Star Movie Review: Some momentary joys in this not-so-deep take on pursuit of passion

Star Movie Review: Some momentary joys in this not-so-deep take on pursuit of passion

The film channels Elan's love for our cinema with multiple homages and mitigates its multiple narrative deficiencies with impressive filmmaking touches
Star(3 / 5)

I thought of Vaaranam Aayiram many times while watching Star. It’s not just because of Kavin’s early looks, as Kalai, or his dance moves. There’s more. There’s a phone call he makes from an alien city, as he breaks down and shares his loss with his parents. Here, the death is not of a person; it’s of a dream. Here too, the story feels rather personal, almost autobiographical; here too, one romantic relationship ends, and another begins, and here too, the new girl helps heal the protagonist. Above all, there’s the whole ‘supportive dad’ angle. The big difference, of course, is that here, Kalai doesn’t seem as thankful or grateful—not verbally anyway.

Director: Elan

Cast: Kavin, Lal, Aaditi Pohankar, Preity Mukhundhan

In fact, if it weren’t for Kavin, if it weren’t for how Elan channels his love for our cinema with all those homages in the first half, Kalai would be a really hard man to root for. But I suppose this can be said of any man whose existence is completely dedicated to a single pursuit. I want to be a star. This pursuit—of not just being an actor, but a star—surely necessitates narcissism on some level. At one point, his first girlfriend, Meera, asks him why he stopped being about them and turned into being all about himself. I wanted to ask Meera when Kalai was ever about her. When she is in distress in college—the usual ‘that boy took a perverted photo of me’ idea—he fights not to make her situation better, but because he’s trying to be the hero (a nickname he rather enjoys). And when his ill-advised fighting fetches a dance ban, he takes to the stage to motivate women to rise beyond restrictions. I wasn’t sure where this sudden advice was coming from, considering women’s liberation isn’t exactly a takeaway from watching Padayappa, of which Kalai’s clearly a fan.

Kalai enters Meera’s bedroom unannounced (she reacts in horror), makes her apologise, and stays the night as well. He seeks not a girl or a wife, but a ‘heroine’ for when he becomes a ‘hero’. That’s why it surprised me that Meera never gets her due from the film after she breaks up with him (even though they meet again). In most films, I’d not expect it, but this comes from the director of the liberating Pyaar Prema Kadhal. To be fair to Elan, he does way more than a usual filmmaker will. He lets Meera register her love for biking. He gets the aggressive Kalai dressing up as a woman and blushing too. In that moment, looks be damned, he truly expresses his emotion devoid of insecurities. And that’s why Meera, in that moment, calls him beautiful.

But Kalai is almost never like this in the film, as his thankless quest for money and opportunities, fills himself up with self-pity and bitterness. For instance, it surprised me that he is never shown to respond to his dad’s cardiac issues, even after his mom points out that his acting aspirations are part of the financial problem. At one point, Kalai claims to be trying to please his family by wearing the garb of responsibility, but when he can’t do it anymore, I found myself feeling worse for the people around him than for Kalai himself (unlike in, say, Mugavari, which too was about single-minded pursuit of passion for someone from the lower middle class). While on the middle-class, Aaditi Pohankar, as Surabhi, feels rather miscast, and the lip-sync issues don’t help either. The cutesy beginnings of her relationship with Kalai don’t really brighten up proceedings as designed, and at one point, the character even threatens to kidnap the story from Kalai himself, as the film meanders post interval and introduces us to her family situation, including drunk father™ and quirky grandmother™.

However, Elan’s talent as a filmmaker keeps showing up, and he smoothens over narrative deficiencies with impressive filmmaking touches, and with his subversion of certain moments. When Kalai is heckled during his performance, we see him raise a guitar. And then, cut. We see the aftermath of the fight. When Kalai begins dressing up as a woman, Elan captures his lips in a close-up, and the audience around me hooted and whistled, assuming they belonged to Meera. I was profoundly satisfied when everyone realised otherwise. In another scene, Kalai has just beaten up a bunch of seniors and when in the next scene, we see his mother raising a ruckus, we think it’s about the fight, but no, it’s about Meera visiting him. Or how about when Elan utilises a funeral scene and does enough to get you both laughing and later, being moved by the complexity of it all? Just after interval, there’s a lovely repetition of circular shots, as we go round and round seeing what Kalai once was, so we can register the misery of what he now is.

Perhaps the best portion in the film—and this partly has something to do with my own love for an old song and how we never truly got to savour it in a theatre—is when Elan springs an absolutely beautiful surprise by paying homage to Yuvan Shankar Raja himself (whose work I thoroughly enjoyed in this film). I caught myself dwelling on every moment of this song, singing along, finally satisfied that this lovely song now has a video. I also enjoyed the hints of commentary on the nature of acting in this film—on when acting becomes over-acting, on how life experience is crucial in order to become a better artiste—but I wish there were a lot more of all of this, for Star, after all, is about the artform of acting. For instance, what does Kalai think of playing non-hero roles? Would he consider that beneath him? Would his vanity allow it? There is barely any exploration of these fundamental threads. If he can’t help himself, can we at least have a rare glimpse of his goodness? A good example would be the recent Netflix film, Nyad, which too is about a person with an obsession, but which manages to humanise her from time to time.

I do think the film loses direction, especially when it forces Surabhi and her family dynamics into the fold, which serve to distract, even if not disrupt. She talks about how his college speech on women inspired her, and yet, not once do we ever see Kalai engaging meaningfully with his mother or sister. What were/are their dreams exactly? He asks this of an interviewer though and gets some financial assistance there—and I liked that in order for a man to fulfill selfish goals, many others need to make such unselfish contributions. For that reason, Star is more likeable as a film about Kalai’s father Pandian, who too had acting aspirations but sacrificed it to raise a family instead. His goals come full circle eventually—through his son—and that’s why there’s more meaning to be drawn from the film ending with Pandian’s scene at the end. But Kalai is the protagonist, not Pandian. And till the end, we see him only as a man besotted with a dream, a man who is not quite shown to appreciate what he’s getting. It’s a film that speaks of the universe loving a man with a stubborn heart. But as Jim Carrey, a man who got everything that Kalai dreams of, once put it, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it's not the answer.”

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