It’s the dignified flash of Jyothika’s wrists that gives the first clue that Mozhi won’t be an ordinary Tamil movie. Confronting an angry Prithiviraj, Jyothika quickly signals that she can neither hear nor speak. It’s done so smartly that you would miss it if you blinked. But still this being a Tamil movie, we get a replay 30 seconds later. Minutes later, Prithiviraj also explains the significance of the movements to his dear friend played by Prakash Raj. The sign language she employs conveys her dignity and independence, he tells his friend.
The two are musicians working in the film industry and Jyothika’s character Archana can’t hear. Director Radhamohan doesn’t miss a single opportunity to keep pointing out the philosophical implications of this. One of his characters whose passion for music can perhaps never be understood by the one true love of his life. But Karthik (Prithiviraj) believes that she can understand. He believes good music is felt as much as heard. And all through Vidyasagar’s standout track for the film, Jyothika is repeatedly seen listening to music, trying to understand the sounds Karthik makes.
Going by the furore it created upon release, I expected a movie entirely devoid of clichés. This is unfortunately not so. Sometimes Mozhi sinks to alarmingly pedestrian levels. A Pomeranian chases Karthik all the way from Adyar to Beasant Nagar as Prithvi run much like the Malayalam superstar Mohanlal would have decades ago. A neighbour of the two friends and the secretary of the up market apartment falls off the balcony after being frightened by a dead cockroach. The sequences are many when Radhamohan opens up the movie for laughs and panders to audiences. Even if he had chopped those sequences out, Mozhi’s dialogues are witty and sharp enough to prompt many laughs.
The film does have an admirable story to it. Jyothika’s Archana has near-feminist leanings. She is independent, fierce and brave, qualities the hero admires in her, calling her his Jhansi Ki Rani at one point. Radhamohan take care to equalize the genders. For once, man and woman seem on eye-level with each other. Just like Karthik and Viji (Prakash Raj), Archana is friends with Sheela at the dumb and deaf school they both teach in. And it’s Sheela, the matchmaker, with whom Viji, rather conveniently, falls in love with. This’s despite the fact that Sheela is a widow.
Prakash Raj, seen here without his usual irritating mannerisms, is happy to play second fiddle though he is the producer of the movie. As producer, Prakash Raj has seemingly mastered the art of making small-budgeted, light-hearted, contemporary love stories, two of which were directed by Radhamohan. Priya directed the third, Kanda Naal Mudhal. It’s hard to believe that the producer didn’t have a hand in ensuring that these movies had strong female characters.
In Mozhi, it’s Archana’s fierce independence and her refusal to be a burden to anyone that lends the movie its crisis. Diligent feminists would notice the contradiction here: a feminist character’s whose apparent feminism standing in the way of her marriage and normal life. But thankfully, the climax is nuanced. Prithivi doesn’t do a Vijay. Instead he makes a passionate plea to Archana to get a life. And well, she does.
Both Jyothika and Swarnamalya, who plays Sheela, exude the air of sophisticated, urban women. Only that both are sometimes a little too well dressed. Actually none of the characters ever appear in everyday clothes, which is strange for a movie that seeks to be rooted in reality. But this gives a chance for Jyothika to appear almost breathtakingly beautiful.
An interesting, comic sub-plot involves an absent-minded professor caught in a time warp in 1984 after receiving news of his son’s fatal accident. While his initial encounters with Prithiviraj were deliciously funny, I didn’t particularly care for the scene in which the hero helps him snap out of his condition. In fact, much of the comedy doesn’t further the plot but act as optional accessories. The editor could choose to keep half the movie out including some of its funniest portions and you wouldn’t notice anything amiss.
Radhamohan isn’t a virtuoso performer going for the intense symphony; this is like a simple folk tune. The movie is much like normal life. Bits and parts put together with seeming carelessness that somehow act as a whole. Only discerning viewers would notice the clever use of time-space. The plot trajectory never loses sight of logic and rarely wants you to suspend your disbelief. The movie is light, but never fluffy.
Much of the movie’s prestige is also derived from what it avoids. It’s got only one thing common with the average Tamil entertainer, the film it’s shot on. Most of the time, the movie steers clear of the usual pitfalls, especially in characterisation.
Perhaps because of the strong female lead, it occurred to me that K. Balachander, the man who introduced Prakash Raj to moviegoers, could have very well have directed the movie. Also much of the movie is like a play, a fact that cinematographer K.V. Anand tries to hide from us. Often enough, all the characters meet across the table and discuss their lives or life in general, often a mesh of both.
Also as the plot is largely absent, the movie rests on its comic content, or more appropriately put, its saccharine sweetness. Privithiraj’s character is of a man so good at heart that, without the wings and halo, it’s hard to take him. When he gets angry with Archana in the climax it doesn’t appear as if a character is vending his emotion, but rather as if something is wrong with the film itself.
Without the hype, I would have perhaps liked the movie. Burdened by it, I felt a bit let down.