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15 November 2017

Rhythm (2000)

Directed by: Vasanth
Music: AR Rehman
Lyrics: Vairamuthu
Starring: Arjun, Meena, Nagesh, 
Vatsala Rajagopal, Manivannan, 
Jyothika, Ramesh Aravind, Lakshmi
Rhythm has been on my to-watch list for months now. Fellow-blogger Ram Murali had recommended this to me a long time ago, requesting that I review it. For a variety of reasons, I didn’t get around to doing so. Until recently, on one of my previous posts, Ram gently reminded me that I hadn’t kept my promise. Already feeling guilty, I ended up feeling even worse when long-time reader and friend, Lalitha, chimed in about the film. So, one evening last week, when I’d finished work, I began watching.

The film begins with a ‘hero entry’ and a song – pleasant enough, though Unni Menon ‘sang Tamil in Malayalam’. Anyway, it establishes that Karthikeyan/Karthi (Arjun) is a photographer. 
Soon after, he arrives in Bombay to take up a job as photo-editor at The Indian Express. Karthi has rented a flat in Navi Mumbai – his friend (Manivannan, whose character apparently doesn’t have a name) explains that Navi Mumbai is to Bombay what Tambaram is to Chennai. [He also mentions that Arjun can look out of the window and see Amitabh Bachchan’s house. I’m wondering when AB shifted out of Juhu.] 
Karthi informs Manivannan that his parents will soon be arriving from Chennai. He’s arranged for meals to be brought in. When his parents (Nagesh and Valsala Rajagopal) arrive, they like his flat, but are saddened by the lack of a wife;  if only he would marry, neither he nor they would have to eat take-out. (I'm cynical - I wonder whether that's the only reason they want him to be married.)
When Karthi needs to open a salary account in a nearby bank, Manivannan takes him to the branch in Sophia College. There, Karthi sees Chitra (Meena). Later, when he meets her on the local train, he recognises her and offers her his seat. Chitra snubs him politely. 
Things are not getting off to an auspicious start. Another day, she rebuffs his offer of an auto ride. Finally, tired of being snubbed, Karthi clarifies his intentions – he was not flirting, just being friendly to another Tamilian.
Chitra continues to see him during her commute, and slowly, she begins to unbend. One day, her handbag is stolen on the platform. When the police retrieve her bag, Chitra requests Karthi to go with her, since she’s a bit bothered by the inspector. [An unnecessary insertion of a lascivious policeman which did little to further the narrative.]
As they leave the police station, Karthi invites Chitra home to meet his parents. When they realise that Chitra is not a colleague, his parents are hopeful that Karthi has changed his mind about marriage. In fact, his mother even asks Chitra to speak to Karthi about getting married.

As she leaves, with Karthi accompanying her, Chitra asks him why he isn’t married yet. That question pulls the scab off old wounds. Chitra is embarrassed, but Karthi tells her of his past.
Karthi has been a photo journalist for only six years. Prior to that, he had been the Deputy Superintendent of Police, posted in North Chennai. He was married to Aruna (a preternaturally cheerful Jyothika doing her best manic pixie dream girl imitation) and they had been a happy little family.
A couple of years later, Karthi, and his best friend, Ajay, were chosen to be a part of an elite Bomb Squad. Aruna, dying a little inside every time Karthi is sent on an assignment, had nevertheless kept her fears to himself.

Until one day, when several bombs were planted in and around Chennai. Karthi was recalled from his vacation and was assigned to a particular area where he had successfully completed his assignment. Ajay had not been quite as fortunate – his leg had to be amputated.
When Karthi visited him in hopsital Ajay had told him of Aruna’s fears, and had requested him to resign. Taken aback – why hadn’t Aruna told him? – Ajay had nevertheless resigned without second thought. He'd called Aruna to tell her so. Overjoyed, Aruna had immediately set off to Chennai on the first available train.
The story numbs Chitra into silence. That evening, Karthi calls Chitra to tell her that she had left her watch at his house while washing her hands. It’s Karthi’s turn to get a surprise – the phone is answered by a little boy, who identifies himself as Shiva, Chitra’s son. Both Karthi and Chitra have much to think about that night.

