| When a director debuts with a movie like Sethu, it is impossible not to look forward to
his subsequent efforts with anything less than complete enthusiasm. Bala's next effort
Nandha was well-made but more than a little disappointing compared to its
predecessor. But the director has regained a lot of the lost ground with his third effort Pithamagan. With
unique characterization, tremendous performances and a smooth screenplay, the movie offers a satisfying
experience to the discerning viewer willing to go along with its unhurried pace and stark, serious storyline.
Sithan(Vikram), the undertaker in a cemetery, is a social outcast with no contact with the civilized world. Into
his life comes Sakthivel(Surya), a fast-talking, glib fraudster. The two first meet in jail, Sithan ending up there due
to his association with the owner of a large ganja farm and Sakthi, due to being caught redhanded in
his latest fraud. Gomathi(Sangeetha), a goodhearted ganja seller cares for both of them while
Manju(Laila) is the one responsible for landing Sakthi in jail after being at the receiving end of a few of his
capers. When Sithan realises that another soul exists in the world to care about him, his world begins to
revolve around Sakthi too.
Through Vikram, Bala creates one of the most unique characters in Tamil cinema. The role of the undertaker, cut off
from the world and with only corpses for friends, is wonderfully designed. Only a very thin line separates Vikram from
being an animal and Bala stresses this at several points throughout the movie. When we see Vikram growl, beat up anyone
who as much as lays a hand on him, charge through the forests and provide undying loyalty to the person who
cares for him, we realise that Vikram is a human being only physically. The way he deals with Mahadevan in the end
confirms this. The way Bala has shaped the character is a triumph.
Movies about friendship have been many in Tamil cinema but I cannot recall one about friendship between two such
mismatched human beings. The bond between Vikram and Surya is almost poetic and is developed smoothly and naturally.
The situations that bring the two closer together are in keeping with both their characters and every emotion, be it Surya's
agony at the act Vikram performs without realising its magnitude or Vikram's silent discomfort at Laila's closeness with
Surya, is brought out naturally. And Bala never misses a chance to bring a smile to our lips either. The way Surya uses
Vikram's instinctive anger to snap at others is always funny.
The relation between Surya and Laila, which had been developed so wonderfully during the tiffs between them, loses all
its believability the moment she falls in love with him. And the reason she falls for him? Because he didn't choose to escape
by ripping her dress off embarassing her! And her family, which seems so protective of her when she put Surya in jail, is
nowhere in the picture as she seems to spend every moment with him. The climax drags on a little too long. While that by
itself is no crime, it seems designed to showcase Vikram acting talents rather than for a valid reason. And the end itself
has Sethu's shadow hanging over it.
With such strong characters and a character-driven storyline, the movie's success or failure depends on the performances
of its actors. And every performer in Pithamagan, whether in a big or small role, responds beautifully. Vikram
pretty much lives the role of the undertaker. With dry and streaked hair, dirty teeth and torn clothes, he looks the part
and though he doesn't utter a word (except for the song that accompanies every cremation), he conveys everything through
his expressions and body language. Just the way he runs - arms stationary - is a sight to behold. In direct contrast is
Surya, who is pretty much the life of the movie. The usually quiet actor exhibits a different persona and succeeds remarkably.
His monologues make us laugh every time and his affection for Vikram is entirely believable. Laila, who has been one-dimensional
is all her movies so far, shows a lot more range here. Her high-pitched screams, accompanied by lying down and flailing her
arms and legs, are very funny and she gets a change to emote in the later portions too. Sangeetha(formerly Rasika) creates
a sympathetic character while Mahadevan is makes us cringe with his cold-bloodedness.
Ilaiyaraja adds unmeasurable strength to many of the scenes with his background music. Ilankaathu Veesuthu... is
a wonderfully melodious number and is a welcome relief from recent songs that have all tended to sound the same.
Adadaa... and Piraiye... are more philosophical but contain some wonderful lyrics. Simran has a rather
different 'item' number where she dances(along with Surya) to a medley of old songs.