[Published sooner than I expected in response to a comment here]
Cheran's last film, Autograph, got rave reviews. AV gave it a high-brow 49. I was not expecting anything great. When I saw the film, I was quite surprised to see him come out of his mould to make his first ever movie which did't carry a "social message". To be fair, Autograph had its moments, mostly in the first story with an earthly narration (I didn't get the Azhagi hang-over then, coz I had not watched the predecessor). Second story was a regular filler love story. The third part was plain boring. The Tamilnadu audience was able to identify itself with the ordinary man reminiscing his various love failures. The movie worked wonders in the B.O. and won the national award for the best popular film (which is dubbed as the "sirandha makkal thiraippadam" in the promos of the Thavamai Thavamirundhu).
Now, he comes up with his next venture structurally very similar to his previous film. And, critics are singing hosannas for this movie (AV gives it 53 this time), discussions on possibile national awards have started rolling...
But when I saw the film last week, I wasn't really surprised that I found it otherwise. Thavamai Thavamirundhu is plain mediocre. Cheran attempts to tell his audience the greatness of fathers. In the beginning, one of the lead characters, Ramalingam(Cheran) asks his car driver about his father. The driver, in a nutshell, says how great his father was (that it's because of his father, he and his siblings are well, blah blah). If you think the driver is taking the question a little too emotionally than required, wait for what Ramalingam (the other son in the car) has to say in the next 3 hours. As this review written by Balaji points out, Cheran leaves no stone unturned. Not a single one.
In the flashback, we see Muthiah(Rajkiran), Ramalingam's father; his efforts and sacrifices in bringing up his sons. It starts with a complete account of one day in the father's life. So far so good. Then, the story rambles on showing various incidents. It's the son reminiscing. But, it's the father in focus. After the sons grow up and attain good positions, they do not return the favour all that well. As against the general opinion that the film works as Muthiah's story, the one moment I found the storyline gripping (for a fleeting moment, that is) was when Ramalingam is helpless, when his brother chooses to leave the house, just after realising that he had committed a much bigger blunder.
Eventually, Ramalingam realises his folly and pays his due respects to his parents. It's really not a bad story, you say. But, it's stretched needlessly as more and more "emotions" are captured and put forth on screen; and the treatment is overtly sentimental and judgemental to the core. The most intriguing part in exploring real relationships across generations is the inherent contradiction in beliefs and interests. But here, the good samaritans don't (and shouldn't) question their fathers.
The actors were mostly adequate. Rajkiran's performance is restrained, but was nowhere near, say, his superb performance in Nandhaa. But the critics are already predicting a national award (Disclaimer: Since things like this do happen often, I am not ruling out the possibility). The woman who plays the first daughter-in-law is simply superb. We could see the director holding the I-show-real-people-in-real-life baton high while capturing her expressions, when she carefully examines her brother-in-law's new plush house. We chuckle, "been there, seen her". But, she had to be shown in bad light. So that you could see how good the second son's family is to the ageing parents.
The areas where Cheran's movies are really improving are in the technical departments. The camera captures the essence of rural life. The movie, at times, falters in reflecting the right period the story is set at different junctures. But, that's hardly a case of concern. Coming to music of the film, Cheran seems to be tone deaf. The lesser said about those elongated pieces of theme music, the better. Same for Cheran's acting skills. He is completely miscast as the college student ogling at "bad" wall-posters (and a strange out-of-place BGM is played when he looks at them, perhaps to suggest the evils of a hostel life).
Things are going so sour for Tamil cinema that we tend to call a movie great just because it doesn't have a hero carrying an aruvaal and heroine showing her navel; also perhaps, because it shows the "real human emotions". Sigh!