Thalaimuraigal – Movie Review

This review of ‘Thalaimuraigal’ was supposed to be posted by me soon after watching the movie in December-2013. But I kept on delaying it and in the meantime Balu Mahendra passed away. I initially thought of making this as a review-cum-tribute, but that would be a grave injustice to both, the magnificent movie and the brilliant director. Hence I am posting only the review and will try to write a tribute for the great film maker later.

Poster of 'Thalaimuraigal'

Poster of ‘Thalaimuraigal’

There was hardly any pre-release hype for this movie, but because Balu Mahendra was returning to movies after a brief hiatus, it generated some good publicity. Then the teaser of the movie, with one of the finest BGMs from Ilayaraja ensured that this was going to be a special kind of a film. To add to the already heightened interest, was the revelation that Balu Mahendra for the very first time was going act in the movie renouncing his mystical “cap” on screen. The stage was all set for some wonderful cinema experience.

The dampener came in the form of the movie’s limited release across the country. Even the Tamil speaking state of Tamil Nadu did not get a wide release, with only a handful of shows in select cities of the state. Karnataka/Bangalore was denied even that. It was by luck that I happened to visit Chennai during the last week of December-2013 and was able to watch one of the last shows of the movie at Studio-5 (Satyam Cinemas).

The movie, like most Balu Mahendra movies, starts with no frills. The story telling starts from the first frame, not waiting for any introduction song and character entrance acts. The story moves in its own pace, introduces the characters as and when required, breezes through easily towards climax, and ends brilliantly leaving the audience with moist eyes remembering their own grandparents and the things learned from them. All this accomplished with no melodrama and songs. I was waiting to see Balu Mahendra on screen and he just comes and kind of steals the show. He comfortably fits into the shoes of Chokkalinga Bhagavathar, the amazing actor who was the regular ‘Old Man’ in Balu Mahendra’s movies. On second thoughts, I think I should have never even had a doubt about Balu Mahendra’s performance; a brilliant director that he is, acting is definitely a piece of cake for him. The young boy, Karthik, suits well for the role of the grandson and does his job well.


Two things that are of main interest for me when it comes to Balu Mahendra’s movies are – Cinematography and Ilayaraja’s music.

One of the highlights of this movie is the use of a DSLR by the veteran film-maker to shoot the movie. The results are great, though some scenes reveal some ‘Digital smudges’. Frame after frame is a feast to the eyes of the beholder. Words cannot describe the delight in the scene where the grandfather extracts an orange candy stealthily from the closed fist of his grandson who is asleep on the former’s easy chair. The other scene where the grandfather, with his daughter-in-law and grandson, lights lamps on occasion of ‘Karthika Deepam’ is a testament of why Balu Mahendra is still considered a master cinematographer. It’s still a mystery how only a camera, held by very few people like Balu Mahendra, is able to capture moments like these. There are many such scenes that are lighthearted but strike an emotional chord deep within.

Breath-taking cinematography is one of the strengths of 'Thalaimuraigal'

Breath-taking cinematography is one of the strengths of ‘Thalaimuraigal’

From the very first teaser it was evident that Ilayaraja is going to be a major contributor to this movie. It was a bit of a shocker though to learn that there will not be any songs in the movie. But Ilayaraja is a composer who doesn’t need songs to cast his magic spell. The background score for the movie is a fine example of how music should complement the story progression. There are moments of silence which are not filled with sound or music and there are those moments which are livened up by some of the finest background scores heard in recent times. Some of the scenes which are enriched by the background scores in the movie are:

1. Grandson exploring the house searching for his grandfather
2. Grandfather meeting his grandson for the first time
3. Both, grandfather and grandson, talking and looking for a place outside for defecating
4. Grandfather teaches Tamil to his grandson

There is also a small self ‘pat-in-the-back’ moment for the duo, director-composer, when one of their evergreen hits ‘Yen Iniya Ponn Nilave’ is played on the screen. This movie undeniably is enriched by the score of the Maestro Ilayaraja.

The movie falters in very few aspects and one of them being the ‘Digital smudges’ mentioned earlier. Other than that, the timeline in which the story is set is unconvincing. There was no need for the climax to be pushed to the 2030s and the grandfather’s end days set in the current period. They could have as well achieved the same end result by pushing back the years with the climax set in the current year.

Balu Mahendra in 'Thalaigmuraigal'

Balu Mahendra in ‘Thalaigmuraigal’

When I walked out of the cinema after the watching the movie, all I could think of was all those times spent with my grandparents, especially my grandfather who among other things coincidentally taught me and my siblings Tamil. I am sure most of the audience would have been in the same frame of mind after watching the movie. This movie is without doubt one of Balu Mahendra’s finest work, and that itself makes this a must watch for all cinema lovers.

~ by Jayanthan Ravi on March 26, 2014.

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