Dilani Rabindran



Kaaviyathalaivan: That Rare Gem, Kaaviyathalaivan, Siddharth


I cannot provide you with any one reason to see Kaaviyathalaivan, because there are so many of them. And just as I can’t bring myself to recommend it on one reason alone, I truly hope it does not get categorized as one particular type of film...
This film is arguably the best performance of Siddharth’s career. His portrayal of a humble drama troupe ‘sishyan’ who is hardened over time is proof yet again of his dedication to new and challenging roles. Although consistently great throughout the film his performance particularly in a scene where he turns on his beloved guru should leave you in awe. And although Prithviraj has played negatively shaded roles before his subtle villainy in this one completely stands out. The narrative is mostly unpredictable and winding, as a mix of love, betrayal, competition, fame, greed and revolution are all wrapped within. Although the primary plot of the thin line between healthy and unhealthy competition may seem basic, Vasanthabalan has found a novel way of telling it using the theatrics of an old period. There is absolutely no need for me to make a case for the film’s music as A.R. Rahman’s carefully composed album has been topping the charts for months now! Rahman’s use of classical Indian folk music and even the western Jazz influences of that age work perfectly to chronicle the story’s long-spanning timeline and various characters whom traverse societal classes. To sum up, the whole movie is a massive feat of artwork and one of Tamil cinema’s better produced films of late given its technical brilliance. 
It has all the elements one would expect in a “historical epic” – but it is my sincere wish that audiences don’t classify it as merely that. Unfortunately, there are certain connotations in Indian cinema that come along with that term, and to categorize Kaaviyathalaivan as part of that group alone would be unfair to a film that rises above such basic implications. 
For instance, although the film takes place in periods when India was under British rule, it is not at all your archetypal ‘India-during-colonial’ rule narrative. Indian cinema has done many historical films set around the British rule; examples include Lagaan, Mangal Pandey, and Madrasapattinam, but all of these films tend to rotate around a love between British and Indian characters, or a central British antagonist. Unfortunately, given the prevalence of such films many of us have naturally come to expect that any film set during a similar time period will focus on the same themes. But, Kaaviyathalaivan on the other hand, stands apart, with its look at the musical theatre period of the ‘20s and ‘30s, a topic not popularly explored, and something that provides a completely colorful milieu to tell a story of friendship versus rivalry. Theatre gave way to cinema in India, and music, dance and drama have always been something the South Asian populous has depended on – both for entertainment and, as evident in the movie’s sub-plot regarding Indian independence, even for societal direction. In this way Vasanthabalan has cleverly used the Indian independence struggle as a backdrop to chart the time period and provide varying paths of doom to its main heroes, versus actually focusing on the politics of that age. In my opinion, instead of concentrating on an activist message to become an actually political film, Vasanthabalan has fused historical realities well with his fiction to add depth to the film’s key conflict.
And just as I see the subtext commonly associated with the word ‘historic’ when it comes to Indian films, I worry that people will draw unfair conclusions about the grandeur of Kaaviyathalaivan when they hear the word ‘epic’. It is not uncommon for many people to correlate epic with ‘over the top’. So often we use that term to describe productions that are embellished in visuals – with overstated sets and larger-than-life wardrobes. Although there are audiences for films like Devdas or Jodhaa Akbar - Kaaviyathalaivan should not be confused as similarly inflated. The production team has done a phenomenal job at conveying the time period through the costumes, art direction and minute details without being gaudy or exaggerated. But despite the absolute beauty of the settings and attire it was my ears that picked up on the grandeur the most. To me, the authenticity of the time was best brought out by the cast’s diction, the carefully executed colloquial language and the use of Tamil poetry and literature. It’s not often we see such careful attention paid to the intensity of dialogue and its delivery as a means to bring out a film’s setting. Tamil literature is so beautifully utilized in the film that it plainly speaks to the immense research and reverence that has gone into this production. The film is epic, but not because of the size of its costume and locations budget - but because despite being grand in visuals, it is grander in attention to detail.
Kaaviyathalaivan deserves to be seen widely and appreciated internationally, not just because it is richly made – but because it is differently made, and the results are reverentially entertaining. It is truly sad that we don’t see more ambitious films like this in South Indian cinema, but perhaps that is what makes it such a gem. A gem by definition is something prized for its beauty and for possessing great qualities, and rarity is one of the most prized qualities of a gem. I highly suggest you do not miss seeing this rare commodity on the big screen.

Written by Dilani Rabindran

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