Payanam – Radha Mohan’s amazing skill to blend!

A lot of people are talking about Payanam. Some of them have absolutely liked it while others have their reservations about the film. In all the latter cases, the aspersions that have been cast are not about the central plot of the film or the performances. Both these facets have been well and truly appreciated by all sections of the audience. Many are especially delighted to see the swank Nagarjuna back in Tamil after such a long hiatus. The doubts over Payanam have been about the sub-plots or deviations that the director has chosen to take. To be fair, there are no sub-plots or deviations taken by Radha Mohan. All elements are part of the central plot itself, yet some are finding it difficult to accept. We are talking about the generous lacing of comedy and lighter moments through the hijack drama. It was not something that anyone in the audience expected while entering theaters and they were not to be blamed. The pre-release publicity was all about the thrills and action that one would normally associate with a hijack drama. And, having been accustomed to a diet of films like Air Force One, many could just not digest the bits of

comedy as it came through in the film. As standalone scenes, they might look good, is what the general opinion is! But, where is the logic in bringing in comic moments when people’s lives are at gunpoint? The answer is perhaps this, let us let logic rest for a while and look at it from a pure cinema perspective.

Comedy is one of the toughest things to bring out on screen. To make an audience laugh in an intended funny plot is a difficult task in itself. Imagine the amount of skill that is required to execute lighter moments in a script that is tailor made for tension and action. And, that is where Radha Mohan has succeeded big time. None among the audience have pointed out to the lighter scenes and called them distasteful or unlikeable; they are just not able to accept the relevance of such moments in the plot. But, the fact has been accepted that Radha Mohan has shown his finesse at handling levity in any kind of situation through Payanam. The Tamil film industry has no shortage of directors who can handle comedy. But, most of them do so within the well defined formats of comedy and commercial cinema. Directors mix romance, action, sentiments, music and comedy in a film, but seldom do these overlap into each other, they are clearly demarcated with comedy being the most distinctly marked out segment which usually involves a separate track and a comedy artiste who usually disappears for the last half hour of the movie if it is not a full length laughathon. But, Radha Mohan is of the kind who has always believed in the fine mixing of layers. Watch Mozhi or Abhiyum Naanum to find out.

Mozhi shows how comedy and high voltage emotions can hold hands. Remember MS Bhaskar’s character; at first it looked like one put into the script purely for the occasional comic moment. But, the way the graph was built to give the same character a very sentimental touch shows that different elements of cinema can be elegantly combined. Or take Abhiyum Naanum where the otherwise emotional moment of sending one’s child to school for the first time is shown in a way that makes you giggle; yet not making it look ridiculous. Radha Mohan has achieved something similar in Payanam.

One other director comes to mind who also has the same adeptness at making layers blend together; Bala. Anyone who has watched Naan Kadavul will understand why. To infuse comedy into such morbid and depressing premises and make us laugh out while still pining for the characters is something that only a director of class can do. And, Bala is a class apart.

Now, coming to the logic part! How could a hostage feel comfortable enough in the presence of a band of kidnappers to laugh? Well, it is not as unlikely or impossible as some people have believed it to be. And, it is certainly not just a cinematic concept. This kind of hostage behavior where the hostage begins to feel comfortable and even sometimes sympathizes with the problems of the hijacker has been documented many times before in real life incidents and has been given the term ‘Stockholm syndrome’. What was shown in Payanam might not be the full blown Stockholm Syndrome, but when we know that such behavior does exist, then what was shown in Payanam cannot be called improbable. There is also an inverse to the Stockholm syndrome called the Lima Syndrome where the kidnapper develops sympathy towards his victim, something that we saw in Mani Ratnam’s Roja.

Now, the art of bringing levity into the grimmest of situations is not one that comes easily. Only the best of film makers have been able accomplish it. Remember certain scenes from Saving Private Ryan or the way Nagesh Kukunoor made Dor. Radha Mohan has traveled along the same road and we must appreciate it.

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