There is this particular sequence in the movie, where our protagonist climbs up a lamp post in the middle of the night and hanging at the top, recounts the dream he had last night to his girl, through a window in her room. The setting is very familiar, right? The guy trying to impress his girl. But the way he narrates his dream hits us hard! Each time he recollects something the screen goes pitch black with the guy’s voice shockingly haunting you. Dark reveries? Now its not all that familiar, right? Then, it dawns on you. Sight! How taken for granted is that? How would you feel if you woke up one fine morning totally blind? Blank, confused, tensed, incapacitated, shit scared and hysterical? Can you even imagine describing it? Think about it. For a second. This is a scenario where you have at least seen what the world looks like.. You have sighted the face of humanity.. You had fathomed beauty. But now suddenly, you cant.! Okay..Not happening, right? However crazy idea that idea sounds, mull on that…
What about that man who doesn’t have a clue about all the beauty and awesomeness around, which we are all busy raving about? Ever mused on that? You must have seen a blind man standing on the fifth step of a railway terminal, striking his stick on the ground at rhythmic intervals! What thoughts would you succumb to, at that moment? Inconsequential, right? You couldn’t have missed that random visually impaired guy trying to making a living by literally pleading you to buy stuff at every signal you stop, every bus you travel and very train you take. What drives him to strive so hard, with so much darkness around him? How many moments have you spent trying to understand that? Is it just for survival and satiating his hunger? You must have spotted them walking in a line holding each other, with a quite confident person guiding them with a stick. Where are they headed; ultimately in life? Too busy to be even curious? What kind of feelings drive them to live and fight? When the basic purpose of our lives is to be happy, what kind of happiness can a world of darkness beget? How do they dream? Would their dreams be filled with imaginary imagery? How do they protect themselves from danger/ being exploited? Cared to contemplate? Do they ever get to smile, if ever laugh? Would they suffer from low self-esteem for a life time? Is there a way out? What about love and attraction? How do they perceive those emotions? On what basis? Trust? Touch? Instinct? Do they get to love someone like hell ever? Is love, and the accompanying emotions even possible with all the gloom surrounding them? Spared a thought ever? Is it all pain, suffering, agony and dragging through every moment? Is there any sort of brightness and radiance there in the dark? Any clue?
We the audience of Tamil cinema have been witness to innumerable rubbish theories and stories of love which we have patiently tolerated for decades. Yes we have seen them all! The concept of ‘love’, beaten black and blue and hung upside down! Guy knows that she is his partner for life the moment he sees her! Guy chases a random pretty girl he spots in the roads, throughout the movie and forces a change of mind in her at the climax! Guy keeps talking about how hot the girl is, and his feeling of accomplishment at owning her! Guy and girl cross swords for the lamest of reasons and then suddenly realize that they are made for each other! Girl goes crazy seeing our man’s heroics, looses herself and begs him to marry her! Guy harasses girl so much that she falls in love with him! The rich girl and the poor guy! The bad guy and the good girl! The ‘hero’ guy and the ‘dumb’ girl! We have even seen it all.So many accounts of ‘love’ happening without barely ‘knowing’ each other! We, under the excuse of ‘cinema being larger than life’, have been silent all through.
But, not any more! Here comes a movie which after a long time gives us a fresh perspective of the marvelous emotion called ‘love’! And the beauty is that it doesn’t do it halfheartedly or for the sake of it. It holds our hands and takes us into a totally unknown world, slowly guiding us through the nooks and corners of that milieu, and shows us the various facets of the ‘conventional world’ outside from that other realm’s perspective. And what an exhilarating experience that turns out to be! An experience which leaves you humbled, happy, pleasantly surprised, shocked, shaken, moved, and literally speechless!
Realistic film making (which doesn’t turn out to be as boring as real life) is a skill, which has evaded even masters of the craft! Here, journalist turned writer-director Raju Murugan in his debut film, takes a very simple endearing plot, which is not by any means revolutionary or fiercely innovative and still manages to weave magic into it. He enthralls us by crafting a heart-warming tale of two visually impaired individuals, the relationship they come to share, the emotions they go through and leaves us spellbound by basing his narrative style on a hitherto ‘unseen’ perspective! Departing from our filmmakers’ usual tendency to portray ‘challenged’ people with a shade of ‘sympathy’, he chooses to depict both facades of these people – the joyful, cheery, care-free, colorful moments and at times their gloomy, helpless instances, leaving us brimming with ‘positive energy’ and bursting with a myriad of emotions! He breaks almost all norms and preconceived ideas embedded in our mind regarding ‘sight’ and its implications in a poetic, yet entertaining fashion. And taking such a solemn topic in hand , he keeps us engaged and rooting for the characters for a complete 162 mins with such style and elan, hence proving yet again that working harder and harder on a sincere tight script is undoubtedly more important than running behind the dates of self proclaimed ‘stars’.
Raju Murugan uses every single opportunity he gets to show that he is definitely not one among the lot. We realize that we are going to be treated to something special even at the opening credits, as the screen turns pitch black- a lullaby starts and different voices start reverberating through the hall,a girl alludes to her grasp of the color ‘pink’ to a Ilaiyaraaja number.. and we hear random riveting dialogues from a handful of movies, all in the dark! And when the credits end with the evergreen quote, “Do you know what it is courage? Feigning fearlessness!”, you can sense shivers going down your spine! Raju, playing himself as a journalist, opens the movie introducing us to two absolutely fascinating strong-willed characters, Thamizh and Sudhandirakani, who in spite of being visually impaired never give us the opportunity to sympathize or look down upon them. The movie pans out as their journey into a world of their own, where they smell, hear and feel what happiness and companionship is all about.
