After making his terrorist tri-series , Mani Ratnam returned to romance in Alaipayuthey in 2000. Just like Mouna Ragam made the possibility of divorce in an arranged marriage an emotional probability rather than a statistical one, Alaipayuthey took the next step to signal the generational change that love marriages are inevitable.
Anecdotally, in the 2000s even in my own traditional Iyer community , practically every girl in my family was not having an arranged marriage. Orkut combined with Café Coffee Day created a robust environment for non arranged marriages to flourish. Madhavan as the new smart hero of Tamil cinema corrupted their minds further.
To dissect Alaipayuthey and what it represented, you need to understand the character of Shalini. A middle class Railway colony girl studying hard as a medical student, she represented the hard working ethic to its last e. In a country that essentially created the happy family template as a govt job father, a mother who might stitch clothes as an additional income and the boy who becomes engineer and the girl who studies medicine or CA( assuming sufficient academic diligence for both), Shalini was the girl driving the aspirations of the family. Ideally speaking she should not fall in love and waste time in a trivial pursuit like that while studies are on.
Before Michelle Obama gave this speech as a generational anticlimax, http://www.theroot.com/blogs/the_grapevine/2015/09/michelle_obama_s_advice_to_girls_there_is_no_boy_cute_enough_or_interesting.html
years of value based indoctrination in India had made every girl growing up in a middleclass household realize that ‘falling in love’ was included in the same taboo list as smoking, drinking and not roaming outside after 9 pm.
Again Mani Ratnam masterfully shows this aspect of Indian upbringing in a scene that is so happenstance and natural . Karthik ( Gleeful Madhavan in an effervescent and clutter breaking debut ) pursues Shakti (Shalini ) , He says " I think I am beginning to like you and something may happen" while meeting her in the train and getting to know her name and college. Some 'sight seeing' ensues. When he comes to her college " she asks him point black ‘ Karthik are you last in class, are you a rich kid with a lot of time on hands and hence that explains your behavior of running around girls’.
So it was clear, hard working kids don’t fall in love and waste time, they have goals to achieve and love can be a distraction. This applied to boys also, although boys depending on their free time, pocket money and will power , could choose to pursue. Again Karthik is shown as a rich guys son, has a few perks and a security net even if he doesn’t study well. Love marriage was possible for even normal kids. It was true love, and u nothing sexual about it ( if you watch Alaipayuthey, a furious karthik throws a basketball at a friend who taunts his love as mere lust)
A transforming country found its artistic voice. The man who has never let them down as we will see in 2 more scenes from his movies , how he captures generational changes - Yuva in 2004 where he introduces another probability ‘is lust / sexual desire just an emotion’ and OK Kanmani ‘ where he gives the liberty to have live-ins also to the new generation ( 2015).