Koimoi Recommends Alaipayuthey: the year is 2000, Mani Ratnam is still marinating in the glory of his last release Dil Se. The audience who were expecting another hard-hitting love saga set against the backdrop of the social and political turmoil are up for a surprise. Here comes a modern-day love story of two people inducing pop culture to the Ratnam narrative, and the audience were ready for a ride of a lifetime. It’s been 21 years, you guys.
Yes, pinch yourself. 21 years of R Madhavan’s Karthik falling in love with Shalini’s Shakti. 21 years of a filmmaker tackling marriage in a way never seen before. 21 years of a musician entering the team for the background score for a songless film, but ending up making 9 songs for it. Today on Koimoi Recommends, I recommend one of my most favourite films Alaipayuthey that gave Tamil cinema its pop culture film.
Director: Mani Ratnam
Language: Tamil (with subtitles)
Available On: Amazon Prime Video
If I still need to give you a summary for Alaipayuthey, have you ever lived your life? Well, if you belong to the generation born to remixes, while I feel sorry for you, I will try my best to make this an exciting ride for you. So here is a guy and girl who meet at a wedding. The guy is captivated by the girl and falls in love with her. Karthik meets Shakthi at the railway station for the first time. They are in their fairy-tale but on a railway platform. And it is only a Mani Ratnam film by then that you could imagine the presence of realism in a fairy tale romance.
Now I know neither am I the first one to talk about Alaipayuthey, nor is that I am the only man who, even after 21 years, loves this film immensely. But what I want to talk about is the Ratnam USP of dream Vs reality. The filmmaker, as I said, was just out of Dil Se. A film set in a universe of its own, and so away from any average romance that the lovers had to blow themselves in order to complete the arc.
So it was given that some traits had to continue in Alaipayuthey too. Ratnam was out there to talk about marriage and how it is the end of a fairy-tale and the beginning of life. To do this, he joins his artistic brilliance with AR Rahman’s soulful music and PC Sreeram to create two distinct worlds. The film begins with a wedding, to a train spotting, to the two exchanging glances for a few days. All of this is like a dream that you see when you fall in love.
The song sequences till this section are all set in a dreamland, none in the realtime. Either Karthik and Shakthi are in the gorgeous landscapes of Karthik’s imagination, or they are expressing their sensual feelings in a heavenly setup. Not to forget, at a point in the Pachai Nirame, R Madhavan even suddenly transports himself in front of the Taj Mahal. How, when, where, are not the questions you ask. It’s a dream and let it be. He is in love; he can scale a mountain in the blink of an eye.
The two get married, and the mirage is broken. They are now discovering life in a dynamic that brings them under one roof. Every song from now onwards is in the real world and even PC Sreeram’s camera takes away the dreamy tint. What had hints of white everywhere until now, is only about the real colours and quite probably the red bricks together they call home.
Mani Ratman with Alaipayuthey was exploring marriage in the modern world, and whether it is made for the generation. And he excelled in his interpretation. It’s been 21 years. R Madhavan made his debut and there was no looking down. Not that the filmmaker left behind his debate about class, gender, politics. He induced it all, but never let that overtake the main narrative.
The film has contributed to pop culture heavily and that makes it one of the most influential films of our times. Not to forget, it also has a Hindi remake by Shaad Ali (Ratnam’s former assistant). And dare you to fall in the pit of comparing the two. They both deserve to exist in their own space. But that is an analysis for some other day.
Today, take out time and watch Alaipayuthey for the war between dream and reality Ratnam wants you to see. Fall in love, take a reality check. Tell me if you agree and also if we belong to the same clan.