Realistic narration, brilliant casting, topnotch detailing in characterization and story-telling, combined with some unbelievably stunning acting performances elevate this movie to a different level. The director leaves his mark in many instances like the way he uses Ilaiyaraaja’s numbers to convey a variety of emotions, focusing on sounds and subtle reactions to portray the feelings of the people on-screen, and his boldness and skill in interlacing humor at the right instances. He makes it all the more gripping post-interval with his intensely emotional scenes, which surely would moisten your eyes- sometimes out of earnest joy, and sometimes out of powerlessness and despair. This man with his eye for passion and perfection is sure to go places.
Dinesh as ‘Thamizh’ sporting an artificial squint in his eye, has given the performance of his lifetime portraying the role of a nonchalant, confident, happy-go-lucky sightless youngster who makes a living singing in an orchestra and selling odd stuff in trains. In spite of the countless days of ‘body language’ training and hard work put behind bringing ‘Thamizh’ alive – not being easily discernible to the public eye, he puts his heart and soul into it and emerges breathtakingly impressive. The confidence and exuberance he exhibits, his subtle facial expressions when he gets attracted to Kodi because of her resemblance to his loving caretaker in his early days, the contagious charm with which he ‘feels’ people by hugging them, the feelings of helplessness he portrays when he is being tricked and confronted by forces that conspire to separate him from Kodi for personal reasons – each of these are topnotch convincing and arguably even puts him a step ahead of Kamal Haasan’s portrayal in Raajapaarvai! Yes, he may have overreacted a couple of times, but that doesn’t take any credit away from the magical performance he has delivered. An extremely talented actor has arrived in style.
Malavika Nair as ‘SudhandiraKodi’ suffering from nystagmus, gets another meaty role as a visually impaired girl who yearns for love right from childhood and she gives another solid emotive performance. Try oscillating your eyeballs continuously for two minutes and you will know the amount of pain she would have had to endure! Her reactions when treated badly by a person she trusted, her response to Thamizh retrieving her treasured ‘Cuckoo’ watch, her spontaneous expressions of joy when Thamizh takes her shopping, her expressions of disappointment over her misunderstandings with Shakthi, her persuasive conveyance of utter helplessness and vulnerability when she is pushed to the brink – are all testimonies to her acting prowess!
Raju Murugan’s eye for delineation in characterization and making doesn’t end with the two lead characters. He has a bevy of talented actors who lend unimaginable credibility to the roles they have been assigned. And not a single character is insignificant or dispensable. We have people of all sorts… black, white, grey but they all serve a purpose. Be it the partially sighted, cheerful and spontaneously sarcastic friend of Thamizh with that peculiar laugh (Elango), Kodi’s blind friend (Sangeetha), Aadukalam Murgadoss as the admirer of Thamizh’s songs, the deceptively callous government officer, the spiritual money-minded broker who has an unknown ‘alter-ego’, the self-centered brother of Kodi, his ever-complaining wife, the greedy pragmatic police officer- they all serve to make the proceedings appealing!
And then there is this riotous drama troupe where Thamizh sings, where we have Chandrababu (Guberan), MGR, Vijay and Ajith lookalikes! Through the characters of Murugdoss and Guberan, the director takes a bold dig at a lot of social issues, the writing at these sequences being exceptionally brilliant. The Vijay and Ajith dupes are spontaneously funny and sarcastic – a baby step towards freeing us from the shackles of hero-worship. Then there is this beggar who claims he is only next best to Kala Master in judging people and the artist in the railway station who is always seated by the side of the blind folk, sketching someone! Poetic elegance and meticulous perfection are two things, this movie excels in!
Two persons have made Raju Murugan’s dream a reality! You need not emphasize the importance of cinematography in a tale where all the four senses except sight take precedence in conveying the emotions of the characters! P.K .Varma resorts to extreme close ups, innovative angles, extended shots, and least expected unconventional frames to make it look genuine and artistic. The intentional focusing and following of the footsteps and sounds of Kodi, every time she comes to meet Thamizh works out well. Look out for some scintillating shots towards the climax. Santhosh Narayanan is at his dazzling best, be it the bewitching background score or the deeply moving song montages which tug at your heartstrings! Its so delightful to see the Raju and Santhosh eulogizing Ilaiyaraaja’s memorable melodies, using them so appropriately at intensely poignant points to move the script forward.
But be warned, this piece of artistic brilliance is not for all! Certainly not for people who have predefined notions about what ‘entertainment’ is about ! Its deliberately slow paced and takes its own sweet time to unfold and strike a chord. And the director also takes some liberties in exaggerating the world of the disabled, especially in showcasing their highly developed senses. Though he tries his best to avoid melodrama throughout, a little bit of it does creep in towards the end, making it look a wee bit stretched!
There is a particular sequence in the movie where Tamizh wants to relieve himself urgently, and he feels shy and asks Kodi to turn back. You get the idea, right! So that’s what it is about! Once in a while, there comes a film which kicks all commercial cinematic banalities at its butt, and leaves you stupefied by its creative brilliance and raw emotional intensity! Add to it, many overwhelming moments and some exceptionally authentic performances, what you get is a soul-stirring experience! Watch Cuckoo to understand how, we as an audience have collectively elevated the tastes of the movie fraternity, thereby giving the confidence to directors like Raju Murugan to come out with movies of such class! Raju take a bow, and thank you!