With Engeyum Eppodhum, Director A.R. Murugadoss has brought his considerable Midas touch to production as well, by spotting the talents of director M. Saravanan. The latter, in turn, has repaid the faith by delivering a truly unique motion picture. Like his producer, he also wraps up a meaningful message within familiar elements. But while Murugadoss has thus far chosen the masala route for his stories, Saravanan takes the romance/drama route and is completely successful in doing so. Engeyum Eppodhum is an emotionally resonant film that will leave an indelible mark on its viewers, one that will not be forgotten long after the credits have stopped rolling.

Unlike other directors who are content with populating their stories with walking caricatures and clichés so long as it serves a purpose, Saravanan’s strength lies in the depth he is able to provide to the characters in his story. In a time when it has become a seemingly difficult task to have fully developed central characters, he gives us not one but four of them, developed to varying degrees of course. Not stopping there, he also gives us a host of insignificant individuals who have as much, if not more, impact than the primary ones do. This lends an incredible sense of verisimilitude to the journey they all take and the consequences it ends up having. As a result, the central message, though in the background till the climax, also has considerably more impact than it would have had otherwise.

The journey EE concerns itself with is that of two buses – one from Chennai to Trichy and the other in the opposite direction. Apart from the usual hustle bustle of passengers, these buses are also carrying the protagonists for this story. Amudha (Ananya) visited Chennai in the hopes of rekindling her short-lived relationship with a stranger (Sarvan) who was kind enough to take her through the city on her first visit. Unable to find the person, she is on her way back to Trichy. Meanwhile, Kathiresan (Jai) and Manimegalai (Anjali) are on their way from Trichy to meet the former’s family in Arasur. Also on the same bus with them is the stranger Amudha was hoping to run into.

Understandably, the epicenter of the film is actually the two romance tracks and not the bus journey. Though both the romances are endearing in their own way, the Kathir/Manimegalai track is easily the stronger and fresher of the two. Kathir‘s naiveté makes for some really funny situations and the film milks these for much of its humor. Also, the manner in which Manimegalai goes about reciprocating Kathir’s love is easily one of the film’s strengths. This is a three-dimensional character and not what we are used to from women in our films.

On the other hand, the premise of Amudha’s romance – that a stranger in Chennai will take a day off from work to show a naïve, village girl the ropes around the big city – is not as easy to accept. But thanks to its charm, we are able to overlook it without much fuss. The situations they find themselves in on their one-day trip and the gradual development of trust between them as a result is beautifully depicted.

Anyone who has ever travelled by bus, or train for that matter, will be able to understand the minor relationships that end up forming on such journeys. The director skillfully brings these to life as well through some wonderful, down-to-earth dialogues. In a way, the director could’ve made two separate films with the two portions – a road movie with vivid, realistic characters and a romance with two heart-warming tracks. It is a testament to his ability that he is able to make both of them work together in the same film.

The key event which ties everything together is shown to us right in the beginning itself. Therefore, we know how the journey ends, but the suspense is in what happens to each individual character. And the director plays with our emotions in this regard. For example, first showing Manimegalai buying flowers for her hair, then showing the blood stained flowers, and right as we are letting that sink in, he shows numerous other characters buying the same flower. In this way, the director makes sure there is an overbearing sense of dread throughout the film but never in a way that feels overtly manipulative. We are genuinely interested in knowing the fates of each individual, not because the director wants it, but because we care for them and have lived on the journey with them.

Anjali has the best role in the film and puts in a brilliant shift. Ever since I saw her in Kattradhu Thamizh, I’ve always wondered why we don’t get to see her more often. She has a simple but pretty face, expressive eyes, and, most importantly, can speak the language. Watching the film, it feels like she has a lot of fun playing the domineering woman, but it is in the quieter romantic portions and the heavier dramatic portions towards the end that her talent really shines through. Jai is totally uninhibited as Kathiresan and serves as the perfect foil to Anjali. Ananya fits the role of Amudha to a T. This is the kind of role where it is easy to overdo the innocent expressions, but she makes sure the character never gets on our nerves. Sarva doesn’t really have much to do except look gruff most of the time.

Debutant music director Sathya’s contribution should not be overlooked. Chotta Chotta… and Un Perae Theriyadhu… serve as the perfect backdrop for both the romances with the former especially proving to be a great melody. Govindha… and Maasamaa… are fun-filled tracks though the latter’s picturization did remind me of Yathe Yathe… from Aadukalam. The key event itself has been wonderfully choreographed. Through brilliant usage of special effects and slow-mo shots, the director and his team are able to bring the carnage to life right before our eyes.

Engeyum Eppodhum is a film against which very few complaints can be leveled. While certain portions towards the end seem overly dramatic, it can be argued that they are necessary for the message the director is trying to convey to work. The message itself has been subtly delivered as the director lets his visuals do the talking instead of spelling it out and shoving it down our throats. By the time the credits stopped rolling, I was left emotionally drained because of how much I had invested myself into the film. Engeyum Eppodhum is guaranteed to find itself a place amongst the top of my personal year-end list when the time comes.