is just as much a part of who she is, as Karthi's music is part of his self. When she first explains to Karthi that she cannot hear or speak, there is a dignity about that explanation. In much the same way, Sheela is a young widow - her husband dies within a year of their marriage. Yet, while she obviously grieves his death, she is not defined by that one experience. Both Archana and Sheela are strong young women who have decided to write their own life narratives. Neither of them are looking for pity, or for saviours. And they are accorded that respect by both the script and the direction.
Similarly, neither Karthi nor Viji think of themselves as white knights who swoop in to save their heroines from fates worse than death. They are attracted to their women's strength and independence, and their change from decent, happy-go-lucky fellows without a care in the world to decent men who are capable of deep understanding and love is both organic and believable.
The script has a strong vein of humour running through it, and it is indeed a joy to see the way it is used as part of the relationship that Karthi and Viji share, or in their interactions with Ananthakrishnan. It is also present in the (humorous) way the two men find their beloved.
This was Prithvi's third outing in Tamil (he debuted in a negative role in Kanaa Kandein), and he impresses as Karthi. He is sensitive and understanding of Archana's emotional baggage, even as he is intent on breaching her defences. Yet, persistent as he is, it does not come off as creepy. There is an integrity that he brings to the role of a young man who, deeply in love, is willing to do whatever it takes to bridge the differences between him and his beloved. Unlike the usual trope of 'let's keep telling her I love her and she will obviously fall in love with me' stalker-heroes, Prithviraj's Karthi is a man whose single-minded devotion sees him changing in order to address his beloved's needs.
This is probably one of Jyothika's finest performances, and one of her last. She brings her Archana to life, and invests her with natural grace. It was not a 'oh-look-at-me-emote-a-'differently-abled'-role' performance; it was just one part of her character's arc. It is difficult to emote your role without the help of dialogues to anchor it, but Jyothika did a stellar job. Yes, she did go slightly overboard in her dramatic confrontations with Karthi, but much can be forgiven an actress who takes the trouble to actually learn BSL (British Sign Language) for her role, and 'speak' it competently.
Producer Prakash Raj steps in as Viji, a glass half-full kind of guy. Friendly, outgoing, loyal. He's there for Karthi every step of the way, yet is not above pulling his leg mercilessly. Most of the film's humour comes from his repartee, and he has a fine time with the role. His romance, and its conclusion, is one of the film's finest humorous moments. Prakash Raj is a fine actor, and one for whom I usually set high standards. He doesn't disappoint. (Plus, his towel dance to Harry Belafonte's Hava Nageela was hilarious!)
The lovely Swarnamalya is the surprise package. She is the friend, who having gone through a tragedy of her own, is still supportive. It is she who explains to Karthi just how badly he has blundered, and without judging him, helps him in his bid to make amends. It is also she who questions Archana's motivations, thus prompting her to question herself. I don't remember having seen her before but her IMDB page tells me that she was there in Alaipaayuthey, another fine film. She brings a certain gravitas to her role as Sheela, and I would love to see more of this actress.
Which brings me to director Radhamohan. The whole can only be the sum of the parts if there is a strong hand at the helm. Too often, we see great scripts and strong performances derailed by half-hearted direction. Here, the script and performances, excellent in themselves, are moulded into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. There is attention to detail - Karthi's lessons in sign language are not dismissed in two scenes; they are an ongoing part of the film and are referenced later; Archana's initiation into Karthi's world of music is not sudden - it is a slow understanding of what music can be, within the constraints of her disability. There is a sensitivity in handling the diverse emotions, especially when they have to face the hurdles not only of one character's handicap, but also her emotional trauma. It is very easy to milk that trauma for audience sympathy, but the director cleverly evades that trap. We can understand where Archana's anger is coming from, but that doesn't make her easy to like in the scenes where she over-reacts to stimuli. And that makes her a more believable character - someone who has very good qualities, but also has her own flaws. Mozhi is a beautiful film about love and understanding and friendship - if you haven't already watched it, do take a look.