Between Reviews: Mass Attacks!

Posted on February 27, 2010

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Picture courtesy: songstamilmp3.com

Picture courtesy: songstamilmp3.com

MASS ATTACKS!

It isn’t just the smaller Tamil films that are pushing the envelope – the big-hero movies are thinking out of the box too, even if the results aren’t exactly pretty.

FEB 28, 2010 – IN THE MIDST OF LARGER-THAN-LIFE HEROES who make the same movie over and over, under the supposition that this is exactly the sort of unpretentious entertainer their loyal audience demands after a day of spine-splintering toil, Sharath Kumar is a curious exception. In films like Pachaikili Muthucharam and the recent Jaggubhai, you can sense his biceps bulging from the strain of snapping the action-hero straitjacket. In the latter, adapted from the French-Japanese Wasabi, he plays a cop in an existential funk. The love of his life walked out on him a couple of decades ago, and he’s yet to move on – and then he discovers a daughter he never knew he had. Had the director KS Ravikumar done nothing more than follow the original scene for scene, and merely appended song sequences and comedy routines, we would have had a gripping thriller with stunt sequences to satisfy the casual viewer as well as world-weary drama to whet the appetite of the audience hungry for more.

Unfortunately, the film is so indifferently slapped together – as if this much craft were enough for the B- and C-centre sap who queues up for these movies – that the result is risible. Would you believe Goundamani as both the lead guitarist of a rock band as well as a senior police officer in Australia? (It’s Vijayakumar, however, who facilitates the standout comic moment, as he screams, “Life is short. No need to make it sweet. At least try to reduce the heat.”) And can you imagine a movie in the current day resorting to a dramatic moment where a newly wedded wife renounces her husband by yanking off the thaali? (And here we thought these sentiments had been banished to the television mega-serial!) Plus, there is the expected chest-thumping – white men routinely insult Indians who put their oppressors in place, foreign culture is routinely denigrated as wanton (and wanting when compared to the glories of our way of life). The novelty in the plot notwithstanding, everything in Jaggubhai is been-there-done-that. Even the pick of the soundtrack is a desperate whitewash of a golden oldie – a remix of Anbulla maan vizhiye.

Saran’s Aasal, again, is built on a refreshingly offbeat plot for a mass-hero entertainer – part Vengeance Valley (the glancingly noirish Burt Lancaster Western about a rancher taking in an orphan) and part King Lear (with sons instead of daughters, with only one loyal amongst the three). The problem, though, is that noir, by nature, is human-sized, centered around the foibles of the desperate and the damned, while masala, by nature, is mythic, with little room for shades of grey – the conflation of the two isn’t very pretty. The noirish circumstance of the hero committing fratricide is sensational news in a mainstream-movie context, but it’s disturbing in a masala environment, where we’re more used to the hero setting the errant sibling on the right path (as in Padikkadhavan or Dharmadurai). What saves the film somewhat is the silkiness of its style, which makes the goings-on watchable if nothing more – or to borrow a cue from Ajith’s perennial prop, it’s close, but no cigar.

Vijay’s Vettaikaaran, meanwhile, doesn’t even pretend to push the envelope – no jabs at noir, no glances at exotic foreign-language thrillers, just old-fashioned good in combat with old-fashioned evil (to the accompaniment of whoosh effects on the soundtrack that make you imagine you’re trapped in a tornado). The hero-as-vigilante is an eternal staple of the masala movie, and here, the title literally worships the protagonist as a hunter of societal scum. The happenings are so hoary, so reminiscent of the eighties, it comes as no surprise that the song that plays in the background as the hero reflects on his love for the heroine is Ilayaraja’s ravishing Kaadhalin deepam ondru (as opposed to something contemporaneous like Kangal irandaal). And of course, the hero’s immaculate heart harks back even earlier – you can sense the spirit of an all-time mass-hero in the declaration that the true government servant isn’t the fattened clerk with a rubber stamp but the emaciated drain-cleaner in his loin cloth.

And yet, there’s a modicum of fun to be had. At first, it appeared that Vettaikaaran was better than expected simply because the recent bar for Vijay starrers has been set so low, by the abysmal likes of Kuruvi and Azhagiya Thamizh Magan. But it’s a little more than that, due to a robust David to cheer for and a refreshingly life-sized Goliath to hiss at. Let’s not get into whether this is good cinema (if we begin evaluating the worth of masala movies against the gold-standard wit and elegance of Aboorva Sagotharargal, we might never watch one again in our lives) – reasonable entertainment, at times, is enough. Besides, even amidst the old-fashioned occurrences, there’s a freshly minted sense of chivalry in the scene where a husband calmly accepts his wife back after she’s been forced into sexual submission by the villain. This isn’t a major event – it plays practically off-screen – but it’s heartening that the issue of chastity/karpu is never brought up. It appears that Vettaikaaran, without labouring to push the envelope, does manage, in its own small way, to nudge the masala movie into the modern day.

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