Revisiting R Madhavan’s debut Alaipayuthey: The original Saathiya after which he was ready to give up acting

A lot of Hindi-speaking audience can love R Madhavan, Mani Ratnam and the Hindi feature Saathiya (2002), and still be unaware about the movie that ‘inspired’ Saathiya director Shaad Ali to make his directorial debut. The Rani Mukerji and Vivek Oberoi film was a remake of the 2000 Tamil romantic drama Alaipayuthey, helmed by acclaimed filmmaker Mani Ratnam.

It has been more than two decades since Alaipayuthey released, and still every time someone shares that clip of Madhavan sprouting those cheesy lines and proposing to Shalini’s character Shakthi on train, people’s heart skip a beat. Of course, there are parts of film that have not necessarily aged well, be it where Shalini thinks Madhavan’s Karthik is cheating on her, or Karthik pursuing Shakthi even as she remains cool to his advances. However, we can forgive these flaws given the context and time period the film was made in.

But the aforecited issues aside, Alaipayuthey was a sincere romantic drama that saw director Mani Ratnam try his best to delve deep into a couple’s life post the proverbial ‘happily ever after.’ The filmmaker attempted to throw spotlight on the fact, that any relationship, even a romantic one, takes a lot out of you. That love alone sometimes may not be enough to sustain a marital bond over a long period of time. After the flirtations, the chase and the ‘secret’ marriage, Karthik and Shalini begin to quarrel. What start as minor everyday squabbles take a turn for worse after Shakthi’s father dies.

Madhavan-Shalini’s chemistry and the music by AR Rahman were the highlights of the movie. Madhavan, in his Tamil debut, and in one of his first major leading role as Karthik, lighted up the screen with his easy, boyish charm. Rahman’s score proved to be the perfect musical companion piece to Ratnam’s relationship drama; the music mirroring the mood of the characters at different times. The lyrics of “Sakiye” by now-controversial poet-lyricist Vairamuthu are especially delightful, changing in mood and tone as the characters donned varied-coloured outfits.

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A couple of years ago, as the movie turned 20, Madhavan had tweeted about the song “Kadhal Sadugudu” from the movie, stating that he had a tough time shooting the breezy track. “I still break into a sweat when I think of how I had to sing this song in reverse and give my expression in reverse to make the lip sync happen. That too in my FIRST film. Plus I have 16 left feet w.r.t Dancing (sic).” Well, true as it may be, you would be hard-pressed to find such errors upon viewing the video.

Now, so many years later, the film has achieved a cult status. However, lead actor Madhavan had reservations about going forward in his film career post Alaipayuthey’s wrap. In an earlier chat, quoted by Daily Times, speaking about the same, Madhavan had said, “I remember I told Mani Ratnam that after his film Alaipayuthey that I don’t think I will be acting because it was like ‘where do you go, what do you do, especially when you don’t have a background in the industry’. But every time I saw reviews, I realised this looks like a life-long profession.”

And it has been a long, fulfilling career for R Madhavan, who has been working consistently since then, juggling between several industries. The actor will soon be making his directorial debut with Rocketry: The Nambi Effect.

Alaipayuthey is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.


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