Cast: Vijay Sethupathi, Archana, Moulee, Sunil Reddy
Director: Balaji Tharaneetharan

It’s not every day we, as the audience, get to see an actor’s landmark film. If that’s a blue moon occurrence, imagine one of the most sought-after actor playing an old man in his 25th film, in which, he only appears for 40 minutes. That’s what Seethakaathi is — a film that sees artistic talent as a sort of energy — something that can neither be created nor destroyed but only be transferred from one to another.

Speaking about art, Seethakaathi’s underlying story throws light at the dwindling state of theatre arts in our country and the majority of the first half implies it by showing us the trials and tribulations of septuagenarian theatre veteran Ayya Aadhimoolam (Vijay Sethupathi). Apart from personal life problems, the man’s professional life is also riddled with issues, predominantly for how theatre dramas just don’t get the recognition it once used to get. Director Balaji, who bowled us over with the 2012’s comedy caper Nadula Konjam Pakatha Kaanom, beautifully mirrors the pain in Ayya’s heart, by showing a family of birds that have decided to build its nest in the same auditorium that once resonated with the sound of a hundred claps.

As we finally get adjusted to this melodrama, we get our senses tumbled like a pair of sneakers in a washing machine when Ayya ‘decides’ to give the big screens a shot. This outrageous turn of events transforms the mood and pace of the film and how you decide to indulge it will make or break the film for you. Vijay Sethupathi, as always, nails with his performance and apart from the prosthetics, the actor has worked on everything from the posture, walking style, speaking and even breathing to make him believable as a 73-year-old. The three actors who actually steal the show is veteran stage artiste Moulee, who plays the theatre manager Parasuraman, Rajkumar who fits perfectly in the shoes of the theatre artiste turned film actor Saravanan and producer turned actor hoping for a splendid debut, courtesy Ayya’s blessings, Dhanapal, played by actor Vaibhav’s brother Sunil Reddy.

Though explaining it without indulging in a few spoilers would be impossible, I can very well say that In a lot of ways, Seethakaathi reminded me of Uthama Villain, or at least, what the Kamal film aimed to be. Post the change in gears, the film takes a rather comical approach laced with enough drama to keep us almost hooked on despite the almost three hours runtime. Even with repetitive sequences which would’ve gotten the point across without being so monotonous, we rarely get distracted, thanks to the performances. The unknown faces who’re actually theatre artistes show their prowess in a couple of scenes too. Balaji not only excels in getting the best out of his actors but also manages to make a film that’s ironically a satirical take on the Tamil film industry itself. Can it get more meta than this? What didn’t work for me is, despite having a horde of heroines, including National Award winning Archana, we don’t get to see them adding much to the film.

After the raging success of 96, Govind Vasantha once again proves his mettle. Though the songs aren’t something you’ll be hearing on the loop, the background score is phenomenal. Be is the soul-crunching scenes or the wacky ones that make us grin the score makes the film richer. Seethakaathi, thanks to the satirical route it takes to handle a rather serious question it poses on the status of art in today’s world, prefers to leave the answer sheet empty, leaving us to choose what we want, like a spirit a medium of its choice.

My rating: 3.5/5

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