The name sticks in your throat. ‘Chennaivaasi’ feels like an idli Ravi the rebel son swallows at breakfast, watched by Appa, the dad in this family saga.
Tirumurti tells his story with verve. His Appa is a character out of a Sivaji Ganesan flick. There are vignettes of him walking bare-bodied in the morning dew, collecting flowers for the puja in the garden ordered by Ravi’s American partner, the Jewish Deborah; teaching her to fly kites and instructing Ravi on how to eat hot idlis so as to soothe the aesophagus.
He is representative of the old guard of Tam-Brahms—the Brahmin elite who ruled the roost in Tamil Nadu. With their strictures on purity, they are losing out as their children travel to the West, leaving the parents to wither away. In many ways it is a farewell song that Tirumurti sings to the Tam-Brahm way of life. It is done with the delicate warbling of a concert musician, as depicted by Amma to Deborah in her attempts to become a Chennai native. There is a subtext about survivors. Jews and Tam-Brahms are adept at adapting. Sivaji Ganesan warms to Deborah, drinking coffee to soothe the irritable aesophagus.