Bullet-point Report: Azhagarsamiyin Kuthirai

Posted on May 13, 2011


  • Like Vaanam – or heck, like any movie made on the planet, except those especially tailored towards (cough, cough) “overanalytical” art-house types – the aspect that will make you savour (or sigh about) Azhagarsamiyin Kuthirai is how much you are bothered by its compromises. Imagine an Iranian movie made mainstream with Tamil masala tropes – the insistence on “entertainment” above all else (even at the cost of mood), the repeated revelations of the hero-thambi‘s thangamaana manasu, the delivery of many a goddamned nalla karuthu (“superstition is silly,” “caste doesn’t matter”) – and you’ll probably know, in advance, how you’re going to react to this film.
  • As you’ve probably guessed by now, I didn’t react too well to it, though it’s far from a dismissible film. If a film is dismissible, it’s easier to laugh at it and turn around to talking about more useful things, like how Vettrimaaran seems to be the only one among the newer crop of directors who can tell a “Tamil” story – namely, a story with what industry insiders call “nativity” – and yet not get waylaid (too much) with Tamil-masala-cinema must-haves. (In his hands, a song sequence about love, choreographed around the hero’s lungi, becomes a slice of magic. Here, the song sequences are a chore.) And because Azhagarsamiyin Kuthirai is not easily dismissed, it becomes a little frustrating to watch – with each scene, you keep thinking about what it could have been.
  • This has got to be the first film ever whose credits, after the title, open with the Unavu Upacharippu people. The names of the actors come much later, at the end.
  • The “minor” character was hilarious – and far from a minor character. (He could be speaking for all of Tamil Nadu’s “mass” male moviegoers when tells a biggish woman he’s just slept with, “Chellam, edai korayaama paathukko, enna?”) The only things more hilarious were his magnificently eye-blinding shirts, each one a worse fashion offense than its predecessor.
  • And he would have been comedy enough. But then the priest is brought in. And another priest, a sarayam-loving “Malayala mandhiravaadhi.” And a clueless cop. And the film has descended into a full-out entertainer — which is never really a problem. The problem is that, after establishing a whodunit premise and a village full of likable eccentrics (like those British murder mysteries set in a countryside populated by colourful nuts), we’re asked to swallow an interval point – a “dramatic” interval point, again a must-have of masala cinema – where the barely introduced hero is beaten up and bloodied and dragged through the mud, with the ground-level camera registering his every wince of agony. I felt I’d suddenly been thrown into an entirely different movie.
  • I mentioned this in a Between Reviews earlier, but the CineMadurai clichés have become clichés in a way the clichés of other kinds of films haven’t. It’s all here – the beginning showcasing the thiruvizha, the aruvaa moment, the shy courtship of young lovers, and the use of old movies (a visit to a theatre screening Alaigal Oyvadhillai, that definitive “caste doesn’t matter” story) and old songs to place us in a period. (The average CineMadurai movie features Ilayaraja songs, but when Ilayaraja himself is the music director, I suppose you turn to MSV. I thought I heard Dr. Siva’s Malare kurinji malare and Thisai Maariya Paravaigal’s Kizhakku paravai merku parakkudhu.)
  • My favourite dialogue arrived when the starving hero looks at the kind lady serving him food and says, hesitantly, “Naan neraya saapduven,” and she replies, without batting an eyelid, “Thirumbi samachutta pochu.” These low-key humour scenes are lovely.
  • The solution to the whodunit, I felt, came far too suddenly. But it does bestow on the film an air of astonishment, that they made us think it was about who stole the horse and why, while it’s actually about everything else around it.
  • There are several nods to characters in the village who promise to be more interesting than the ones we spend time with. I’d have liked more of the little boy in school who takes his noonday meal home to feed his little brother, or the little girl who’s shipped off (rather, lorried off) to Tirupur to work in a banian company. There are hints of desperation in these characters – and in the hero – that (even with all the comedy) would have delivered on the film’s premise of the depths you will sink to when pushed to a pathetic corner. After all, that’s the pitch the solution to the whodunit is pivoted on.
  • Yes, I know that that story of desperation, while remaining true to the characters and the premise, would have been hard to pull off “commercially.” (And it would probably need to be made in Iran.) But that’s what I meant earlier when I said your response to this film will depend on how much you’re able to accept these compromises.
  • And yet, there’s a fable-like quality to some of the scenes that’s hard to resist and also hard not to be amazed by (that they even attempted something like this!) — like the discovery of the horse by magic moonlight, or the much-later moment when the horse begins to gallop through the village and vanquish the villains. It’s Aesop-meets-Aatukkara Alamelu. When was the last time you saw a Tamil film and thought that?

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