Bullet-point Report: Aadukalam

Posted on January 29, 2011

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  • If movies were mathematical equations, Aadukalam = Polladhavan + Othello. The MacGuffin of the stolen bike is replaced with stolen money – but Aadukalam is as much about this missing money as Polladhavan was about that missing bike, which is to say that there are far more important concerns, like the loss of innocence of the protagonist, thanks to a frustrated Iago-equivalent prone to pouring poison into the ears of those around him, those who trust him.
  • And that’s why the cockfights are a mere gimmick, and they could have been replaced by, oh, snakeboat races in Kerala. The important thing isn’t the sight of two enraged birds attempting to peck and claw each other out but the stakes in this game between the real competitors, the men.
  • Badly done graphics, yes. But have you heard Bob Dylan’s Cry A While, with that line that goes, “Feel like a fighting rooster, feel better than I ever felt?” Even with these badly done graphics, there’s a sense of that balls-out masculinity, of letting your cock do the talkin’.
  • That said, let’s attempt to ignore that silly action scene of two men going at each other like enraged roosters. How literal can we get? Seriously!
  • For a while, there’s the feeling of watching yet another CineMadurai outing (the wastrel with the nagging mother, the shy-glances love affair, so on, so forth). And then the cockfights begin (is that the Roots reference?), and the film finds its voice, its own authentic voice. Thank you, Mr. Director, for generating your crisis not through feuding villages or warring clansmen, but instead through psychological motivations – even if these motivations are painted in the broadest of brushstrokes.
  • But one question. Why begin, once again, with those spliced-in flashforwards? What do they do, exactly, but throw your audience off-kilter for no apparent reason? It would be a different matter if this were some sort of sustained creative strategy – but it isn’t, right?
  • But Aadukalam is certainly a massive improvement over Polladhavan, if only because there aren’t cutaways to song sequences that diminish and destroy ambience and mood and narrative continuity. Even the heroine is better woven into the weave.
  • But the younger wife of the older cockfighter is a far more arresting character. The Anglo-Indian heroine is as wan as her complexion, and her love story carries no weight whatsoever. Did anyone really buy that matching-matching bit of bloodletting from the lovers?
  • Perhaps the most audacious trick this story pulls off is its switching of villains midway. First, it appears to be the inspector, but he’s merely that catalyst that spurs on and unleashes the main antagonist.
  • Best narrative stretch? I’d pick that exquisitely elliptical moment that involves a bit of cycling, a bit of waiting, and a shock cut to the police station.
  • Dhanush is growing on me, but his best film, I feel, is still Pudhupettai. My respect for him multiplied a hundredfold after seeing the stunning climax. What a beautiful ending – so unheroic, yet so affecting, so true, so reflective of the ordinariness of the lives of the people on screen.

Copyright ©2011 Baradwaj Rangan, The New Sunday Express. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.