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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Sarvam Thalam Mayam (Omnipresence of Rhythm) is inconsistent but watchable

Sarvam Thalam Mayam (Omnipresence of Rhythm) is inconsistent but watchable

Music is the theme of this Tamil film, which is being released with English sub-titles. Once you have chosen music as your subject, endless possibilities exist: Indian, Western, classical, Carnatic, Hindustani, instrumental, pop, rhythm-percussion, strings, wood, brass, and more. Writer -director Rajiv Menon zeroes in on the Guru-Shishya parampara (teacher-student tradition) as the core, and then weaves a story around changing times, mores, superstition and morality. Countless films have been made on this subject in Hindi, Indian regional languages and Western cinema too, though, of late, its lure has receded.

A young film-fanatic and hero-worshipper, Peter Johnson (G.V. Prakash Kumar) is an ardent Ilayathalapathy (young commander)/Thalapathy (commander) fan. This is the title the fan clubs have bestowed upon their idol, superstar Vijay, and Peter is an active member of one such club. His top priority is his time spent on putting up banners for his idol and playing the drums on release dates of Vijay’s latest films. In a rival fan clubs fight, Peter gets a serious head injury. Not wanting to get caught by the police, his friends take him to a nurse’s home, and she stitches his wounds there itself.

Peter owes his life to the nurse, Sara (Aparna Balamurali) and soon enough, he falls for her. His father Johnson (Kumaravel) is a mridangam-maker (mridangam is a two-headed drum played in Carnatic music of southern India; it is made of wood from the jack-fruit tree, in an angular barrel shape, having an outline like an elongated hexagon; the drum is held across the lap and played on both ends with the hands and fingers; a similar instrument, the pakhavaj, is played in the Hindustani tradition of northern India, as well as in Pakistan and Bangladesh) and when he asks his son to deliver an instrument to a leading exponent Vembu Iyer (Nedumudi Venu), the youngster is smitten by the rhythm he hears. He comes out of his star-fandom universe and aspires to learn music from the great man and become like him. 

Spreading his colours thin across the canvas, Rajiv Menon indulges in too many symbolisms and generalisations. Secularism is showcased in the shape of high-class Hindu musicians and low-caste Christian pariahs who make their instruments, and are treated as untouchables. There is even a Muslim touch, with Peter donating blood of a rare blood group to a Muslim boy in an emergency situation. Traditional learning versus the Skype generation is also highlighted, with the revered guru extolling the virtues of 12-hours-a-day learning for a thousand days, before a student can hope to play at a concert. Menon turns his cameras to music reality shows next, exposing the dirty underbelly, manipulated winners and viewership ratings, though this is nothing new and might have been an issue some fifteen years ago.

A parallel track of Peter’s romance with the nurse is left underdeveloped, and treated casually, though they even indulge in pre-marital sex. Villains are stock characters, namely the guru’s right-hand man, the American student in a hurry, and the lieutenant’s sister, a TV channel anchor/executive. As a result, there are no surprises. In a good piece of writing, Menon takes Johnson to his native village, along with Peter, where they encounter caste-ism at their door-step. The end seems abrupt, with a sudden cut from interiors to exteriors. Music training and performances are painstakingly shot, though it would be inappropriate to comment on the accuracy of the notes and beats, with little knowledge about the subject. The first one-third (act I) is taken-up with character introductions, fun and games and a truthful depiction of the star cult in a state where the airport is named after an actor-politician. Act II brings in the classical music that will sustain the film and the conflicts between the hero, his nemesis, his sister and the ambitious co-student. And thus we move to act III, which brings everything to a head, and then to a feel-good resolution. Some scenes, nevertheless, linger after you come out of the auditorium. In one such scene, a bead from Iyer’s rudraksh mala (holy necklace) falls down, and Peter and Mano look for it. Two other scenes are described below, and involve the Johnson character.

G.V. Prakash (Darling, Semma, Naachiyaar) is made to span a wide range, from the good-for-nothing student to the Vijay-devotee, to the wannabe mridangam-player to a man on a mission to become number two after his guru. His sense of music comes in handy (he is a singer-composer too and took Kumar also took professional mridangam lessons from percussionist Umayalpuram Sivaraman to equip himself for the character) and he slips into the role. But the first few scenes detract from the focus, although he tries hard to look the part. Nedumudi Venu (His Highness Abdullah, Margam; real name Kesavan Venugopal Nair; age 70) is a veteran and needs little effort in donning the attire of the mridangam exponent-guru. He is a bit laid back, and occasionally humorous, which goes well his peaceful though witty characterisation.

Aparna Balamurali deserved better. As it is, she surfaces once in a while, without really adding to the story. Her pre-marital sex scene, albeit done aesthetically, was not required. Vineeth starts as a credible assistant, only to metamorphose into a bitter rival of Peter, even out to destroy Vembu Iyer. Towards the end, he becomes a ham, until redemption arrives. Kumaravel is highly convincing as the drunkard mridangam-maker. Two scenes featuring him are truly impressive: one when he takes his son to the village and they stop to have tea and the other when, in dire need for money, he sells off his son’s mridangam.

It was a great move to get A.R. Rahman to score the music. Since the hero travels in the north and east of the country, widely to gain musical knowledge, a composer with varied skills and a versatile oeuvre was needed. Rahman comes up with a judicious mix of pulsating tracks in the first segment, drifting into serious instrumental solos and duets with the mridangam, culminating in a one-to-one competition. Carnatic Keertanas (religious praise songs) are the works of Saint Thyagaraja and the background score is rendered by A. R. Rahman and Qutub-e-Kripa.

One reviewer, IndiaGlitz, noted that there is a Malayalam flavor overdose throughout the screenplay, and considering that the two main characters Vembu and Mani speak that accent, at least the heroine could have been presented in a different colour. I am borrowing this comment, without prejudice, because I know next to nothing of Tamil and Malayalam.

Rating: ** ½


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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