Thursday Tamil: Priyamana Thozhi, the Radical Notion That Men and Women Can Be Friends

This was the movie that I picked to download to my phone for my long day of travel, and I have no regrets!  It was very very very pleasant.  And a little interesting.  But not super interesting.

The first question to ask yourself when considering whether you want to watch this film, is how you feel about slightly off center close ups of Madhavan with a sincere look on his face.

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Because this is like half the movie.

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And sometimes he is happy

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If your response was “why in the world would I want to watch 3 hours of close ups of Madhavan’s face?”, then this may not be the film for you.

If your response was “why in the world would I want to watch ANYTHING ELSE BESIDES 3 hours of close ups of Madhavan’s face?”, then this is definitely the film for you.

There’s just not a lot of there-there.  A youthful coming of age story, everything sort of falls together for Maddy and other characters without much effort and a lot of songs.  Even the costumes and songs are more “nice enough” than “MINDBLOWING”.  The only thing moderately interesting is the way the central trio is handled.  Two women and a man and it is NOT a love triangle!

It’s not just that, there’s also a large extended family that never causes romantic or relationship drama, religious differences that never really matter, and a romance that involves no misunderstandings or big drama.  This is life if all the trite sources of conflict are removed. And, it’s kind of boring?  But then Madhavan makes eyes at the camera, and it doesn’t really matter.

 

 

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Sridevi Vijaykumar and Maddy are best friends since childhood.  She is Christian and lives alone with her fun indulgent drinking father, he is Hindu and lives in a large old family home with his older brother, sister-in-law, younger brother, niece and nephew, and father.  She is very calm and organized and focused, he is dreamy and impulsive and disorganized.  She just wants to have her small teaching job, marry a nice man, and take care of her father.  He wants to be a Cricket play for the India team.  They are the kind of best friends that don’t seem to have anything in common, and that is why they are such good friends, they balance each other.

It’s not just Sridevi that Maddy has that bond with, it’s her father too, her whole life. That also feels like something that happens with childhood friends.  Madhavan is the middle brother, the overlooked one and the disappointing one back in his family.  Not that they hate him or are cruel or anything like that, it’s just what happens, the middle one gets over looked.  And Sridevi is from this tiny family, just herself and her father, they treasure having someone else over.  Not unusual, for the kid from the large family to gravitate towards the kid from the small family and vice versa.  Maddy is thrown out of his house for coming home drunk, goes over to Sridevi’s tiny house and is given a place to sleep.  His family won’t give him money for a wedding present for a friend, Sridevi’s father gives him a ring from his finger.

But there’s a flipside to it.  Sridevi doesn’t know how to fight for anything, or expect anything.  She is so used to her quiet little life.  She gently explains to Madhavan that she doesn’t want her father to drink because he is ill, expecting nothing in return but some minor consideration, and Madhavan promptly solves the whole issue through an elaborate scheme involving a made up religious pilgrimage and so on.  Sridevi would never have out herself out there that much, taken so much of a risk, colored outside the lines, but Madhavan is there to do that for her.

This unique bond is what leads to a very unique result. Sridevi’s father dies, she loses her home, and Madhavan confidently brings her back with him to his family home.  Because she is passive and trusting enough to go along with it, and he is confident and free-thinking enough to come up with the solution no one else would have considered.

And no other movie would consider!  We’ve seen this movie before, the boy and girl are different and are friends and they keep denying it’s anything more than that, until suddenly they fall in love.  In any other movie, Sridevi’s father dies, Madhavan feels responsible, so he marries her, they start life together, they fight, they struggle, they come to admit they love each other just as the marriage seemingly falls apart, Madhavan chases her down at the airport.  It’s a great movie!  I want to watch this movie!

(It’s this movie!)

But this movie that we ended up with is kind of interesting.  Instead of marrying her, Madhavan simply takes her back to his family home.  And trusts her to win over his family just by being herself.  Which she does, through sweetly getting up early and starting breakfast, helping with homework, helping with dinner, all the nice good things.

And second twist!  Madhavan’s family suggests that they just get married.  Yes, Sridevi is Christian and not Hindu, but they all love her and it just seems reasonable.  No big family drama, no forbidding and anger or anything, just a reasonable reaction.

And third twist!  Madhavan and Sridevi gently explain that they can’t be in love because they are friends.  Friendship is where romance ends, but can’t be where it begins.  Which is SO TRUE!!!!!!!  You need that spark, somewhere!  Without that, you will have nothing to keep you going.  Which I have come to understand deeply and profoundly while fostering this dog that I hate.  She is a fine dog, reasonable, practical, we have a lot in common.  But there isn’t that spark, and suddenly everything feels like a chore.

Madhavan and Sridevi are smarter than that.  So they know they shouldn’t get married just because it is easy and they know each other well and they have a bond.  They need that spark.  And Madhavan finds that spark with Jyothika, a woman he randomly captured in a video he was taking, and then sees again on a train.  And she feels it too!  She falls in love with the tape he leaves for her of a love song he wrote her and runs around trying to find him.  They are similarly impulsive, similar in love at first sight, the “spark” is definitely there.

