A movie review by Balaji Balasubramaniam

Cast: Prabhu, Kushboo, Manorama, Radharavi, Sulakshana
Music: Ilaiyaraja
Direction: P.Vasu

While P.Vasu had directed a few hit movies before, it was the success of Chinna Thambi that made his name famous. And the success was no small one. Chinna Thambi obliterated the box-office records set in 1989 by Karagaattakkaaran to become the highest grosser in tamil cinema. Naturally, several of the artistes associated with the film benefitted from its success. While Vasu and Prabhu definitely gained, it was Kushboo who undoubtedly reaped the biggest rewards. The movie catapulted her to the frontline among Tamil cinema actresses and she ruled Tamil cinema as the leading actress for quite some time.

Chinnathambi(Prabhu) is the village simpleton, gifted with a good voice and musical talent. He is the only man allowed into the bungalow of Nandhini(Kushboo), the richest and prettiest girl in the village. Nandhini is the apple of her three brothers' eyes and is being guarded religiously by them ever since they heard from an astrologer that she would marry a man against their wishes. But Nandhini falls in love with Chinnathambi and asks him to marry her without her brothers' knowledge. And Chinnathambi, not realising the full meaning of his act, ties the 'thaali' around her neck.

Chinna Thambi is an example of a movie that has aged. As I watched it, I struggled to identify the factors that could have contributed to its record-breaking success at the box-office when it was released in 1991 and had to finally attibute the success to a combination of factors like luck, timing and viewer tastes at that time. The movie's basic theme of a girl marrying a simpleton for no valid reason, the overblown 'mother' sentiments and other antiquated notions are even more difficult to accept now than when the movie was released. Ilaiyaraja's music and Koundamani's comedy are the only two aspects of the movie that seem to work now.

At the heart of the movie are a couple of scenarios which are difficult to digest. I couldn't get past the fact that Kushboo wishes to wed Prabhu even after knowing that he is a man who doesn't understand the concept of marriage or 'thaali'. While her concern about marrying a rich man who doesn't love her is understandable, that doesn't automatically validate her falling in love with the village idiot. And while it is relatively easy to accept Prabhu as a simpleton whose singing can put crying babies to sleep, it requires more suspension of disbelief to accept that he does not know that tying the 'thaali' indicates marriage. The only consolation is that Vasu defers from introducing any romantic duets between Prabhu and Kushboo.

Over the years, P.Vasu and sentiments involving a mother and her son have become synonymous with each other and the strong affection Manorama and Prabhu have for each other is one of the lifelines of this movie too. While that by itself is acceptable, Vasu also introduced the concept of torturing the mother in a weird way. Here Radharavi plans to dress up the widowed Manorama and have the village idiot(this is a real idiot in that he cannot sing and acts crazy but knows what marriage is!) wed her. The whole sequence is tasteless though the way Prabhu's entrance takes away some of the signs of the impending wedding from Manorama, is well-done.

Koundamani cracks us up as the man with night blindness. His excuses to get out of doing anything after six o'clock in the evening and his plight when he gets pulled into doing some of those things are very funny. Koundamani has had some of his most memorable roles in P.Vasu's movies and his comedy track here certainly ranks among his funniest.

Prabhu fits the role of the simpleton and the expressions on his chubby face are cute. Kushboo hit the big time with her role here. She looks pretty and also gets the chance to emote towards the end. Her performance won her the State award for best actress for the year. Manorama and Radharavi go through the motions in standard roles of the affectionate mother and stern brother. Ilaiyaraja's songs are melodious and suit the rural atmosphere of the movie. Swarnalatha gained recognition with Povoma Oorgolam.... Thooliyile... and Kuyila Pudichu... are the melodious songs while Aracha Sandhanam... and Uchan Thalai... have faster beats and are more fun.