Friday, August 30, 2013

Thanga Meenkal (2013)

Unlike Vijay's "Deiva Thirumagal", "Thanga Meenkal" doesn't use cheap, manipulative ploys such as casting a cute kid as the lead to make our hearts melt. It sets out to genuinely win our affections but manages to do that only on certain rare occasions. Save for a couple of strong scenes, the film is otherwise a mawkish puppy which keeps coming back to lick your heart. And in case you were wondering, it doesn't pack even half of the emotional punch of "Katradhu Tamizh". 

"Thanga Meenkal" is a rare children's film with something substantial in it for adults. In a film where the Father-Daughter relationship holds the center stage, I was more taken by the depth and subtlety of the one between the father and his own father. The sense of entitlement a son feels towards his parents' property is taken for granted in many Indian families. That a man with an eight year old daughter of his own still continues to live under his father's roof is a topic which keeps getting hushed in the pursuit of upholding our misplaced sense of familial values. 

Kalyani's (played by Ram) inability to find work that pays juxtaposed with his father's hard-earned wealth creates a stark image. As his wife Vadivu notes, "..kaasu illathathu prachana illa; kaasu irukra yedathula kaasu illathathu thaan prachana." "Thanga Meenkal" is a story of a defeated man who married for love at the age of 18 and has never been able to bounce back in life..  of a man who once must have thought the arrival of his daughter would change his fortunes and give him a new purpose. It is, in some ways, a coming of age story of a 30 year old man.

There are many moments where the characters act in ways that is very uncharacteristic of them. Playing a father who wants only to make all of his daughter's wishes come true, however out of his league they may be, actor Ram often over-does what his story expects of him. There are moments where his Kalyani's over-protectiveness comes across as borderline lunacy instead of whatever it is that he, as a director, was aiming for. The entire portion of the film taking place in Kerala is messed up to say the least. Kalyani's journey through the rolling hills in search of a tribal musical instrument to buy his daughter a pug is an attempt to underline his love for his daughter, but it turns the film into a dull, over the top sentimental extravaganza. 

Towards the end, "Thanga Meenkal" turns Shelly Kishore's Vadivu into the mother from those awful Hamam Soap advertisements who worries her daughter wouldn't ever get married if she uses some cheaper, acne-causing soap. There's a huge drama surrounding the possible onset of puberty in her daughter who is only eight years old!

In a school where every teacher is villainized, the film shows us one teacher named Evita (played by Padmapriya) who is good to Chellamma. But her role is cut-short to a bare minimum. In the scene where Kalyani visits Evita's house late in the night because his daughter would want to speak to her, we are offered no clues as to why the teacher appears distressed. Ultimately, at its core, "Thanga Meenkal" believes a good teacher can unlock hidden talents and set children on the path of success. It tries to distance itself from comparisons to "Taare Zameen Par" by never mentioning the words 'Dyslexia' and 'Attention Deficit Disorder', while clearly suggesting that what Chellamma needs is more than just a good teacher. While he resists the temptation to chastise private schools for their apathy for most part of the film, Ram eventually gives in at the end.

With her crooked set of teeth, Sadhana is like a female Darsheel Safary, but without the acting chops. I don't want to be too hard on the kid and wish to divert the blame to the director for her performance. As much as I wanted to like "Thanga Meenkal", I am disappointed by how it doesn't strike gold while fishing for metaphors in a pond.