Namma Veettu Pillai Movie Review: A so-so family drama with an intriguing protagonist
You saw heart in Kadaikutty Singam. You see a formula in Namma Veetu Pillai
A brother and sister grow up in a symbiotic relationship, their childhood suffering made tolerable only by the outpouring of love between them. This brother does not at all get along with a man, who, as destiny would have it, ends up as his brother-in-law. It seems to be the season of mama-machaan relationships in our cinema. We got Sivappu Manjal Pachai a couple of weeks ago, and now, we get Namma Veettu Pillai. This Pandiraj film, of course, is not just restricted to this relationship. Every blood relation you can think of gets coverage here to different degrees of success. The one at the heart of this film is the bond between Arumpon (Sivakarthikeyan) and Thulasi (Aishwarya Rajesh), who are both quite convincing as siblings. Someone refers to Thulasi as Paasamalar in one scene, and if you think about it, this isn’t just a casual reference to a film that stands as a timeless story of devoted siblings. Like Paasamalar, Namma Veettu Pillai is also about a brother who, even as a child, takes upon the mantle of creating a good life for his sister. This film too is about suffering and humiliation that comes his way, following his sister’s wedding. The melodrama in Namma Veettu Pillai too is almost from the Sivaji era. “Indha jenmam annan, adutha jenmam appan,” says Thulasi of Arumpon. For his part, he sings that even if god should demand their separation, he will have none of it. The man who gets in the way is Ayyanaar, played by Natty who, as always, seems comfortable playing a grey character. I quite liked that in this film featuring some brutal murders, including that of a child, there’s no villain. Circumstance is the bad guy here, and even those who brandish sickles at Arumpon do so not because they are evil, but because they love someone else and are loyal to them.
Cast: Sivakarthikeyan, Aishwarya Rajesh, Soori, Natraj, Samuthirakani, Bharathiraja, Anu Emmanuel
Of director Pandiraj’s last film, Kadaikutty Singam, I’d written that it was ‘a likeable celebration of the rural life’. This film, while being that, is a bit more balanced in its outlook. There are no sermons on farming, for one, and even when it comes to Arumpon’s relatives, it isn’t really pushing the idea that he’s fortunate to have as many of them. Arumpon himself notes the irony that relatives who are capable of causing great joy, are also those who cause great anguish. This is a fairly deep observation to make of blood relatives. And boy, does Arumpon have relatives. Uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews, neices, grandfather… it’s an army. An attempt to draw his family tree would be a project spanning a lifetime.
The cast is great, and filled with competent actors like Vela Ramamoorthy, Subbu Panchu and Aadukalam Naren. The depth in the writing of their characters, not so much. They are essentially stick figures with single line descriptions. The angry, alpha uncle. The comic cousin (Soori). The fragile grandfather (Bharathiraja, who breathes rare vulnerability into such roles). The aunt who only engages in non-verbal communication. These are briefly amusing, but lose charm pretty soon, for lack of additional detailing. Take the miser uncle, for instance. Every conversation he has, is about money. Even when he’s talking to someone over the phone, he’s shown to be counting cash—so you don’t forget he’s the miser uncle. The quintessential Yogi Babu is in this film too, but thankfully, he isn’t in it only for body-shaming humour (although he attempts it once or twice). He plays a conniving lawyer, and I didn’t mind the cameo at all.
Sivakarthikeyan plays the protagonist, Arumpon, whose name, in a sense, is his bio. He’s a man with a heart of gold, and it’s a role that demands plenty of vulnerability. He gets a few fight sequences, one in which his adversary bounces off the tarmac like a new rubber ball. Thankfully though, this isn’t a film to resolve all its conflicts with an extended fight scene. Arumpon is an unusual commercial film hero in that sense. He knows the value of submitting when you are wrong, and isn’t above begging murderous men to see sense. As the elderly Arulmozhi asks, how can you defeat somenoe who so willingly embraces defeat, as Arumpon. He is defined by his lack of ego, and this characteristic comes in for some ridicule in the film. Again, he wears this humiliation as a badge of honour. “Anbu maanamkettadha irukku,” he says. It’s a joke, but it’s also a deep truth.
These incisive moments don’t come as often as you’d like though in this 153-minutes long film with love songs that seem longer. When Imman’s ‘Gaandha Kannazhagi’ kicks in post-interval, you have no choice but to submit, as Arumpon often likes doing. There’s a love angle too naturally, with Arumpon being in love with his ‘moraponnu’. “Moraponnu ngardhaala morachite iruppiya?” he once asks. If Arumpon’s purpose in this film is summarised in his name, what of his moraponnu who’s called Maangani? I suppose it makes sense, given she’s less a complex person and more a ‘sweet thing’ that’s coveted by the hero.
There’s a running idea about her ambition to be a collector, but the film seems confused on whether this is to be milked for amusement or taken seriously. Maangani looks imported in this film’s rural setting—pun intended—and the explanation that she studied in Chennai for three years is a lazy excuse. Her only objective in this film is to try and educate Arumpon about what women apparently want. “Kiss the forehead.” “Hug from behind.” “The tight hug should make her breathless.” When she’s not giving him make-out advice, she’s telling him how to treat women. “Never allow her to pay when she goes out shopping.” “Never tell her she shouldn’t wear leggings and lipstick.” “Never be embarrassed to carry her hand bag.” It’s all ridiculous and juvenile, and takes away from any progress the story is trying to make.
You also never truly get the feeling that the Arumpon-Ayyanaar tussle is able to co-exist organically with the Arumpon-blood relatives tension. There seem quite a few distinct problem threads for all of them to be conveniently resolved with a climax monologue. Much like at the end of Kadaikutty Singam, the director ends this film too with ‘subam’, but you are not really convinced Arumpon’s in such a place, and don’t truly believe things are as smooth as they are shown to be. The resolutions feel more like a product of cold, calculated writing than they are of the sort of genuine emotion that pervaded the universe of Kadaikutty Singam. You saw heart in that film; here, you see a formula. I’d said about Kadaikutty Singam that we could do far worse than watch it, and while I say that about Namma Veettu Pillai too, this time, I say so with much unease.