Thiruchitrambalam review: A wholesome, enjoyable romcom with Dhanush and Nithya

What a relief to see such a simple, well-told story in Tamil cinema after so long! Nourishing and no fuss, just like a pazham.
Dhanush and Nithya Menen in Thiruchirtrambalam
Dhanush and Nithya Menen in Thiruchirtrambalam
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Mithran Jawahar’s Thiruchitrambalam is a surprising film, especially as it comes in this phase of Dhanush’s career where he’s straddling Hollywood, Bollywood and Tamil cinema with overarching themes of social justice. It’s an ordinary food delivery boy’s story of friendship and love without major dramatic upheavals. His name – Thiruchitrambalam – is a mouthful but his nickname Pazham (fruit) is no better. In local parlance, a ‘pazham’ is someone who is a wuss, and Thiru wears the label with resignation.

So, does ‘pazham’ become a ‘puli’ (tiger) in the end? Does he prove his masculinity and peel off the unflattering name once and for all? This isn’t that kind of film, and I’m relieved that it isn’t.

Most of Thiruchitrambalam is set in a middle class apartment building where the homes spill into each other, and one can hear conversations about whether the gas cylinder was delivered or not in the background. It is here that Thiru aka Pazham stays with his grandfather, Thiruchitrambalam senior (Bharathiraja), and policeman father Neelankandan (Prakash Raj). The three men from three different generations manage the home together. There is something broken about them, a tension in the house that never leaves. Mithran draws an effective portrait of a real, dysfunctional family with anger, frustration and a lot of humour too.

In contrast to where Thiru lives are the swanky apartment buildings where he delivers food. Thiru’s world is different from theirs; he accepts it without rancour. Dhanush is introduced minus fanfare. He’s sleeping head down on his scooter, catching some rest between deliveries. He simply lifts his head and looks at the camera, and… that’s it. It’s Thiru we see on screen, and not the star. Dhanush has that amazing ability to melt into ordinariness despite his towering screen presence and charm. Few actors are capable of looking so vulnerable on screen after they’ve achieved a certain stature in their career. He makes it seem effortless.

Bharathiraja is a delight as Thiruchitrambalam senior. He’s funny, empathetic, frail, wise and irritating – just the kind of grandfather you’d expect in such a setting. How I wish we got to see more of Bharathiraja, the actor, in our movies! Prakash Raj has played the angry Appa in so many films that it’s a marvel the man is still able to bring variations to the role. As the grouchy Neelakandan who struggles with bottled up guilt, he’s every bit convincing.

The heart of Thiruchitrambalam is the lovely Nithya Menen who plays Shobana. She’s Thiru’s bestie from the same building – the only one who actually calls him Thiru and not Pazham. Though I could see that the role was written by a man in the extra chirpiness that Shobana is forced to carry, Nithya’s natural ease on screen makes her adorable rather than annoying. It’s also a good idea to make Shobana Telugu instead of Tamil; it makes the casting choice work better. Shobana speaks Telugu to her parents but Tamil to her brother, reflecting the linguistic equations in many homes where people are multilingual. It’s a small detail that shows the attention paid to structuring the characters.

In his early years, Dhanush built his career on films that appealed to young men without class privilege; films that spoke of their aspirations to climb the social ladder and also win the ultimate ‘prize’ – a fair-skinned, upper class girl. He invented the ‘soup song’, a genre where the hero suffers a heartbreak and blames all of womankind for it. In Thiruchitrambalam, he is rejected twice but there is no misogynistic rant. The ‘arrogant heroine’ trope that Mithran played up in Yaaradi Nee Mohini (also with Dhanush) isn’t so overt here. Raashi Khanna and Priya Bhavani Shankar have small roles but they are well-written. The representation of rich youth, though, is quite stereotypical – they’re shown to be drinking in the theatre and bullying Thiru in a scene that’s designed to evoke pity. It’s Nithya’s performance in the scene and what comes after that makes it forgivable.

The second half has some pacing issues. The plot thread with Stunt Silva is relevant but it’s too rushed and seems forced into the screenplay to complete Thiru’s arc. Did the film need such an intervention? Also, I was hoping for the film to steer clear of some old-fashioned cliches about man-woman relationships that would have made it stand out in the romcom genre. But, I suppose that wasn’t the film Mithran wanted to make.

Anirudh’s background score complements the subtle, unheroic tone of the film. The music director has made a name for himself for the adrenaline pumping scores of star vehicles, but in this film he shows that he can be restrained and mellow when needed. The picturisation of the beautiful ‘Megham Karukatha’ song brought back memories of ‘Vennilave Vennilave’ from Minsara Kanavu.

Though the genre is romcom, there is very little cinematic romance in Thiruchitrambalam. People do go to airports and traverse continents, but they don’t get on an international flight at the drop of a hat with an instant visa in their passport. Also, there are no guitars involved. What a relief to see such a simple, well-told story in Tamil cinema after so long! Nourishing and no fuss, just like a pazham.

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.

Sowmya Rajendran writes on gender, culture and cinema. She has written over 25 books, including a nonfiction book on gender for adolescents. She was awarded the Sahitya Akademi’s Bal Sahitya Puraskar for her novel Mayil Will Not Be Quiet in 2015.

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