It takes us through Murugesan's childhood, his radical decision to run away from home, his struggle to comeback home a successfull man, his love life and ofcourse his failures. It is a movie that ends with a forgotten art called 'irony'. Few people understand 'irony' and very few can bring it out with such style in a rustic setting. A hard marriage to achieve. Yes! this movie brings out the essence of rural India and in the process destroys the age old cliches of parental love and brother-sister relationships. While Manirathnam brought out the subtler aspects of city life and Bharathiraja focused on villages, there hasn't been enough stories focusing on these middle towns. The Virudunagars, Vellores, and Palayamkottais of the world have been forgotten. Until this movie. It brings out the celeberation, the attitudes, the uniqueness, and the typical businesses/professions (along with rivalry) that is so integral to rural India.
Everybody loves a winning horse. If you are a loser nobody likes and you are dispensable. That includes your parents and even your sisters. The scene where Murugesan is accused of stealing for the second time is heart wrenching. It appears so obvious for a 3rd person that he is the culprit. Yet he is not. And he is the only one to know it. That is the final chapter, the final nail in Murugesan's school of life that has been filled with failed romance, failed career and a failed desire to vindicate his decision to run away from home. And he has learned just one lesson - you need to be a winner. At least a bread winner for anybody to respect you. His father does not respect him because of depravity, his mother although civil has forgotten how to show affection to him and his sisters dont really know him or like him and cant relate to him as a brother. The worst thing is that Murugesan has no retribution, no comeuppance. It does not even out for him. All his troubles were worth nothing. It is hard for a man to come to terms with that. You could almost feel his pain, when he comes back home as a failure.
Pasupathy plays Murugesan like he was born to play this role. Thank Kamal Hasan for finding such a wonderful actor from the world of theater. Bharath plays his doting brother, kathir, to perfection. Kathir is the only person who understands Murugesan's struggle. Nobody else has the maturity to see it. Save except, Pandi-amma. I couldn't believe Shreya, the SS music VJ was playing that role. Padiamma is an abused and ill-treated wife, the kind of which is not so uncommon to find in rural India. She leaves her husband to come back to her hometown. Murugesan develops a relationship with her that cannot be bucketed as either love or friendship. She understands Murugesan's failure.
This is what the movie does well. It consistently brings out Murugesan's wretchedness and his struggle to find out some meaning in his life. I loved the way Murugesan's voice-over narration talks about his inability to fit in his brother's work place. His longing for his mom to give him an oil bath and his sister's affection. Many people who are a paying guest in a stranger's house see the closeness of the hosts family and long for their own family. The irony of Murugesan's life is that his host is his family. He struggles to fit into his own family, whom he deserted 20 years ago. This movie also brings out well the decadence of rural youth. Their obsession of cinema and of heros. Murugesan's life is ruined because of his obsession towards MGR and his movies. He makes one mistake and is punished hard for that mistake. No matter how hard he works later in his life he can't undo that mistake. Even a 20 year absence does not make his father forgive him easily.
In my last trip to India, I rented a van for a family trip to Kumbakonam. On my way back I got into this conversation with Kannan, the driver who was a 'thevar' from Virudhunagar. Not very different from Murugesan's background. He fought with his father, ran away from home at young age, married a woman and later visited his father after many years. His 2 brothers went on to join the state government and the police respectively. He dabbled in movies and politics (joined Vijaykanth's party) before coming back to driving vans for tourists. He mentioned some truths about the often-hyped joint family system in India. That it is more a pain in the backside than anything else. Joint-family's have a heirarchy and the people with poor jobs and poor pay - more or less - live a silent and miserable existence. Veyil tells a surprisingly similar story - that this world gives only existence to failures, not life. I guess many such Kannans across rural India would relate to it.