Kumaravelu and Prakash Raj glowing - Trisha?

I happened to be talking to director Gautham Menon on Friday, and since his Vaaranam Aayaram was about a father and son, I was curious of what he thought of Abhiyum Naanum, a movie about a father and daughter, and he said: “I liked it. 95 percent of it worked for me.” And I have to agree with him. Abhiyum Naanum is a better film than Mozli. I had enjoyed the first half, and thought (going by some reviews and reports) that the second half would disappoint – but it was just as enjoyable. Even if Abiyum Naanum didn't work for you, my point here is that films that have begun to depart from telling a purely romantic or violent story, and are looking at other relationships –such as what Menon is doing in Vaaranam Aayaram- are worthwhile departures for mainstream Tamil cinema, and need to be supported strongly by a new audience thirsting for something outside the formulaic. In Abhiyum Naanum, writer-director Radha Mohan has been subtler and more understated than Mozli. Emotionally, also, his new film worked better for me more than the Prithviraj-Jyothika hit. I liked Prakash Raj’s performance here. I had feared before going into the theatre

that it might be over the top, but it was a nicely nuanced performance ranging from the dramatic to the comic to the tender.

Radha Mohan does have a gift for a kind of easy going, entertaining storytelling, and he is good with actors. Aishwarya was compelling as Trisha’s mother, and Kumaravelu was perfect as the homeless man the family adopts. I can’t wait to see this intelligent actor again. Trisha…well, I’ll come to Trisha soon. We learn a great deal about Nanum –that is, Prakash Raj - in the movie but very little about Abhi-Trisha. And yet the movie is titled Abhi and Me. In a film about a father-daughter relationship this is a deep flaw in characterization.

Radha and Prakash Raj miss a great opportunity here to create a complex, finely delineated female character in Trisha. They imbue Abhi with one quality – her compassion for the poor and destitute – but this alone surely cannot sum her up completely. This is just one thing about Abhi. Surely a father would notice more as his little daughter grows to become a woman? Trisha is always lovely to look at, of course, and she carries the role gracefully and intelligently. This one lack apart, Abhiyum Naanum is the kind of Tamil movie we should all welcome: a modest, witty drama on a rare theme narrated engagingly. What a relief to not have to sit through hero introductions, slick action, crude comedy, tiresome romances, and long, boring, violent climaxes.

Abhi and Me could have been a little shorter with two songs less, but you forgive the stretch because the film pleases most of the time. The film is worth seeing for Kumaravelu’s performance alone, which is one of the most moving, restrained character actor performances I have seen in Tamil cinema in a while. Director Radha Mohan has a winner in this character, which is more poignantly realized than the professor character Bhaskar played in Mozhi.

The running gag with Kishore worked for me – and going by the audience reaction in theatres, it worked for them too. The gag is simple: on his daily walks, Prakash Raj always meets Kishore crossing his way, and inevitably Kishore will ask him (without stopping) the obvious as they pass each other: “Going for a walk”? And Raj will always quip back the opposite. Some have felt that the joke keeps monotonously repeating but this gag works on its sheer predictability: the next time both cross each other, you’re waiting for Kishore to ask the obvious and for Raj to answer him comically. Prakash Raj preparing himself for his daughter’s pre-kindergarten interview is also comic. His comic timing never fails him, and he delights us with his grumpy tantrums when he finds out his future son in law is a turban wearing Punjabi. (The filmmakers needn’t have made him such a perfect groom- impressive enough to be interviewed on TV and get personal calls from the PM-but we’ll let that go).

The film belongs to Prakash Raj. Thanks to his richly comedic and deeply felt performance, Abhiyum Naanum is a pleasure to watch. And we are grateful to Radha Mohan for writing him this part, and conceiving a script that keeps us involved. Abhiyum Naanum is an entertaining, ensemble feel good comedy-drama that is also moving- and of how many Tamil movies can you say that? I’d urge you to catch it.

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