Review: ‘Pa Paandi’ is an unusual must watch film about an old man’s quest

Most Tamil films only have elderly characters to give coffee or advice. ‘Pa Paandi’ is full of unseen swag.
Review: ‘Pa Paandi’ is an unusual must watch film about an old man’s quest
Review: ‘Pa Paandi’ is an unusual must watch film about an old man’s quest
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A few minutes into Pa Paandi, Dhanush’s directorial debut, I was wondering if it was going to be yet another Manjapai, the 2014 family drama which also starred Rajkiran and was about an old man who is not understood by the young people around him. But where Manjapai turned into a saccharine and preachy film, Pa Paandi surprises you with its swag levels. I was smiling at so many moments in the film, especially in the second half - moments that are original, real and yet under-explored in Tamil films.

The majority of Kollywood cinema is youth-centric and elderly people only appear in the sidelines. To either give coffee or advice. Or act as stubborn obstacles to young love. Pa Paandi is a reversal of these tropes at many levels.

Rajkiran plays a 64-year-old stunt master whose best days are behind him, but Mr Power Pandi still has some punch left in him. He meddles in other people’s affairs and gets into his son’s (Prasanna) bad books. When Paandi decides that enough is enough, he makes a momentous decision. I will stop with saying that he snorts at the idea of going to Kasi or Rameshwaram.

Rajkiran is delightful and carries the film on his shoulders. His powerful eyes connect with the audience and we’re swept along with his emotions as he goes through a late midlife crisis (well, he’s 64). At first, he seems like the usual Thatha in every home – watching loud TV, bragging with his grandkids, complicating simple things and getting on people’s nerves. But the film makes us wonder how much we really know about these old people. What do we know of their dreams, and hopes? Do we ever look at them as individuals? In one scene, we spot Paandi looking at the sky and humming lines from 'Mayanadhi' (Kabali) little have we seen of old love in cinema!

Dhanush’s writing is impressive, especially in the latter half. Every time you feel you know exactly where the plot is going, he springs a surprise at you – for a film which is not in the thriller genre, this is quite a feat. And though the narrative touches on issues like elder abuse, it doesn’t get melodramatic about it – the lines stay light, funny and honest. The story arc might remind you of Bollywood’s Finding Fanny at times but Pa Paandi is very much its own film. It captures the changing morality of middle class homes without making a song and dance about it.

The flashback sequence in the second half involving Dhanush, playing a younger Paandi, and Madonna Sebastian as Poonthendral seems unnecessary and distracting at first but it grows on you and you understand later why this portion is important to the film. Vidyu Raman makes an appearance in the usual ‘fat girl rejected by suitor’ role but thankfully, the script doesn’t fall back to making insensitive jokes at her expense.

Writing too much about Revathi’s role would work as a spoiler but the conversations between Paandi and her character are what make the film rise above the usual sentimental tripe. Whether it’s her confusion when Paandi tells her seriously that his grandson’s name is ‘Threw’ (he means ‘Dhruv’) or the little dance she does after making a confession to her daughter, Revathi is a joy to watch. The only disappointment I have with her character is that she’s seen reading One Indian Girl (she deserved better, Dhanush!).

The supporting cast, especially Divyadarshini, may have small roles, but their characters are written well and there’s a reason for everyone to be part of the film (including Gautham Menon). The editing is patchy in parts, and the BGM could have been less intrusive, especially in the more emotional scenes, because it takes your focus away from an actor who is good at his job. At times, you do feel certain scenes could have been shot with a little more subtlety, but Pa Paandi has enough going for it to make you ignore these gripes and enjoy this unusual little film. 

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