Tamil Reviews

Isai Review: Music Made Tough

If there’s something that Isai does brilliantly, it is showcasing of two distinct brands of cinema. In parallel. One, the achingly familiar SJ Suryah style  – all juvenile double entendres and adolescent sexual innuendos, and the other – a classic Sathyaraj act – so unique that it holds its own and doesn’t quite bend to the former.

Sathyaraj gets better with age. With each passing year. It’s quite apparent in Isai. The SJ Suryah directorial could have effortlessly pulled him down to perilous depths, but Sathyaraj remains unscathed. Not just that, he emerges victorious as the envious composer who is villainous and humorous by turns.


That perhaps, is the only thing that sustains Isai. Sathyaraj and his unique brand of cinema. There’s exaggeration of course, but between over-the-top sexual overtures and amplified villainy, the latter is more comely any day. But, here’s a grudging admission – SJ Suryah, when he isn’t trying to be woefully erotic – does come up with commendable moments. For instance, a few minutes into Isai, Isai Vendhan Vetriselvan (Sathyaraj) – a famous music composer – watches a performance by his rival and former disciple – the youthful AK Shiva. While he fumes at the television, his domestic aide thunders up the steps. Vetriselvan – now rendered envious and insecure – turns on the aide. That’s the sound of defiance, he tells the flabbergasted help, and bids him to trudge up the stairs again. This time, more pleasantly.

But these subtle undercurrents of rivalry and jealousy are seldom seen, instead Suryah turns Vetriselvan into something inherently evil. He is strangely reminiscent of Padayappa’s Neelambari – (very strangely) – closeting himself in his bungalow, watching repeat broadcasts of his rival’s performances, and hatching wicked schemes by the second. To close the deal, he even sends his own family after Shiva to ensure his downfall.

And, it’s Padayappa all over again, with the consolation of Sathyaraj’s sparkling wit.

Except, he is no jilted lover.


SJ Suryah doesn’t want to grow up. He hasn’t grown out of his penchant for women’s waists (circa Khushi), nor out of his desire to be mothered.

Which again, isn’t New.

In Isai – a premise that offered a lot of scope – he devotes himself to making the locations more picturesque than the tale.


And, those navels.

AK Shiva is a wild genius, he tries to tell us. A wild musical genius who finds rhythm even in the mundane. He matches his notes to the totter of a (naked) toddler – with a few questionable close-up shots – and is as temperamental as only an artiste can be.

He also needs a wife (to soothe him to sleep).

Someone motherly, and all fresh innocence.

Remember this awful song?



Isai – as an SJ Suryah tale, and for a movie that supposedly documents the rivalry between AR Rahman and Ilaiyaraaja – has cloyingly sweet moments. Especially when it concerns its victim. There’s no fight in him. And this is possibly where Kaaviya Thalaivan – which also dealt with professional rivalry – offers some good lessons. No abject victimization, no exaggerated display of navels, and no wanton maids.

Just two protagonists painted in varying shades of grey.


The Isai Review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have an advertising relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.