Sarvam Thaala Mayam movie review: A winning drama set in Chennai's casteist Carnatic music scene
Sarvam Thaala Mayam is a winning spectacle because of its perfect casting and AR Rahman’s subtle music
Noted cameraman, director and ad filmmaker Rajiv Menon is back to direction after 18 years with his new film Sarvam Thaala Mayam. It is a finely calibrated, feel-good musical drama that's rooted in Chennai's Carnatic music scene. STM is a winning spectacle because of the perfect casting, AR Rahman’s subtle music, and drama that's neatly weaved into the narration with a crisp run time of 131 minutes.
The film revolves around the ego, frailties and jealousy of the tradition-bound people in the Carnatic music world. It mirrors the casteism prevalent in the music community without really pointing fingers at anybody. There has been a lot of media coverage on the of caste tension that underlines music and the people playing it. Menon has a peripheral view of the culture and what happens behind the scenes in the music industry since he has worked on a few documentaries on famous musicians.
It is the story of Peter Johnson (GV Prakash), a Dalit Christian who is also a fan of Thalapathy Vijay. His father Johnson (Kumaravel) specialises in crafting the mridangam and his mother makes a living by selling soup on a roadside stall. One day, Peter delivers a replacement mrindangam at a concert to the famous musician Palakkad Vembu Iyer (Nedumudi Venu). Peter gets hooked to the mridangam and the way Vembu plays it, much to the audience's joy. Now, Peter wants to become a mridangam player too, which makes his father furious. He asks him to stop daydreaming because he knows the door will be shut on his face due to caste constraints.
A peeved Peter tells his father that he will break open the door and enter Vembu Iyer’s hallowed house where he takes mridangam classes. Soon, we see Peter waiting outside Vembu’s residence only to be insulted by Vembu’s disciple and man Friday Mani (Vineeth), who stops him at the gate and and tells him to attend classes in a government-run music college. Somehow, Peter is able to get an audition with Vembu, but due to the schemes of an envious Mani, he is asked to leave the premises. A shattered Peter then goes on an all-India road tour where he discovers various forms of music, and in a way, the journey heals him internally. With some encouragement from his girlfriend Sara (Aparna Balamurali), who works as a nurse, he decides to take one last chance to prove his musical talent in a reality show.
Malayalam character actor Nedumudi Venu steals the show and is brilliant as Vembu Iyer, the traditionalist mridangam master with king-sized ego. Rajiv Menon has given Venu a pivotal role in his film and the actor has delivered. The scene wherein he realises he is no longer wanted is a gem. Another remarkable scene is one in which Vembu gifts his own rudraskha to Peter. GV Prakash delivers his best ever performance as Peter. Nobody can write him off as an actor who only does crass comedies. The other characters played by Kumaravel, Vineeth, Aparna, Dhivyadharshini have also left their marks.
AR Rahman’s music is sombre with 'Maya', the song being the pick of the bunch along with the title track. The background score during the climax of the music reality show reality elevates the film. The film has some traces of Damien Chazelle’s Oscar-winning film Whiplash.
The biggest drawback, as far as STM is concerned, is the post-interval bit which in which viewers may get the sense that certain situations are being manipulated in favour of the underdog. Despite a rushed second half, Sarvam Thaala Mayam is a joyful, breezy and emotional film that pulls at your heartstrings.
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