The awkward interval point is the suggestion that Jyothika is jealous of Sridevi’s relationship with Madhavan, that this will turn into a Haathi Mere Saathi kind of thing where Madhavan has to choose between his original loyalty and the woman he loves.  But that’s not it at all!  Post-interval, Sridevi runs away from Madhavan’s home, so she won’t interfere with his marriage.  And it is Jyothika who chases her down, who tells her that she has a family and she has a home, always.

This is real marriage.  Not a jealous battle with your spouse’s past life, but an acceptance and embrace of it, taking on his responsibilities as your own.  And it comes easily through love.  Madhavan was right to marry the girl he fell in love with at first sight, they may not know anything about each other, but they have something that bonds each other and gets them through the rough patches.

And there are rough patches.  Not big silly fights, but little adjustments like shopping for shirts with Sridevi and making sure that Madhavan picks the shirt from his wife not his friend. And Jyothika revealing later that she knew all along and the real challenge is her accepting with a smile that Sridevi and Madhavan will always have a certain way of wordless communication that she doesn’t know.

The movie starts to go a little downhill when the actual plot starts.  Much much farther along then plot starts in most movies.  Madhavan and Jyothika have always been focused on getting Sridevi married to a “good” boy.  It’s what she wants from her life, and she needs the strong family background of a united couple to help her get it.  And out of nowhere, the perfect boy appears!  Christian, young, rich, and in love with Sridevi and vice versa.  And also out of nowhere comes conflict!  Madhavan and Jyothika go to the boy’s family and his father challenges Madhavan to both give up his place on the Indian national cricket team and never see Sridevi again, and then he will let his son marry her.

It’s a double tragedy.  Madhavan has to give up his dream, and his friend.  And Jyothika feels it too, but not as much.  It’s still Madhavan’s story, she is sad because he is sad.  And it’s still overall a story of a friendship.  Madhavan gives up his dream for the sake of his friend, the one who always stood by and supported him when no one else believed in him, and the one that he promised to get married to the boy of her choice.

I kept trying to flip this plot, to picture it as a traditional “friends” movie with two men and a woman entering the picture.  And it works, sort of, in that the idea of the one loyal companion since childhood, the one you shared everything with, the one you owe everything, is still there.  In male-male friendship though, there would be less sensitivity and more jealousy (possibly) towards the wife who enters and ruins the friendship.  In this film, because Sridevi is a woman, there is an awareness of the challenges that might happen through the way the rest of society doesn’t understand their threesome and an effort is made to work through it, for Jyothika and Sridevi to form their own bond.  And in a male-male friendship, there wouldn’t be this same kind of responsibility.  They are not romantic, but they are a man and a woman.  Sridevi is going to help Madhavan navigate tricky emotional waters, and he is going to be responsible for her position in society and her security.

That’s what makes the friendship here really remarkable, they never take the easy way out and make Sridevi a tomboy or Maddy a sensitive feminine soul.  They are definitely a man and a woman, but you can have those gender roles and still be friends across them.  Not every man is going to be attracted to every woman and vice versa.  We are humans, not animals.

And that’s kind of a radical thought!  That man and women are people, that love is something unique that comes through more than propinquity, that leaving a man and woman alone together, even living in the same house together, has no effect on their “honor” or their ability to be happy in future marriages to other people.

Oh, and also, Maddy’s face in close up.

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13 thoughts on “Thursday Tamil: Priyamana Thozhi, the Radical Notion That Men and Women Can Be Friends

    • It’s all very confusing. I think, coincidentally, Sridevi falls in love with his Cricket rival, so if Maddy gives up his place, Sridevi’s fiance will get it.

      On Thu, Mar 8, 2018 at 8:08 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  1. I saw the title of this post and the first thing that came to my mind was the “boys and girls can’t just be friends” line from K2H2. Which to my mind is the single most regressive dialogue in hindi film industry.

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    • Karan tried to undo it with ADHM, an entire movie devoted to kicking it into a man’s head that friendship is just as good, in a different way, as love. But I don’t know if he fully walked it back.

      On Thu, Mar 8, 2018 at 9:15 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • He should have taken SOTY in a slightly different direction. Alia and Varun would have been fascinating and wonderful friends for each other. He even kind of implied that, they were only dating out of habit because they knew each other so well. Wouldn’t it have been great if part of the final reveal was that Varun and Alia had been phone call and email and occasional lunch date friends for the past decade, not romantic and separate from Varun and Siddharth. Wouldn’t that make sense?

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  2. You’ve just stumbled upon one of palette cleanser directors. Vikraman’s movies are full of very earnest, basically good characters that overcome hardship through hard work and kindness. Even his bad guys aren’t bad so much as they’re petty, selfish or misguided. It’s often a little overly earnest but sometimes it’s nice world to escape to.

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    • Yes! Everything just sort of works out because people are basically good, which is a very nice way to see the world.

      On Thu, Mar 8, 2018 at 10:41 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • It does seem to be the perfect movie for you.

      Only downside, sometimes Maddy wears those Cricket hats which just look stupid and horrible even on him. You know, the slouchy wide brimmed white ones?

      On Thu, Mar 8, 2018 at 12:17 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • It is awfully sentimental. I don’t know if I could have gotten through it without Maddy to make me happy.

      On Fri, Mar 9, 2018 at 12:32 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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