The film's sincere intent, strong performances make up for the monotonous treatment and the absence of cinematic highs
What's it about:
Thaen, directed by Ganesh Vinayakan, is a story set in the picturesque hillside village Kurinjukudi, which's home to the best herbs and minerals in Tamil Nadu. A rural beekeeper in the village, Velu falls for Poongodi, a young girl in her early twenties, and the two marry each other against the wishes of the elderly in the region (who don't predict a rosy future for the two).
The two eventually have a daughter, but as fate would have it, there's trouble in paradise. Poongodi is diagnosed with a serious illness, leaving her better half reeling to arrange money for her treatment. He chases officials, moving from pillar to post to ensure her good healthcare but there's no light for him at the end of the tunnel.
Only a few stories and films have this uncanny ability to transport you into its ambience, give you a sense of the soil and an insider's view of its world. Thaen magically draws you into the dreamy landscapes of Kurinjukudi and offers an uncorrupted peek into the lives of its residents, from taking you through their little joys to their superstitions, social customs and addressing their everyday issues. At the outset, Thaen is about a man's struggle to get his wife treated for a terminal disease. The director Ganesh Vinayakan uses this personal story to paint a picture of society in all its brutality.
From corporate greed to red-tapism to casteism and class divide, the film holds a mirror to the ugly truths in the lives of the marginalised. The indifference of the healthcare sector in the film eerily reminds you of many who lost their lives due to the unavailability of beds due to COVID-19. Also, Thaen, in its early portions, makes for a terrific ethnographic study when it shows the self-sufficiency of the village, and how its residents find a way to survive in nature's lap, undisturbed by the chaos of the world.
The story later underlines the gradual changes (for the worse) in their lives and the self-destructive streak of humans who constantly upset the delicate, symbiotic balance between nature and man for petty returns. The second hour of Thaen projects systemic corruption with a wave of anger that partly reminds you of director Shankar's vigilante justice films. The sad reality remains that this protagonist, like any other common man, doesn't have that luxury of taking on the system.
Thaen also reminds you of Khaleja, a Telugu film that tells the story of a man who saves a remote village from extinction while battling corporate barons. Khaleja ends with a cinematic high of the greedy corporate honcho dying in the hands of the saviour protagonist. Thaen is easily more rooted in its setting than Khaleja and portrays life from the viewpoint of a hapless victim.
The haunting visual imagery of the climactic sequences leaves you uneasy. The film relies more on melodrama than cinematic flavour. This isn't to dismiss the many takeaways from Thaen, especially the performances of Tharun Kumar and Abarnathi that stay with you long after the viewing. M Sukumar's stunning visual detailing, Sanath Bharadwaj's mellifluous numbers and the focused writing are the heart and soul of the film.
Predictability is its biggest issue and despite the honest intentions, it's not quite hard to guess the trajectory of the story. The monotony in the second hour and the anti-corporate narrative gets on your nerves beyond a point. Though the filmmaker uses superstition as a smart storytelling device, Thaen nearly ends up validating it.
The major disappointment is the loud, melodramatic background score that spoonfeeds the viewer how to respond to sequences rather than trusting their intelligence. The film fails to find the right balance between realism and cinematic highs, a reason why the emotional impact feels compromised at places.
Thaen is a worthy watch for its efficient use of a personal story to uncover the many dark layers of our society. Although the monotonous tone of the film may prove a dampener, the heart-wrenching visual imagery will leave you teary-eyed.