Mani Ratnam's Aayitha Ezhuthu is a radical departure from the familiar way of presenting a commercial masala concoctions serving all the nine rasas. Mani has made an attempt to combine mainstream Tamil film aesthetics with international cinematic sensibilities. However those raised on a sugar-n- spice masala movie diet may find the outcome unpalatable.
The movie opens with a hit man Inba (Madhavan) of a politician following motor cyclist and student leader Michael Vasanth (Surya) along the Marina Beach Road in Chennai. Meanwhile a young couple Arjun and Meera (Siddharth and Trisha) obviously madly in love with each other are thrust into the frame.
On the Napier bridge as Inba pumps bullets into Michael, Arjun tries to save him and the story of the three characters intertwine. From that deadly intersection the story moves back and forward in time, following three separate flash-backs that occasionally brush against each other.
Each of the tales would be interesting on their own, but cobbled together as uniquely as they are the film becomes a devastating story about fate and relationship. The concept of three juxtaposed narratives can be traced to Mani's favourite director Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction and Alejandro Gonzales Inarrito's Amores Perros.
Mani has used a format similar to Amores Perros as it relies on fast pacing and jump cuts to tell three overlapping and intersecting stories dealing with loss, reject and life's harsh realities. But can the ordinary viewer stomach this kind of story telling and presentation?
Actually Mani the master story teller has very little to say and is depending more on style and techno-razzle-dazzle. Perhaps the snag lies in the absence of a solid, straight forward plot with an emotional core. Also disappointing is the climax as he is unable to tie-up the loose ends, the ending appears tame and contrived. The film also drags as the flashbacks take almost three-fourth of the time and the story unfolds only in the last 30 minutes.
At the moral centre of the film are the three men - Inba, a scum of the earth gangster who knows nothing but the violent methods of survival (strong resemblance to Little Ze of City of God) and even makes love violently with his wife Sasi (Meera Jasmine) who dotes on him. Inba shares a love-hate relationship with his wife.
Michael the brilliant student leader and social activist who has refused a scholarship in US because he wants to fight for the cause of the poor and down-trodden bringing him in direct competition with professional politician like Selva (Bharatiraja) who uses Inba to stop his growing influence among the electorate. His girl friend Geetanjali (Esha) is a french teacher who moves in to live with him.
Arjun Balakrishnan a Engineer chasing American dreams who falls in love with Meera (Trisha) before faith intervenes and he is sucked into politics due to the influence of Michael. Michael wants to cleanse the political system so he and three others contest the election (against whom and the purpose is not told). They win not only the election but is able to beat Inba to pulp in the middle of a crowded traffic and send him to jail. The film culminates in a typical Mani Ratnam climax which asserts that traditional human values will triumph over evil.
Surya as Michael the `hero' of the film has given a finely calibrated performance and is smashing, while Madhavan in a negative role as the `Villain` Inba is terrific, Siddharth as Arjun is cool and discovers his comic side with some great one-liners. The lovely Meera Jasmine as Sasi has a meaty role and she pitches in her career best act. Esha is surprisingly fresh and sparkling while Trisha has only to look attractive and is competent. Bharatiraja makes a cameo as the wily-old street smart politician who manipulates the system.
Mani has totally neglected his biggest selling point - Song picturisations which are a total let down. At places the songs do not gell into the narration and the music of A.R.Rahman sounds more like Mexican pop. However sync sound has come of age along with Ravi K.Chandran's great camera work, Vikram Dharma's superbly choreographed action scenes and Sabu Cyrils simple sets.
The bottom line is Aayitha Ezhuthu is a bold and daring move by Mani Ratnam to change the staid style of our commercial cinema. But will the audience accept his new style of film making?