Kaaviya Thalaivan

I am not sure where the film fails. It has everything going for it on paper. Rahman’s music, Prithviraj in a role as gray it can get and yet still palatable, Siddharth as the hero, Nasser, a character actor who never disappoints. The setting is sort of novel too when compared to every other recently released film’s milieu. A drama troupe in Tamil Nadu in the pre-independence era of India. But it just … fails to deliver, which is a real tragedy because it should have worked. It really should have.

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[Spoilers ahead]

This film is about Gomathi (Prithviraj), a boy offered to Saami (literally meaning God), the guru of a prestigious drama school played by a white wigged Nasser. Gomathi is left to be reared and bred into a great artiste and grows up in the drama school as one of its pupils, alongside Kaali (Siddharth) a beggar child spotted by Saami  on a train.

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In a voice over, Gomathi flatly tells us about how he stopped the other kids from picking on Kaali and how from then on, Kaali calls(and regards him) as his anna (elder brother). Years roll by and Gomathi and Kaali are the upcoming youngsters in the drama school, which also boasts of Bhairavanthe lead actor who comes away with accolades for every role he dons and whom Gomathi aspires to emulate and maybe become, one day. Kaali holds Bhairavan’s talent in contempt and tells Gomathi that he aspires to be an actor like his Saami . No applause from the audience can convey that to him. He will just know when one day he manages to achieve that level of art.

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Kaali hangs around with his other friends and has drunken hilarious conversations with the other bit actors whilst Gomathi presses his guru’s feet. Gomathi is disciplined while Kaali fritters around. While acting out the lead part in the absence of Bhairavan, Gomathi manages to capture each and every movement that Bhairavan would have made. Kaali simply innovates and blows his teacher away and wins the lead role.
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The frustration that Gomathi experiences while Kaali beats him in little things grows and takes on monstrous proportions, flaming Gomathi’s insecurities into a raging fire. Saami does nothing to help and simply tells Gomathi to stop wasting his time and talent in such unworthy thoughts when the latter opens up to him. This story of Kaali and Gomathi continues, whilst things around them change, but the underlying equation between them never does. And this is what Vasantha Balan tries to tell us.

 

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Prithviraj is an ideal choice for Gomathi (despite the malayalam accent) and there are some stand out scenes where he lets Gomathi’s insecurities show. When Saami is so pleased with Kaali’s interpretation of a drama verse and admonishes the other bit actors to learn their parts properly and not just memorize them, Gomathi feels the rebuke is intended for him and him alone. He writhes and the hurt shows in his eyes. When Gomathi is the head of a drama company and all the world is praising him, he enquires of the drama manager in Madurai who has hired him, first of Bhairavan and then very quietly of Kaali. You can see the relief in his eyes when the drama manager looks puzzled and says he has never heard of any Kaali.

Yet another brilliant scene is when Gomathi’s drama company is being outshone by Kaali’s troupe and Gomathi is beside himself with rage. He thunders “Let the whole world go to him. I, Gomathi, depend on no one, need no one. I will act all by myself, even if there is no one else” but his voice quivers and you can hear the plea in his voice, for approval, for acknowledgement which his own insecurity denies him ! Gomathi’s character is a complex tangle. He is exasperated with Kaali’s success but equally frustrated with himself for being so affected by it. He hates Kaali but cannot justify his dislike which drives him restless and to mean and despicable acts. At the end, he tells Kaali “After you go, whether I live or die, I will finally be at peace with myself and only then”

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Siddharth is quite good too, as Kaali and surprisingly the scenes where he cries (literally) are brilliant. I did not expect that.

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His love story arc with the Zameendar princess is quite effective too driving the story forward. Sadly, the main love triangle and one of the driving reasons for Gomathi’s envy and fury just doesn’t work because the film just doesn’t show why the heroine (Vedhika) prefers Kaali  , who doesn’t seem to be interested in her at all. Her devotion to him is just .. puzzling and her anger at Gomathi, even more so.

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Nasser … for once is not very likable, but maybe the character is meant to be so.

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The music by Rahman, no complaints, but it just seems..more modern than the period in which the film is set in. And the lyrics of the songs are too colloquial ! Naa Bhaama-vuku thaan da maama ?! By Vaali, that too, maybe his last song ? Perhaps I’m missing something here..

But really, where the movie falters is when the director decides to shift the story from Gomathi to the independence movement. Suddenly we are thrown into a swadesi movement, vande maataram cries, bhagat singh roles and a righteous Kaali up against the police. Complete chaos.

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And then suddenly in the climax, we are back to Gomathi and Kaali. This takes away all the intensity that we expect from Gomathi’s story (and from an actor like Prithvi) and spoils the beautiful tangled story the film is trying to weave. Sigh..


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(Screencaps from the official trailer)

 

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