After an eight-year hiatus, Balu Mahendra returns with Thalaimuraigal. Apart from having scripted, directed, photographed and edited it, he also essays a pivotal character; a retired aged primary school teacher Subbu, whose life undergoes a change when his eight-year-old grandson Adhi visits him. His first acting role, Mahendra essays Subbu with the same finesse, as he has been wielding his camera. He infuses life into the character of the cantankerous old man who was willing to learn, compromise and discard many of his rigid stances.
Shiva (S Sashikumar), a doctor with a flourishing practice in Chennai, leaves for his village when he learns that his father (Balu Mahendra) had suffered a stroke. He had been estranged from him since 12 years, the old man not having taken kindly to his marrying a Christian girl. When Shiva steps into the house, apprehensive of the reception he would receive from his father, all that the latter tells him is a stern, ‘Remove your shoes...’. The moments that follow depict how time and age had mellowed the old man. Subbu’s initial sulking and then his slowly accepting his son’s reconciliatory hand is revealed in little moments. The dialogues between them are few, the quiet moments equally effective and meaningful. Illaiayaraja’s background score judiciously blends music with silences, giving the narration a natural feel. Sensitively crafted, subtle humour laces the narration.
The growing bonding between Subbu and his grandson Adhi (an endearing Master Karthik) is brought out realistically. Subbu teaches Adhi Tamil and ‘Thirukkural’, while Adhi teaches grandpa nursery rhymes, and English alphabets (which one thought a primary school teacher would have known). Steeped in tradition, Subbu acclimatises Adhi with rural life and culture, insisting his grandson carry the family name ‘Pillai’. It’s a fine touch, a moment of atonement, when Subbu solves the problem of his daughter-in-law’s (Ramya Shankar) church- visit. The director has chosen pleasant backdrops for his scenes. Even as it explores relationships, the film touches on tradition and culture, family bonding and values, the generation gap, and the rural-urban divide, disproving most of the general assumptions and misconceptions. When Stella expresses her desire to stay back in the village, Shiva voices his apprehension about Adhi’s education being affected. Stella reminds him that he a reputed doctor, has had a rural education too. The director maintains a leisurely, albeit a steady pace. But the momentum slackens a bit in the second half. The sudden appearance of a church priest in the neighbourhood, and the religious discussion between him and Subbu seem a tad contrived and distracting. But these are minor glitches and don’t mar the smooth flow.
The Verdict: Produced by director M Sashikumar (he appears in a cameo here), Thalaimuraigal may be a plot revisited. But it’s a sweet warm and a likable film, taking just about 100 minutes of viewing time.
Director: Balu Mahendra
Cast: Balu Mahendra, Master karthik, S.Sashikumar, Ramya Shankar, Vinodini, M. Sashikumar.