I have always had a soft corner for films that emphasise the importance of human relationships. It seems that sometimes our protagonists get so caught up saving the world that they forget sometimes to do something more difficult: save their relationships, and in the process, save themselves. In Sivappu Manjal Pachai, the relationship that needs saving is between a street racer, Madhan (GV Prakash), and a traffic cop, Raj (Siddharth). The former breaks road rules on a whim (“Gap-la vandi ottra dhil, mass”), the latter is a steadfast stickler for rules. What I liked about this film is that it isn’t a film about whether the cop can reform the street racer. It’s about something more rooted, more relatable. It’s about whether these two can live as, and I’m not kidding, maaman-machaan. Sivappu Manjal Pachai is about their relationship beginning as Sivappu, and ending as Pachai. And no, this isn’t a spoiler, because at all times, you know this is where the film is going. It’s a super-predictable film, and its almost bare-to-the-bones simplicity is many times frustrating, sometimes amusing, and occasionally endearing.
The villain, in a sense, is almost imaginary in their relationship. Both think of the other as the bad guy, and for the longest time, aren’t willing to extend an olive branch. The circumstances that cause their strife aren’t written with great nuance, but serve to pit them against each other in an almost rudimentary way. Given the existence of this conflict, it’s anybody’s guess why director Sasi also wrote in a more conventional villain—a murderous drug trafficker (“Avar cancer patient-a ambulance la kadaththala; cancer-aye kadaththaraaru”). He’s a one-note killer with a taste for laughable punchlines. One of them goes, “Enakku savaal vittavan, nenacha madhri vaazhndhadhum kadayadhu, seththadhum kadayadhu.” It’s tempting to reply, “Lol, okay.”
Save for a dialogue somewhere near the beginning when Madhan implies, “Ponnunga aambalaingala kavukkaravanga”, this is a film quite careful about social implications. Even with that problematic jibe, you could make the excuse that it is fairly well-established that Madhan is a bit of an idiot. One of the characters even asks how we can expect Madhan to have respectable views about women when even someone as educated and sophisticated as Raj tries to humiliate a man by making him wear a ‘nighty’. “Naanga jeans t-shirt laam perumaya podarom. Ungalukku pombalainga udai na avlo kevalama?” asks Raj’s mother, in an unexpectedly deep scene. I also noted that Raj casually shares that he’s an atheist, and among films whose characters wear their theism proudly, it’s among the few times we have a good protagonist share his atheistic identity. He does this when he’s talking to Madhan’s sister, Raji (a likeable Lijomol Jose), for the first time. Raji asks him why he needs a wife, and Raj says that he’s desperate to be completely honest with someone, considering he’s in a job that exposes him to so much dishonesty. His other reason—of having sexual needs too—is a disarmingly honest admission, and while this whole conversation comes across as a little awkward in the scheme of things, I liked what Sasi was trying to do with this scene.
I found myself craving for more such incisive writing in this film that should have stuck to being a dramedy. Instead, its uninventive villain drags the film into thriller and action zones that don’t fit in this film. Also, there’s a tendency for Sivappu Manjal Pachai to often tread into preachy and melodramatic zones too. Like the wholly avoidable self-righteous monologue of Raj when talking to his superiors. Like that saccharine shot of a dupatta connecting the two men’s outstretched palms. Like that street racer who’s apparently lost his legs. These are all well-meaning ideas but are louder than necessary.
The main actors deliver strong performances in Sivappu Manjal Pachai. I liked the chemistry between Siddharth and GV Prakash. While the former plays his character with almost overzealous stiffness, GV Prakash happily sells the juvenile rebellion of his character. I also loved the actor who plays Madhan’s aunt.
At a time when the vast number of films seem oblivious about their social impact, Sivappu Manjal Pachai is a film that is constantly wary about putting out the wrong message. Raji, for instance, is called Poonai for her fear of cats, but director Sasi makes sure with a scene that you don’t think cats are frightening creatures. The scene, again, is not written with finesse or shot particularly well, but I liked his thinking. It’s also a film that’s trying to keep things realistic. In a fit of anger, Madhan breaks a beloved framed photograph, but soon enough, you see that he’s getting it replaced. Madhan’s girlfriend throws her slipper trying to save him from a fight, and soon enough, you see them shopping for one. Perhaps I’m giving the film a lot more affection than it deserves, but as I said, I’ve always harboured a soft corner for films about human relationships.
Film: Sivappu Manjal Pachai
Cast: Siddharth, GV Prakash, Lijomol Jose, Kashmira Pardeshi
Rating: 2.5 stars
(This review originally appeared on cinemaexpress.com)