Here, I try to talk about my interpretation of this scene in Thalapathi where the brilliance of it mesmerises me every time I watch it. Apart from the adrenaline rush Rajini gives us with his charisma and the to-go dialogue that every single person who has watched this film has used at least once in his life whenever he is being threatened by someone, this scene contains a lot more to look out for. This just a result of boredom and inspiration from various video essay channels out there in YouTube.
The scene starts off with Arjun (Arvind Swamy) stating out the facts about Devaraj (Mammooty) and Surya (Rajini). It becomes evident quite early in the scene that they both are here to just have a rational argument. Nobody is expecting anything chaotic to happen. But everyone is unsure of what is about to happen as well. The camera keeps flowing around them. It never stops, just like their thoughts and emotions. We don’t see both parties in the same frame yet. They both are in their own worlds, trying to lure the other person into their world. They try as hard as possible. According to their own definition of rationality and morality. Right and wrong.
“Ungalukkunu oru thani sattam. Thani nyayam.”
“Uthavi panrathukku thane court irukku, police irukku.”
“Ungalala mudiyathu ndrathunala thane sir enga kitta varanga”
Now Surya has realised that moral argument won’t work anymore. He decides to take it a little personal. Now is where Ilayaraja decides to enter into the scene. To tell us that there is some emotion involved now that it is time for us to feel something. But the camera still hasn’t stopped moving.
“Neenga eppovavathu ezhaiya irunthirukkingala? Patniya irunthirukkingala?”
“Avangalukku vendiyathu nyayam. Enga kadaikkutho anga povanga.”
Arjun is still talking about the right and wrong. It takes time for him to take attack personally in this argument. He is strong and not as vulnerable as others. But they are still exchanging questions and the ball is still in the center of the field. Nobody has made anyone doubt their thoughts yet. And they still are trying to understand each others reason for what they do and why they do it.
“Nadu road la pottu adikkarthu than nyayama?”
“Pinna police station la pottu katti lattiyala adikkarthu than nyayama?”
Arjun decides to take a stand now. He points them to shut up and doesn’t want to argue anymore. The first time someone is dominating here. So we cut to see everyone in a single frame. For a second they both align to the same thoughts. For a second we think that Arjun has won this scene. But the camera is still at the same level as the performers. Arjun wants to dominate but Devaraj and Surya haven’t given up yet.
“Ethu nyayam ethu nyayam illa nu mudivu seyya than sattam nu onnu irukku. Atha seyal padutha naanga lam irukkom.”
Now we cut to Rajini’s close-up. He is not submitting but still doesn’t try to take over yet. He is still trying to reason with them.
“Neenga ethu senjalum seri. Naanga senja thappu.”
But Arjun is still commanding. He is fed up of arguments. He just blatantly tells them that they are wrong. This makes Surya very mad. He lays out the reason why he hates the system and why he thinks what they do is only correct.
“Collectarunga uthavi seyyalam. Athe mathavanga seyya koodathu. Yenna athigaram. Unga kitta athigaram irukku. Illa sir?”
“Ungalala seyya mudiyathungra uthaviya engalala seyya mudiyum nu avanga nambaranga.”
This made Arjun rethink his thoughts. He has lost his temporary command. He is not the leader anymore. So we go back to his close-up. But now he takes it personal. He has had enough of it.
“Unga kathalukku intha oor jananga bayapduvanga. Naan bayapda matten”
Things are starting to get bad and Ilayaraja conveys it brilliantly with his commanding trumpet. Arjun is deparately trying to take command back again but he is failing. We are not sure who is going to win this scene yet. The camera is shuffling between everyone’s close-up. Still moving around.
Both have reached their threshold. They have judged each other and concluded that there is no point trying to make sense to the other person now. Both are not ready to change their moralities and have also understood that the other person is not going to change it. Their thoughts are finally clear. The camera finally stops moving. Now they are just stating out their judgements on each other.
“Ungalukku engala pudikkala illa. Neenga periya edathu pulla.”
“Aama pudikkathu. Athuvum unna mathiri rowdy thanam panravangala enakku suthama pudikkathu.”
Now Ilayaraja prepares us for the final showdown with is intense background score. We go back to Rajini’s close-up.
“Ithu Surya sir. Urasathinga.”
Rajini’s final try to convince Arjun. Morality, sentiments, judgement have all failed. He has given up to mild threatening. His mind doesn’t work properly. He is about to burst out. The commisioner gives the final push for him to lose it altogether. The words Adi rascal were exactly what Surya needed to take the leap.
He takes over the scene completely. Nobody matters anymore. He is commanding everyone in the room. His Thodra Pakkalam tells us that nothing stops him. Not the collector in the room, not the commissioner in the room, no one. We go back to everyone in the frame now. It now becomes quite evident that Arjun doesn’t have a choice but to submit now. Sundaram and Arjun are still sitting but Surya, Devaraj and Panthulu are stading up. They are the ones in control now, thanks to Surya.
This gives the perfect opportunity for Devaraj to take over. He was calm up until they offended Surya. He condescendingly leans on to the table asking Arjun what he wants. That is his power move. He wants Arjun to be afraid of him. He wants him to know that he can’t stop him. He has given Arjun the answer to the question that he is about to ask already.
“Ungalukku ippo enna venum? Naanga enna seyyanum?” asks Devaraj. Just waiting to deny whatever Arjun asks him to do.
Close-up to Arjun. He doesn’t have anything now. He has lost the argument and the scene. He looks up to Devaraj and asks him to do something that he knows that is going to be denied.
“Niruthanum. Ellathayum niruthanum”
“Mudiyathu”, says the guy in control, drops the mic and exits the scene. There is nothing to talk anymore. Everything he wanted to convey has been conveyed already. He doesn’t want to hear anything anymore. He has had enough of it. He gets the commanding trumpets now. And thus Mani Ratnam, Santhosh Sivan and Ilayaraja create the pinnacle of a scene and set a standard that would take lot of effort for anyone else to reach any time soon.