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Review: Seethakathi

Film: Seethakathi
Director: Balaji Tharaneetharan
Cast: Vijay Sethupathi, Mouli, Archana, Baks or Baghavathi Perumal, Rajkumar, director Mahendran, Gayathrie, Remya Nambeesan, Sunil Reddy, Parvathy Nair and others
Music: Govind Vasantha
Cinematography: Saraskanth ; Rating: 4 stars

Director Balaji Tharaneetharan is making it a habit to impress audiences.

If his first film Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom simply left one entertained with its unassuming nature, its realistic touch and entertaining content, his next Seethakathi leaves you not just delighted but also enlightened about theatre — an art form that has been by and large forgotten by the masses.

Seethakathi beautifully showcases the difficulties theatre artistes and theatre lovers face in this day and age when technology has pushed to the brink this valuable art form.

Balaji’s expertise lies in the fact that he has been able to tell a story of great pain in the most entertaining manner possible. In other words, it is like bitter medicine inside a toffee that has been offered for consumption. The beauty is you don’t really find the resulting entity repulsive because of the sweet taste of the toffee but at the same time, you understand the significance of the medicine that has been given to you. To come up with such a product, one would require great skill. Balaji proves he has that skill.

The film is a laugh riot for the most part. When the pain of theatre artistes is shown, the film assumes the seriousness that it requires. But very quickly, it changes gears and moves into a lighter vein to keep the audiences entertained.

In a nutshell, this is what the film is about.

Aadhimoolam Ayya (Vijay Sethupathi), a great and true theatre artiste, runs a troupe, not for fame or wealth but for the joy and satisfaction of performing before audiences.

The 75-year-old veteran and his troupe members, a team of dedicated people who truly love theatre with all their heart, continue to perform and keep the art form alive despite dwindling audiences and poor remuneration.

At one point, Ayya dies while performing on stage. but his soul, which loves the stage so much refuses to die too.

After a month of mourning, his troupe members, led by his secretary Parasuram (Mouli) decide that they have to keep the tradition of staging plays alive as that would be the best tribute they would be paying their beloved Ayya.

So, they begin to rehearse from the next day. And strangely enough, one character every single day outperforms everybody else.Parasuram, who has been with Ayya for a considerbly long time, soon begins to notice that something unusual is happening.

He realises that the spirit of Ayya was performing through one person or another and therefore, their performance was outstanding.

This is further established when one of the youngest members of the troupe, a novice, called Saravanan(Rajkumar) who knows nothing about acting delivers such a brilliant performance that a director who happens to see his performance offers him the lead role in his next film.

Parasuram urges the director to watch the play again and then make the offer. In the next play, Ayya’s soul enters another character in the play and Saravanan’s performance is less than impressive.

Nevertheless, the director believes that Ayya will enter the body of Saravanan when he acts in his film and books him. As luck would have it, Ayya acts in the film through Saravanan’s body.

Soon, offers start to pour in for Saravanan. However, the outside world does not know that it is Ayya’s soul that is acting everytime Saravanan steps before a camera.

Parasuram stays with Saravanan and Ayya responds. At one point though, success goes to Saravanan’s head who starts to believe that he is the one who is acting and Parasuram and Ayya’s family members are enjoying the fruits of his labour.

Parasuram parts ways with Saravanan and soon, the world sees Saravanan struggling to perform. Soon, the world comes to know of the great legend Ayya and his acting skills. They realise his soul is still acting. Producers begin making a beeline to Ayya’s house in the hope of convincing Parasuram to make Ayya act in the bodies of their lead characters too…

The film has exceptional performances coming in from almost its entire cast.

Vijay Sethupathi as Ayya is just brilliant. He seems to have lived the role. Measured, slow and sombre, every move of his is perfect. There is a scene where Ayya enters his home at dusk after a disappointing day at work. As he enters, he sees his daughter washing clothes. He senses worry and fear. In a calming tone, he enquires as to what is bothering her. While doing so, he bends down to wash his legs. Be it the sigh he lets out when he has to bend to pick up the mug of water or the intense gaze with which his eyes probe his daughter’s face, Vijay Sethupathi is amazing. He might be there for just 40 minutes in the film,but his performance in it is enough to seal it is as his own!

It is a joy to watch Mouli back on screen. Balaji Tharaneetharan has to be congratulated just for bringing back some of Tamil cinema’s finest talents back on screen. Mouli, an amazing character artiste, just lives the part. As Ayya’s confidante,he is a symbol of grace and magnanimity. One only wishes that Mouli will continue acting and appear more often in films.

Another veteran whose work is phenomenal is actress Archana, who plays Ayya’s wife. As the soft-spoken, obedient, loving wife and mother, Archana reminds one of one’s own mother. Concerned, caring and careful not to fail in her duties, Archana makes your heart ache. She appears only occasionally but that is enough for her to stamp her class on her scenes! Way to go madam!

Two others who deserve special mention are Bagavathi Perumal or Baks as he is more popularly known and actor Rajkumar.

Baks plays director Sundar and Rajkumar plays Saravanan, a greenhorn in acting who goes on to become a star because of Ayya entering his body while he is performing before the camera.

Both acted in Balaji’s earlier film Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom and both had done a fantastic job in that film. They repeat that feat in this film too. They bring the house down with their antics.

Rajkumar in particular deserves additional praise. There is one sequence in which Rajkumar who plays Saravanan, is outstanding. Saravanan, who is an average actor but who becomes a star because of Ayya’s soul doing the acting, chooses to part ways with Parasuram.

As Parasuram leaves, so does Ayya’s soul too, leaving Saravanan to be his original self before the camera.

Baks as director Sundar is unaware of this change that has happened within Saravanan.

During the next shooting sequence, the director asks Saravanan to act as if he is pleasantly surprised to see his girlfriend.

The expressions that Rajkumar as Saravanan gives are just downright hilarious. The entire sequence has audiences roaring with laughter. For a comedy sequence to work, there must be good understanding between all the artistes who are part of the scene. Baks and Rajkumar have a fine understanding and therefore, do an outstanding job.

The same kind of comedy happens when another producer Dhanapal struggles when Ayya’s character withdraws itself from the set. All these artistes have done exceptional work and deserve praise.

On the technical side, all departments have done well but the music is extraordinary.

With live sound,the background score is just brilliant. Govind Vasantha does an outstanding job again in this film after impressing audiences in 96.

Seethakathi’s message is loud and clear. If you thought acting was simple, it isn’t.

In a nutshell, the film is a masterpiece. Some of you might find the film’s start a little boring but then, don’t let that fool you into believing that this is not an entertainer. This one is an entertainer and a good one at that.

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