Monday, May 28, 2012

3: 1 Charming Love Story + 2 Totally Disparate Halves

The U.S. premiere of the Tamil film 3, directed by Aishwarya Rajnikanth Dhanush and starring her husband, film star (and surprise pop star) Dhanush, happened on Saturday afternoon as part of the New York Indian Film Festival. I didn't even know enough about Tamil films to know that Dhanush was a big deal. When I saw Shahrukh Khan poking fun at "Kolaveri Di" in this video, I thought he was being a little harsh (as is so often SRK's wont). What kind of threat is Dhanush to Superstar SRK? Why this kolaveri di from King Khan?

Well, as it turns out, I think Shahrukh is right to be feeling a bit bothered by the competition. Because guess what—Dhanush is a terrific dancer, an adorable lovelorn hero, and very, very young.

The film is a bit of a mess. By the time we get to the picturization of "Kolaveri Di," 3 has already begun to rocket off the rails and become the Indian equivalent of a disease-of-the-week movie, aiming to raise our awareness of the scourge of bipolar disorder with appearances from a psychiatrist (who seems deeply misguided both about how bipolar disorders manifest and about how to treat them) and long periods of earnest exposition from the hero's bosom friend (who barely registers before the interval but afterward is privy to information that the hero can't reveal even to the wife who is his soul mate).

But you know what? The first half was so good I almost didn't mind. Our hero Ram (Dhanush) falls for the heroine (Shruti Hassan) and woos her by following her to after-school tutoring. He's so in love that he beams uncontrollably even when she isn't around--and Dhanush's smile is so beatific that it's hard to believe it takes her weeks to return his fond look. When she finally does smile at him, we get a moment that made me remember why I loved Indian films in the first place: the young couple's joy is so boundless that it can be conveyed only in a song. And I can't recall a purer expression of happiness than the picturization of "Idhazhin Oram." Monsoon rains drench, the heroine and her little sister dance on the rooftop, and Dhanush struts in the street and tangoes down the school corridor with abandon. A cool breeze ruffles the hair of sweaty students, neighbors celebrate a holiday with sparklers, and the whole world is briefly perfect.

Too bad that we then have to sit through the post-wedding half of the film as the hero grows increasingly shaggy facial hair and behaves ever more erratically (call it the Raja Hindustani effect). And without an evil stepmother to vanquish, since the demons this time are within, Ram can only lash out at those he loves—and finally himself. Sigh.

Here's the delightful point where I wish the filmmaker had left the happy pair. Go ahead, watch it. I dare you not to smile!

(If you are not one of the 56 million people who has already watched the official YouTube video of Dhanush singing his soup song, you can do so here.)