Sarvam Thaala Mayam movie cast: G V Prakash Kumar, Aparna Balamurali, Nadumudi Venu, Vineeth, Kumaravel
Sarvam Thaala Mayam move director: Rajiv Menon
Sarvam Thaala Mayam movie rating: Three stars
Sarvam Thaala Mayam is a music-filled film about the classicism and caste-ism, tradition and break-aways, hide-bound methods and experimentation, the tyranny of the good old days and the freshness of today: it’s a portmanteau of a film, and while sometimes it feels like it has too much to say, it works, because it has rhythm, flow, and a beating heart.
Peter Johnson (Kumar) is a happy-go-lucky fellow whose guiding principles are simple: he loves going to the movies, and like his pals, thinks nothing of by-passing an accounts paper just to catch a first day first show movie of his idol. To get close to a girl he likes, he joins a German class, even if all he has zero interest in the language. His father (Kumaravel) makes ‘mridangams’, an instrument which requires the skin of a goat and a cow for a proper, full sound (for ‘rasiks’, it is the sound of the universe).
To learn the art of playing the ‘mridangam’ from a revered guru like Vembu Iyer (Venu) would have been a distant dream for a young man named Johnson. In a movie, Menon makes it possible, after the feckless Johnson learns the lessons well: not just those that will allow his hands to move as one with his instrument, but also those that will make him get past his birth as a low-caste, minus-‘janeyu’ (sacred thread) being.
The centuries-old notion that Carnatic music is the preserve of a privileged few has been under attack for some time now. Musicians like T M Krishna have been chipping away at those closed conclaves, taking the music out to the people. The pushback from the custodians of high culture is visible in the film, in the shape of Iyer’s most senior student Mani (Vineeth), whose dislike and near-revulsion for Johnson leads the film to its conflict: can a person of low birth, a Dalit Christian to boot, break into the golden circle of classical music, and what will it take if that were ever to happen?
Menon’s answer—to take his young protagonist on a Bharat-darshan where Johnson makes himself familiar to the great percussion traditions of various states and regions—has a ‘mile sur mera tumhara’ like flavor. But both the journey and the young lead are likeable enough to carry us through, though the romance with a pretty nurse (Balamurli) comes off somewhat perfunctory.
The introduction of a Chennai Got Talent type TV contest, one of those programmes which classicists like Venu have sniffed at, becomes the climactic point, and here the film loses some of its perkiness. Who will win: the upper-class Harvard graduate who can’t be bothered to spend three years perfecting a note, or the dark-skinned college-drop out Johnson, who plays with his entire being? We know the answer, but by that time each character has had the chance to spout one life-lesson.
Still, this is a film which isn’t scared of striking the gong for important things: breaking barriers, forgoing illiberalism, and embracing differences, and doing it via music (taal), which is everywhere (sarvam), and belongs to us all (mayam).