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Saturday, December 07, 2019

Sarvam Thaala Mayam review: An honest attempt that explores the cultural politics of Carnatic music

Sarvam Thaala Mayam movie review: I would have loved Sarvam Thaala Mayam more if Rajiv Menon hadn’t brought in the reality show-angle in the second half. I felt those portions were forceful and a tad orchestrated.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Written by S Subhakeerthana | Chennai | Updated: February 1, 2019 8:20:43 am
Sarvam Thaala Mayam movie review Sarvam Thaala Mayam movie review: In Sarvam Thaala Mayam, Aparna Balamurali’s role is underwritten.

Sarvam Thaala Mayam movie cast: GV Prakash Kumar, Nedumudi Venu, Vineeth, Kumaravel, Aparna Balamurali
Sarvam Thaala Mayam movie director: Rajiv Menon
Sarvam Thaala Mayam movie rating: 3.5 stars

Acclaimed cinematographer-director-ad filmmaker Rajiv Menon returns to direction after 18 years with Sarvam Thaala Mayam — a story that revolves around the life of a young Dalit guy, who wants to make a mark in Carnatic music. As someone familiar with the Chennai music scene, Rajiv explores the things that bother him as a connoisseur of arts and mirrors the never-ending debate of the art form taken over by socially-dominant Brahmin patrons and practitioners.

Peter (an impressive GV Prakash Kumar) doesn’t want to be like his father Johnson (Kumaravel), who makes the mridangam, but never plays it. We know where the problem exists, but Rajiv beautifully translates them on to the screen without blaming anybody. Though Johnson is a recipient of the Kalaimamani, he is happy just making the instruments that fetched him money. Rajiv intends to question, “why don’t we see someone from the mridangam-making community become a popular name in the kutcheri circuit?”

Peter, an ardent fan of ‘Thalapathy’ Vijay, is hooked to the drums, but later drawn to Carnatic music after observing the legendary mridangam artiste Vembu Iyer (a superb Nedumudi Venu) perform on the stage.

Peter is constantly discouraged from pursuing his dreams. His mom wants him to focus on studies and his father asks him to stop daydreaming. “The doors will be shut on your face, and that’s the reality,” warns Johnson. Peter simply retorts, “I’ll break open the doors if the need be.”

That’s what Peter does. He soars high beyond his caste restrictions, and that is the beauty of music. When you believe in the art form and surrender yourself, it doesn’t let you down.

Ever since Peter saw Vembu Iyer’s recital, he wanted to learn from him. He decides to pursue him relentlessly and goes to his residence. A senior disciple of Iyer, Mani (Vineeth) humiliates him and suggests that he attends classes in a Government music college so that he gets job in a Corporation school. Peter doesn’t give up; meets Iyer and confesses his wish. Though Peter is drunk, Iyer appreciates him for his skills when he saw him sing and dance on the streets. I would say this is the second-best performance in GV Prakash’s career after Bala’s Naachiyaar.

Iyer is not a casteist like his disciple Mani. Somehow, he likes Peter’s sincerity; guru bhakti, and decides to teach him mridangam after testing his patience for a while.

Iyer is portrayed as a ‘purist’ and ‘traditionalist’, who is against ‘Skype classes’ and reality shows. Besides, he doesn’t believe in being an accompanying artiste to female vocalists. Nedumudi Venu packs quite a punch and delivers a commendable performance with all those trademark quirks of a veteran percussion artiste.

Peter is exposed to a new world, literally. He stays away from the non-vegetarian food, liquor, learns slokas and witnesses an avani avittam ceremony. His life takes a new turn when he learns music. The film, in fact, tries to show how your life changes when you take an art form seriously and discover a guru. Even when he is with his girlfriend Sara (Aparna Balamurali), he thinks about Carnatic music. He sees someone chop vegetables and makes references to ‘Adi talam’.

Circumstances slowly lead Peter to leave Iyer. He goes on an all-India tour, meets different musicians and learns from them. Of course, he misses Iyer and his tutelage. There is this scene where Peter is served tea in a plastic cup when he goes to his village. You are shown how ‘untouchability’ (which knows no divide) is still prevalent. Peter is treated the same way — both in the city as well as the hometown.

It’s interesting that the cast of Sarvam Thaala Mayam includes professional Carnatic musicians including Sumesh Narayanan, Sikkil Gurucharan, Unnikrishnan, Srinivas and Karthik. Some way or the other, everyone roped in the film was related to either music or dance (including Vineeth, Shanta Dhananjayan, Dhivyadarshini).

Rajiv’s previous films — Minsara Kanavu and Kandukondain Kandukondain — had strong women characters. Without Kajol, there’s no Minsara Kanavu. Without Tabu or Aishwarya Rai, there’s no Kandukondain Kandukondain. But in Sarvam Thaala Mayam, Aparna Balamurali’s role is underwritten.

I would have loved Sarvam Thaala Mayam more if Rajiv hadn’t brought in the reality show-angle in the second half. I felt those portions were forceful and a tad orchestrated. I would have loved to see more of Iyer’s transformation, and how he adapted himself to the times. Watch out for Shanta Dhananjayan’s role. Though her portions were limited, they were filled with warmth. The first half of Sarvam Thaala Mayam is refreshing. Every time I saw Vembu Iyer, I got reminded of Gemini Ganesan’s character (Bilahari Marthandam Pillai) in K Balachander’s Unnal Mudiyum Thambi. Both the characters are flawed yet humanised. In the end, they understand the art form is greater than the artistes any day.

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