Rating: *****(5 stars)
Thalaikoothal is the traditional ritual in Tamil Nadu whereby the unwanted elderly in the family are killed . The practice apparently has some social sanction in the interiors of Tamil Nadu , although officially it is banned . As it ought to be.
Hats off to Jayaprakash Radhakrishnan for weaving such a profoundly moving film out of a theme prone to instant sensationalism. The storytelling is at once gentle and brutal, layered and luminous. There is a fertile fluidity in the way the story moves. The narration glides forward creating almost by magic two different time zones without letting the audience feel the weight of the grim theme.
The film is relentlessly slim sinewy and focused even as it oscillates between two lives: the protagonist Pazhani(Samuthirakani) trying to cope with the presence of his beloved comatose father in his modest village home .While Pazhani’s wife Kalai(played with splendid invisibility by Vasundhara) is sullen and angry about Pazhani’s devotion to his semi-alive father, his little daughter dotes on her grandfather, speaks to him as if he can hear her(he can!) and even brings her best friend home to her inert grandpa.
In another time zone Pazhani’s comatose father Muthu(Kalaiselvan, so moving in his immobility) flashes back to his youth and his passionate romance with a dhoban(washer woman) Pechi(Katha Nandi) . Caste, we can see, plays a vital role in many outstanding South Indian cinema whereas there is no mention of it in Bollywood except in the cinema of Anubhav Sinha.
Kathir who plays the younger version of Muthu is incredibly good , bringing to the part both wisdom and heart.Katha Nandi who plays his beloved Pechi is all pose , as perhaps she is meant to be.
Of course we know this love story can only end in tragedy. Nonetheless cinematographer Martin Dinjar frames the furtive lovers in glowering stretches of passionate colours. Drying Saris flutter happily as Muthu and his secret love Pechi meet in chaste passion.
“My first kiss with you will be on our wedding night,” Muthu tells Pechi when she tries to get intimate with him.
“You could have got any girl in your caste. Why me?” She asks.
“Because no one has eyes as expressive as yours,” Muthu laughs .
It is an idyllic romance shattered by reality. Not just the social issue of caste inequality, but also the wider issue of mortality.The love that Muthu feels for Pechi cannot be consumed. The love that Pazhani feels for his father cannot be described. That director Jayaprakash Radhakrishnan finds the near-perfect visual imagery for a love that cannot be articulated, is a measure of his success as a storyteller.
Thalaikoothal is a work of art that will one day find a place among the greatest works of Indian cinema. Lyrical and yet brash, apolitical and yet politically mutinous, this is film which leaves room for endless interpretation of what love means. The actors so flawless, you forget they are acting, the screenplay so scintillating in its immeasurable resonance you don’t think of it as a story, and the characters so tangibly tactile , you can take them home in your heart.
This is a masterpiece beyond all masterpieces.