Over the period of time, Seethakaathi moves from stage to celluloid – the cohesive nature of on-stage performance is lost amidst cinema’s technological reformation profoundly known as the cuts. There’s an extensive scene where Ayya enacts Aurangzeb on stage, it patiently runs for almost 10 minutes. Director Balaji Tharaneetharan and Cinematographer Saraskanth T. K. stage the scene in an intricate manner which explores space and gravitas of the performance. Seethakaathi successfully tries to move by explicitly making us feel the distinguish between cinema and theatre; and most importantly, it brings back the glory of past. Named upon Seethakaathi, a scholar and a great philanthropist upon whom a famous Tamil proverb exists, “Seethakaathi gave even when he was dead” – at a certain point death becomes a meta-satirical vehicle adventuring on an unique premise.
Ayya Aadhimoolam (Vijay Sethupathi) is a theatre veteran, whose popularity gradually dwindles bypassing his passion for stage. Director-Writer Balaji Tharaneetharan’s unique premise comes with ‘magical realism’ structured as an experimental film high on meta-drama and melodrama. Split into unbalanced halves with a relatively smaller portion dignified towards detailed tracking of a theatre-veteran; it intriguingly sets the mood and is a patient walkthrough. Seethakaathi ruthlessly rather exaggeratedly juxtaposes art and business through a satirical narrative, as Ayya takes a soulful plunge into cinema, director Balaji smoothly plunges into a distinctive tone. A major drawback is its slow pacing, running at 2 hours 53 minutes – it surmounts the whole universe with Ayya’s presence all over. Though the tragicomedy keeps popping out consistently, many scenes are stretched too far diluting the core. Cinematographer Saraskanth T. K. draws parallel between cinema and theatre with a stark contrast in the colour tone. The melancholic and gloomy colour tone for theatre which represents the degrading glory of the past, and cinema comes with vibrant tone in terms of materialistic values – it subtly sets the mood right. His camerawork which lingers on the reaction is the biggest supplement for nuanced performances. Govind Vasantha’s soul-stirring background score lightens the emotions without being intrusive, his classical incantations is a blessing in disguise. The offbeat score thoughtfully adjuncts the unique premise and during the theatre sequence, it wrenches the heart as it climbs an emotional crescendo without an overweight ruckus. Seethakaathi definitely required a crisp edit, yet Editor R. Govindaraj maintains the sanctity of ‘magical realism’ throughout.
In his 25th film, Vijay Sethupathi gives a role of lifetime by delivering a cascading versatility. Although, it looks more of a restrained performance but given Ayya’s long journey and the withdrawing crowd – he looks terrific sans patent dialogue delivery. Supporting characters Mouli, Rajkumar, Sunil and Bagavathi Perumal deliver commendable performance solely upon reactions.
Seethakaathi is a soulful tribute of a theatre-veteran whose soul becomes the “Father of Cinema”, makes the magical realism hit the ethics of contemporary artistes. Though it flatters at times, it speaks conclusively – one of the best Tamil Films of 2018.
Release: 20 December, 2018
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