Not many of us still have vivid memories of our school days, which surely had both pleasant and embarrassing moments that shaped our formative years.
However, that doesn’t seem to be the case with writer-director Girish AD who, in his directorial debut, manages to evoke, with perfect clarity, a lot of situations that look strikingly familiar even if some of them may not have actually happened to you.
Thaneer Mathan Dinangal (TMD) is a film that comes from the imagination of a filmmaker who has a sharp eye for mannerisms and a good ear for dialogues. Girish has already proved this with his two short films—Vishudha Ambrossey (featuring kids) and Mookuthi (featuring adults).
In TMD, he presents situations that might look very silly to a 30-year-old man but very serious to a high-school student such as its protagonist, Jaison (Mathew Thomas). Though not exactly likeable, he still remains an endearing character on account of his amusing quirks and antics. His classmates subject him to constant ridicule because he has fashioned himself as this know-it-all who can never go wrong.
But when things start to go wrong, the weaker side of his personality takes precedence over his feigned devil-may-care attitude. He is first rejected by a girl whom he is strongly drawn to, Keerthi (Anaswara Rajan), and his confidence is further dwindled by the arrival of a new teacher, Ravi Padmanabhan (Vineeth Sreenivasan). The latter is treated like a star by everyone in the school except Jaison. The resulting hostility puts him and Ravi at loggerheads with each other. Ravi is a guy who makes it seem like he is helping you but is actually plotting your downfall, and he attempts it in inventive ways.
As Jaison, Mathew proves that he is not a one-hit-wonder. In Kumbalangi Nights, he won everyone’s hearts with a grounded performance. In TMD, you get to see the actor once again expressing a wide range of emotions, switching effortlessly between snobbishness, awkwardness, frustration, worry, flirtatiousness, and cheerfulness. Jaison is a drama queen who experiences the pangs of adolescence more strongly than his peers.
But then it’s also about Jaison’s relationships outside his school—his funny interactions with his unemployed elder brother, a bus conductor friend, and a likeable uncle. Sometimes the three men rush to get him out of trouble, which at times leads to unexpectedly hilarious results. And what is not shown can be sometimes funnier than what is.
For Jaison, Ravi is a source of constant distraction and annoyance. Jaison doesn’t understand what it is about Ravi that not only the entire class but also the entire school is going ga-ga about, and funnily enough, you can’t help but agree with him. Ravi is a difficult character to root for even when the film’s characters are. Perhaps Ravi was written that way. There is something off and artificial about him, and he is one of the film’s relatively cinematic elements aside from the conflicts pertaining to Jaison’s love life.
But when you keep these elements aside, the film is dripping with the minute, most authentic details that one usually associates their school days with. Remember the anxiety you once felt when a teacher told your class that she’ll be conducting a surprise test on the day you didn’t study anything? It’s details like this that the film lovingly recreates. Yes, it all looks silly and laughable now, but at one point we saw a simple and inconsequential class test as one of our life’s biggest challenges.
Thaneer Mathan Dinangal is a perfect example of a nostalgia-inducing high-school drama done right. It’s storytelling like this that we should be celebrating and see more of instead of something that desperately tried to be popular through a girl’s wink.
Film: Thaneer Mathan Dinangal
Cast: Mathew Thomas, Anaswara Rajan, Vineeth Sreenivasan
Direction: Girish AD