Seethakaathi: A Beautiful Yet Flawed Paradox
Movie Review by Trijai Nerthi (Rocheston Certified Movie Critic)
Seethakathi is one of the rare films in Tamil cinema that vouches for the timelessness of art. Through its light and moving story, it tries to tell you that Art, much like the artist will never cease to exist. This subject by itself is relatively underexplored and just for choosing to touch upon this, director Balaji Tharaneetharan deserves a round of applause. The film, like most works of art, has its own set of flaws and redeeming qualities. These flaws, however, do not overpower the film in the larger scheme of things. But they do take a stab at the story which could have otherwise been perfect.
In the first twenty minutes of the film, you are taken through Adhimoolam Ayya’s (Vijay Sethupathi) transition from being a struggling theatre actor to becoming the stalwart of the performing arts. One day, while performing in one of his stage plays, he passes away. He dies with the sorrow of witnessing the slow death of theatre. But soon, you discover that his death is only the beginning of the heights he conquers in acting. Parasuraman (Mouli), the owner of the auditorium where Ayya’s troupe performs at, discovers Ayya’s spirit performing through the body of his troupe actors. The mysterious and awe-inspiring events that follow this discovery form the crux of this film.
Director Balaji Tharaneetharan’s Adhimoolam Ayya is Seethakathi’s biggest paradox, this is why he is the driving force of the film too. In the short time that you see Ayya, you see him come alive on stage and when he is off-stage, you see something in him, dying a slow death. The hope he has kept alive seems to be fading away. He is a delight on stage and weary of it, this paradox is what makes you invest in his journey. When he plays Aurangzeb, you can’t take your eyes off him. It is scenes like this that makes Seethakathi such a memorable film.
Films these days are obsessed with fast pacing that they seldom allow enough time for the characters to grow on you. After a long time, a film like Seethakathi comes along and gives you the breathing space that you badly missed in Tamil Cinema. The first thirty minutes are slow paced and silent. You observe Ayya, you take in his fears, you absorb his sadness and ache for the nurturing he provides to his grandson. You feel what he feels. This in itself is an achievement these days. To see a story unfold through the eyes of the character has become so rare and director Balaji Tharaneetharan achieves this feat. One particularly comforting scene is the one in which Ayya wakes up in the middle of the night, sits down next to his sleeping grandson and affectionately ruffles his hair. In this scene, you want to run into the arms of your grandparents; such are the emotions it brings alive.
After his death, the film slowly metamorphoses into a comedy. This transition is done well. It is smart of the director to blend theatre with comedy. Performing arts bring alive certain unexplainable magic. Similarly, comedy surrounding a ghost sounds intriguing too. This is why both of these story angles make the perfect match when paired together.
From the beginning till the interval block, the shot divisions are done impeccably. One scene follows the other in perfect rhythm with emotions that compliment each other. In the first one and a half hours, the director has total control over the way his audience feel. From uninhibited laughs to meaningful silences, you feel just what he intends you to feel. This clarity and confidence are admirable.
Post interval though, many flaws start to crop up. The comedy begins to feel repetitive and they go on longer than they ought to. For instance, the second half begins with a producer turned actor realizing that Ayya is refusing to be a part of his film. There is a whole comedy sequence staged surrounding this situation, but considering the fact that you were already a witness to such a situation with Saravanan’s character, the comedy in this sequence feels repetitive. If you recollect, this was a problem in the director’s first film, Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kannom too.
The scenes involving the media feel a bit exaggerated too. But considering the petty things many sensationalizing media channels debate these days, this drama may reflect reality at times too.
As Adhimoolam Ayya, Vijay Sethupathi is a dream. He imbibes his character’s body language and emotions effortlessly. To bring alive the body language of a senior citizen is a task in itself but to bring their experience with it is definitely something else. The poignancy in his performance is moving. The other character actors in the film have done remarkably well too. As Parasuraman, Mouli is a delight to watch. As Saravanan, Rajkumar is fantastic. He has you laughing relentlessly in one particular sequence. It is refreshing to note that each of the characters who appeared on screen not only had a definitive role to play but played it quite remarkably too.
Music director Govind Vasantha’s background score is comforting and warm at times. But in many scenes, you find the music too overpowering. You can’t help but wonder if the film would’ve done better with much more subtle tunes.
Saraskanth T.K’s cinematography is one of the film’s strongest aspects. The visuals go by smoothly, subtly without you ever realizing the camera’s movements. It’s depth and unique approach, especially while transitioning from a long shot to a close-up in the Aurangzeb scene is simply awe-inspiring.
On the whole, Seethakathi is a moving work of art with its own set of self-indulgent flaws. But considering the fact that the film’s earnest execution outweighs the flaws, you must give the film a chance to grow on you.