Sarvam Thaala Mayam
Sarvam Thaala Mayam: A Decent Musical Drama That Could’ve Used More Heart
Movie Review by Trijai Nerthi (Rocheston Certified Movie Critic)
Directed by Rajiv Menon, Sarvam Thaala Mayam is a musical drama film starring G.V Prakash, Nedumudi Venu, Vineeth and Aparna Balamurali in lead roles. Films like Sarvam Thaala Mayam, if executed well can serve as a great inspiration. Take the songs from Rockstar for example. ‘Kun Faya Kun’ on its own speaks of music, it speaks of thirst, spirituality and above all passion and the suffering it brings to the artist seeking it. This thirst, this madness, and this eccentric passion are what goes missing in the film. The film has great structure and even the core of the story and its plot twists are well-thought. But when it comes to execution, it lacks the depth to pull you in and inspire you. In fact, after a point, the film gets too idealistic. Sarvam Thaala Mayam is an average film. But it would have been a great film had it understood the world of its central characters and the suffering that would befall him due to the world he belongs to.
Peter Johnson (G.V Prakash) is a playful young boy whose father, Johnson (Kumaravel) is a mridangam maker and mother, Theressa sells soup in the neighborhood. One day, Johnson sends Peter on a mission to deliver a Mridangam to the celebrated musician Vembu Iyer (Nedumudi Venu) at his concert. After delivering it, Iyer asks Peter to stay back and this is when Peter discovers his passion for playing the percussion instrument. Soon after the concert, Peter relentlessly approaches Vembu Iyer and vehemently requests to be his disciple. Impressed by his sincerity and eagerness, Vembu Iyer agrees to take him on as his student and from here on, the film follows Peter’s breakthrough into an industry that’s dominated by Brahmins. His historical breakthrough and pursuit of percussion beyond the ordinary forms the crux of the film.
The moment when a man realizes his true calling in this world is such a crucial moment in his life. Sarvam Thaala Mayam’s central character, finds music to be his calling a few minutes into the film. This should have been an emotionally enriching moment. Director Rajiv Menon captures Peter’s excitement on discovering his love for percussion, but somehow, the scene doesn’t do justice to such a key discovery. You don’t feel the thirst, the aching and the astonishment in the character’s eyes. The screenplay doesn’t attain any highs or lows at this moment and this is one of the most repeated and problematic aspects of the film.
The graph of a screenplay whose core emotions are struggle and passion must have numerous highs and lows. Sarvam Thaala Mayam barely delivers any high or low points. When Peter approaches Vembu Iyer and vehemently requests that he take him on as his disciple, the scenes that follow should’ve been much more intense. He stands outside Vembu Iyer’s house all night, he follows him to an ‘Avani Attam’ celebration at a temple and even attempts to enter the temple. These scenes should’ve disclosed how Peter felt at that moment. Did his heartbreak when he was denied entry into the temple? How hopeful was he that Vembu Iyer might abide by his request? One can connect with a character only if these questions are answered by revealing Peter’s emotional psyche. This is why director Imtiaz Ali’ Rockstar works so brilliantly. That film too is about music and love. But the reason it works so well is that it captures the struggle of a creator. You see the world through Jordan’s eyes and that’s why you understand why he is so conflicted by the world. In Sarvam Thaala Mayam, you don’t feel a thing even when Peter hurts his hand and may never play again. The difference between the characters in both these films is that Peter appears too comfortable in the situations he’s thrown in whereas Jordan is like a fish out of water. The latter is the only example that can work in films like these.
The film also makes the mistake of trying to cover too many topics. It touches upon the lack of diversity in the field of classical music, it talks about the instrument-makers and their poor living conditions, it also dives into the other side of reality shows and the importance of always staying updated no matter how celebrated an artist you are. Each of these topics is vast. A non-brahmin boy breaking into the classical music industry has enough conflict of its own. Our failure to treasure instrument-makers and their dying craft is a vast subject by itself. Mixing one with another is a recipe for disaster because one can never truly, wholly explore either. This is why it was disappointing to witness the use of one song, that too a happy one to communicate the oppression of the instrument-makers and the failure to preserve their crafts. This topic demands more than just a song.
The manner in which the reality show in Sarvam Thaala Mayam is showcased feels too dramatic. It paints the television anchor out to be a sadist who operates on her own agenda. This angle could’ve used a much more realistic approach. There is a scene in which Mani, insults Peter and calls him Vembu Iyer’s servant. Peter retaliates by hitting Mani. Ideally, in the current scenario, there is no way that the people would’ve perceived Peter to be the bad guy. In fact, there would’ve been a protest against the ill-treatment of Mani towards Peter on the basis of his caste. Instead, you are told that Peter’s actions are only perceived as uncouth by the audience. How is this convincing? This plot twist doesn’t seem fair at all.
Later in the film, there is an entire stretch where Peter sets off on a national tour to find music. He chases his thirst for music by setting off. If only, Life was this easy for the Peter Johnsons of the world. The conflict is the fact that Peter cannot take off when life gets hard. He cannot seek comfort in the presence of snow clad mountains. His lifestyle, his reality is much harsher and that’s why when he finds his break-through it is all the more beautiful. The idealism present in these sequences takes away from the reality of the subject.
These scenes make you feel as though director Rajiv Menon has made up his mind that his story will unravel a particular way and found a character to fill it. But one cannot build a house without laying the bricks first, right? Similarly, the central character of a film should determine the setting and not the other way around.
Furthermore, there is a Malayalam accent inherent in the way Vembu Iyer and Mani converse and this spoils the authenticity of the film.
As Peter Johnson, GV Prakash is good. This might even be one of his best performances till date. The stubbornness he brings to his character’s psyche works well. But I wish he had been presented with much more dimensions to work with. Sure, he breaks into a brahmin dominated field, but why is it that he never opposes any of their customs? He doesn’t even make fun of it. That seems odd. Many more such detailing could’ve been done by director Rajiv Menon while developing this character. As Vembu Iyer, Nedumudi Venu is brilliant. His sarcasm is easily the best part of the film. The scenes involving his interactions with Peter are heart-warming and sometimes, amusing too. But his portrayal would’ve been much more realistic if he had been able to shake off the Malayalam accent that is present throughout the film. As Sara, Aparna Balamurali has a limited screen-time and though her character has been written decently, her role in the larger scheme of things isn’t key to the plot. As Mani, Vineeth is natural. You instantly despise him and this is owed to the actor’s effortless performance. As Johnson, Kumaravel is very good. His range of expressions when he talks about his profession is quite poignant. But an interesting character such as his definitely deserved much more screen-time.
The cinematography in Sarvam Thaala Mayam is good. But when a filmmaker like Rajiv Menon is at work, you expect him to push envelopes. Here, Ravi Yadav delivers what is expected but he never surprises you with innovation. In fact, many key scenes in the film could’ve used much more visual drama.
This is most definitely not A.R Rahman’s best album and that comes as a disappointment in a film whose primary focus is music. The title track is especially underwhelming. The only track that seems slightly better is Varalaamaa composed by Rajiv Menon himself.
On the whole, Sarvam Thaala Mayam is a good effort. But for it to have been remarkable, the narrative should’ve been much more authentic and the script should’ve had much more meaningful highs and lows. Without much more depth and realism, the film is an idealistic and average entertainer.