There something about Avanthan Manithan, as an entity, that clearly hates Sivaji’s character, Ravikumar. It starts showing a very human Ravikumar, having fun, romance, singing duet and all the stuff a regular lead character in a Tamizh film would do, and it goes ahead to promptly kill his love interest. The joys in the film dies with her, and the zombie-like Sivaji goes on ravaging his own life.
After the death, you will see a gloomy looking Sivaji, as if he saw the impending doom that would climax in his life, surrendering himself, not on his bed or hospital bed, but the very mother nature himself, on the ground, kissing the soil. No matter what joyful situation he’s in, Sivaji didn’t neglect to bring that doomed look, as if he is reminded, again and again, that the fate that awaits him will forever envelop the joy he was experiencing then.
Trouble with Ravikumar is he is a giver, a Karnan-like quality, also played by NT decades back. Karnan’s attitude gave him name, and resurrected him back to his God-like father. Alas, the former human being Ravikumar will not enjoy that status, as he is assaulted by back-stabbing, disappointments, natural tragedies, loss of wealth, loss of relationship, and loss of whatever shred of human feelings he had with him, the only pieces of asset that he was supposed to bring to his grave.
No, it was one blow after another as the sadistic film delivers without fail. First, the call that his ship has sunk, therefore rendering him a bankrupt, and his friend, an ex-employee, had the temerity to invite him to launch the latters factory, which does the same product as Ravikumar’s matchstick. Ah, matchstick. Ravikumar has a factory that makes matchstick, and what happens? It does what it should, only wrong time, and wrong man, the condemned man himself, furiously trying one stick after another, and accidentally burning the whole factory down. Accident? Fate? The film hates you Ravikumar.
Then comes a angelic woman played by Jeyalalitha who would have brought back the human in Ravikumar, only he loses her to, who else, his ex-employee, buddy, and now rival. It’s not a case of from pot into the fire, it’s the case of into the fire and getting flushed down the toilet. If you think the film is sadistic enough, wait till you figure out where did Ravikumar’s last meal came from?
I had never seen a film treating it’s protagonist this bad. The punishment delivered, though not physical, would break a man down in seconds, but Ravikumar, played by actor Sivaji Ganesan who is no stranger to punishment (see earlier articles), takes them on like an emotional gladiator only succumbing to the internal injuries, cutting himself down like the matchsticks he produces and burning himself, like the matchsticks he produces. Not candle, mind you, where you still get residue of wax once it got burned out, but matchsticks, ashes.
When I first saw the film, I was told by non-Sivaji fans that “hey, in this film, he actually acts, instead of overacting”. Bullshit. In this film, he lives as Ravikumar. How else you explain that look of a man who sees the grim reaper everywhere he goes. How else you explain the smile of a man who sees shadow of death at the corner of his eyes? How else do you explain the permanent furrow on his brows as a result of billions of buzzing emotions behind in the brain of a man destined to fail anyway?
One thing Sivaji refuses but often yields to show is sadness. He keeps them in check for Ravikumar, like the secret note in his pocket only to be noticed by the close ones. He shields them away from his faithful servant, lost wife, would-be lover, former buddy, and even the darned pigeon that sat on his shoulder during a crucial song sequence. How Sivaji the actor pulled it off is a question one should not ask. It’s because who he is, goddam Sivaji Ganesan, the greatest on screen actor ever lived. This film need not be a testimony of his merit as an actor, but this film should be remembered as the peak of how films treated his characters, and how he took the blows and went on to be a glorious contributor to the world of cinema.