After watching Bosskey’s interview of Mahendran, I realized that the only Mahendran film I have watched is Mullum Malarum. So I decided to watch another (In a way this would also be my warming up exercise for the landmark Thalaivar film that I simply can’t wait to see next week!)
Johnny is a queer film. It’s radically different from the kind of cinema I would associate with that time. It’s essentially the story of 4 loners and the ways in which their lives get interwoven, mixed up and messed up.
I call it queer because I’m still curious to know what was Mahendran’s inspiration to make this film. He sounds like a man who gives his all when making a film. Yet there were moments in this film when I felt the screenplay was simply meandering. I’d like to understand from him what was the point of that tribal girl who falls in love with Johnny? And that extremely famous song “Aasaiya Kaathula Thoodhu vittu”, what’s its point in the storyline? It was completely random. And the whole thing about the barber going on the run after killing the servant girl and then deciding that all women are after money and then realizing his mistake after meeting the singer. All of this felt contrived.
However, there are several excellent scenes in this film that have been handled in a very casual manner. The conversation that Johnny and Vidyasagar have when they meet each other face to face for the first time. The conversation in which Archana proposes to Johnny. Oh and the opening scene in which we get to know what Johnny actually does for a living!
And the overall way in which love blossoms between Archana and Johnny is wonderful. This guy is a thief, but he’s shown from the beginning to be a man who appreciates sound and music. He finds refuge in her voice, he finds freedom in her songs. For a man who’s bound by his commitment to free his father, the only way to seek release is through music. And there’s some good scripting here too. It doesn’t happen just like that. Johnny’s mother was a sitar player. So that gives us a sense of why and how Johnny got his taste in music. Good characterization.
I also liked the way in which the servant girl’s life decision is foreshadowed by the scene in which she picks sarees. I initially thought it was a normal scene. I was a bit taken aback when she looks smitten by a guy who walks into a supermarket. So this is probably Mahendran style. His ability to portray his characters as a mix of black and white and with unsteady minds and with conflicts between desires and what’s right and wrong.
And the “Senorita I love you” song shows us Vidyasagar and the servant girl romancing. They walk along, chat and do playacting of real life scenes as husband and wife. Once again this is terrific subtlety. We come to know later that the servant girl ends up preferring another guy who’s richer than the barber. So there was never any love between them. Everything was make believe just like the make believe stuff they do in their “romantic song”.
And Ilaiyaraja! Okay, I won’t go gaga over his work. But, he has this knack of getting the perfect feel for a song and that’s terrific in “Kaattril Endhan Geetham”. Here’s a woman who has no clue where the love of her life is. She’s singing a song once again only for him. With the earnest hope that he’d turn up and with the hope that they’d be able to lead a life together. And the way “Kaattril Endhan Geetham” sounds is exactly right for that emotion.
The other thing this film made me wonder about is the death of idealistic characters in today’s cinema and the death of a certain kind of drama. The barber Vidyasagar surrenders himself as Johnny so that the couple may live happily together. The day Archana decides to sing for her love, a cyclone hits the state. It would be difficult for the audience of today to accept such a high pitch of drama. So I’m wondering is it even remotely possible to pull off such a drama in today’s period? Is it possible to portray such pure emotions on screen without the audience letting out gasps of frustration or looking at their smartphones? Or exclaiming loudly, “Do such people even exist?” I wouldn’t say it’s impossible. Figuring out a way to do that would be a tough challenge.