Tamil Reviews

Papanasam Review: Picture Perfect

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Actor Kamal Haasan and Actress Gouthami in Papanasam Movie StillsIdyllic little town. A simple cable TV operator, a wife the right mix of sass and love. Two beautiful daughters. Perfect.

He is from the talcum powder generation, the kids are from the deodorant generation.  He is self-made. Rags to riches, but still remembers the rags. He loves movies to a fault – crying with them, laughing with them, correcting them when he thinks they didn’t do something well. Perfectly normal.

Easy-paced life, late-night movies, a local teakadai and its benevolent owner. Their biggest problems are distinctly quaint. Their ambitions rarely extend beyond the slightly larger town several miles away. Perfect.

The lead pair look their age. And (gasp) they even have something suspiciously akin to sex.

Even the sleazy cop is comical. A jerk, not a villain. All he wants is the occasional free cup of tea and vadais. He gets it, along with a dose of snark – the benevolent teakadai bhai is not above ribbing him a little, and the cable TV operator doesn’t mind joining in the snarkery. The cop throws the occasional distasteful glance their way, but that’s it.  Perfectly appropriate reaction.

Perfection all around. In fact, too perfect.

*****

Papanasam is just like Mahanadi. In the time taken to showcase the seeming perfection of rural life. In setting things up so well, in showcasing the little details.

When Kamal Haasan runs around the temple singing Sri Ranga Ranga Nadhanin Paadham. When he celebrates the perfect Pongal. Or here, when he watches Sempoove and wants to go home to his wife.

And from all that perfection, a deep sense of foreboding emerges.

Life just can’t be that perfect. Something has to give.

*****

In Mahanadi what gave was a young dad’s desire to break out of the monotony of perfection. Here, the young dad is not so young. He is older, and wiser. Plus, he has a wife to hold him in check.

And so, in Papanasam, what gives is a thug. An impulsive young thug. An equally impulsive young not-thug. An emotional older woman.

Just like that, the perfection comes crashing down.

*****

Like in Mahanadi, a young woman wakes up scared. Thevadiya Payya, one said, you son-of-a-bitch. The other one just screams.

*****

Kamal Haasan’s performance – understated and elegant – is remarkable in many ways. He conforms to the script, never appearing larger than life. There are no gimmicks, no unusually distracting prosthetics.

Here is a wonderful actor actually acting in a competently scripted movie. For once, Kamal Haasan is not the storyteller-director-producer-actor who likes Tamil literature, English literature, Iranian movies, the Korean economy and the theory of semiconductors. For once, Kamal Haasan just acts.

The script is not bent to showcase his ability to act. He acts. Like he did in Mahanadi. And just for that, director Jeethu Joseph deserves thunderous credit.

 

 *****

The writing is brilliant. This is no bumbling-cops vs. smart-criminal plot. This is no series-of lucky-coincidences saves a deserving-criminal plot. The cops work hard. They are never too far behind. This is, in fact, an authentic plot. Because whoever wins, wins by being better than the other side.

And like the rest of us, the cops can smell perfection too. It fills them with the same sense of foreboding. Too good to be true.

*****

Like all Kamal Haasan movies of late, the supporting cast is handpicked to perfection. The revelation that is MS Bhaskar. Kalabhavan Mani, the perfect jerk. He is less than a villain, more than just a bad man. Charlie and Vaiyapuri in seemingly insignificant roles. The delightful Delhi Ganesh. The lovely Gouthami. Anant Mahadevan and Asha Sharath, parents and people of power.

Perfection. No foreboding.

And then, just like that it comes crashing down. With Ghibran’s background score. Not because it’s bad. But because it’s ordinary. And it makes you sorely wish for a certain someone, someone whose score elevated Mahanadi. Sigh.

*****

Papanasam is also a morality tale; a fable. Two sets of parents, both imperfect. Both want the best for their families.

Did the right people win? Was there even a winner?

*****

PS: William Strunk once wrote, “Avoid fancy words….If you admire fancy words, if every sky is beauteous, every blonde curvaceous, every intelligent child prodigious, if you are tickled by discombobulate, you will have [a] bad time.”

The subtitlist Rekhs is the anti-Strunk. She picks the longest possible word for every situation. Even when it makes no sense. Why call someone a brat if you can use pipsqueak? Why call someone stingy when you can use scrooge? And the awkward – often outlandish – phrasing (“Hey my nutcase dear”, “Is being a scrooge an encumbrance?” and “My madcap missy”) does nothing to help.

Not to forget this gem,

“The iq called grey matter is a weapon that wins world over.”

Or this:

Vina vina ore vina
Vidaamale ezhum vina


One and only question
Raising its head in repetition

Right.

*****

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