The next morning, Karthi is pleasantly surprised to see Chitra at his office – she’s come to place an advertisement. He asks her about her son, and enquires after her husband. It’s Meena’s turn to relive her past.
Chitra’s first meeting with her husband-to-be, Srikanth (Ramesh Arvind), had not been very propitious. She had mistaken him for an eve teaser and had had him arrested. [Their next few meetings are enough to make my bile rise, but I assume Chitra didn’t have my issues. Srikanth is as persistent as a pesky mosquito and a hundred times more irritating. By now, I’ve completely lost interest in the film. But I persist. (Oh Ram, Lalitha, how could you?!)]
When Chitra had realized that Srikanth actually spent his spare time working for an orphanage, she's in love before you can say ‘Sivananda Ashram’. Despite his mother’s objections, Srikanth had married Meena. 
Their marriage had caused an estrangement with Srikanth’s mother (Lakshmi) – she'd earlier informed Chitra and her family that while she had nothing against Chitra, this marriage wasn't acceptable to her. 
Sadly, Srikanth had planned to return to Chennai. Only, he never came. It turns out that Karthi and Chitra are linked by a common past.
Back in the present, having seen and liked Chitra very much (and met her son), Karthi’s parents decide to take matters into their own hands. His father goes to Chitra’s house to ask her to marry Karthi. The ostensible reasons being that Chitra cannot look after Siva alone [never mind that she’s done a stellar job these past five years], and because Karthi cannot look after his parents alone. [My face bears the imprint of my palm. But I can – if I stretch my imagination (or squelch it) – understand an elderly man being embarrassed to talk about love and affection; after all, arranged marriages don’t focus on all that.] 

However, worse is to come – father insists that Karthi and Chitra were meant to be together. If not, why would their respective spouses die in the same accident? [By now, QWERTY is permanently imprinted on my forehead.] Thankfully, when Chitra refuses, the father apologises to her for his presumption. He also apologises to Karthi for having broached the matter.

Soon, Chitra is beginning to think she needs a man to take care of her. She confides in the temple priest (Ananth Mahadevan) who advises her to remarry. For the child’s sake; for her sake. I’m beginning to face-palm again, but the priest redeems himself by saying that life doesn’t end with death; that if Chitra’s late husband truly loved her, he would want her to be happy and live her life again. [Sensible man.]

Chitra speaks to Shiva, and when she realises that he’s extremely fond of Karthi, she asks Karthi to meet her at 5 p.m. that evening. But life often throws a googly when you least expect it, and so it does for Chitra.  
Since I liked some parts of this film very much, let me talk about those first. The relationship between Karthi and Chitra is delicately shaded, and while the initial meetings were rather presumptuous on Karthi’s part [who decides that just because a woman is also a Tamilian, she should be friends with him?] it blossoms into a friendship where they begin to confide in each other.
It was refreshing to find a hero and heroine who actually talk to each other, and misunderstandings last only a few hours. Neither are prone to jumping to conclusions, and if they do (based on circumstantial evidence), they actually ask for clarification. They also apologise for their transgressions - and are forgiven forthwith.
Meena is an actress I enjoy watching on screen – she was competent enough and gave Chitra a gravitas without making her a martyr. While she does mourn her late husband, there’s no evidence that she’s clinging on to the past.
Arjun comes off as rather bland here, but then, he wasn’t really known for his histrionics. The script writer, too, doesn’t seem to have wasted any thought on Karthi's narrative arc. That said, I did enjoy the only film of his that I’d watched earlier – Mudhalvan. [It was remade in Hindi as Nayak, starring Anil Kapoor.]

While Shiva was slightly annoying [and can't really enact the crying scenes, poor child], the interactions between him and his mother, and between him and Karthi were rather endearing. So also the relationship between Karthi and his parents, and between the parents themselves. 
Manivannan is sadly wasted, and so is veteran actor Nagesh, who is always a joy to watch. However, the latter aced the scene where he breaks down in front of his son – it’s a measure of his hope for his son’s happiness, and his helplessness at not being able to do anything about it.
Veteran actress Lakshmi as the intolerant mother-in-law was also very, very good. Her pride in the beginning, her guilt and sorrow when she meets Chitra later, and her change into someone who begins to see that she’s on her way to making the same mistake all over again, and who quickly makes amends was beautifully underplayed.
Rhythm is relatively understated that way. No high melodrama, no huge declamations, no recourse to glycerine… it pains me then to point out that the film – to me – was so much wasted potential. The attempted-rape-followed-by-fight-scene added nothing to the narrative, and it was only there, I suspect, because Arjun is known as ‘action hero’ and therefore needed to display his machismo. There was no reason either for at least two of the songs, shot on Ramya Krishnan and Shankar Mahadevan respectively.  

Not to mention pet peeves – get the geography right, people. If you are specifically going to name places, and show them, then don’t make mistakes like showing Karthi and Chitra in an auto in Town – autos aren’t allowed past Bandra. Also, when they show Karthi and Chitra going to his house the first time, they show them going past the Gateway of India. Which is in Town. Not in Navi Mumbai. [For God’s sake – why?! Just to show you they shot in Bombay?]

I realise from my web research that Rhythm has its fans. If the whole film had been like its last 30 minutes, Rhythm would have been a classic. Alas, by the time those 30 minutes rolled around, it was a case of too little, too late.  

Sorry, Ram.

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