“Gouravam”… Caste away

Posted on April 20, 2013


How much you take to Radhamohan’s Gouravam may depend on your tolerance for earnestness, the kind often displayed by filmmakers who aim not merely to entertain but to leave the world – or at least, its Tamil-speaking terrains – a better place. In the very first scene, Arjun (Sirish) says he will remain in India and not go abroad because he wants to develop his local businesses and provide his countrymen with employment. (He also doesn’t want to miss out on his mother’s cooking and playing with his sister’s children.) Right there, I knew what I was in for. A refreshingly un-PC joke about airline stewardesses apart, the film is a relentless assembly line of expressed virtue. By the end, a victim of rape is offered the prospect of marriage. Chennai is extolled as a place where no one cares about caste. (Hasn’t anyone seen the To-let ads lately?) And the urban youth is presented as people with more on their minds than just their next meal of pizzas and burgers. At least on that last thought, Amen!

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It isn’t wrong for a film to showcase its earnestness so baldly. But when married to an exposition-heavy style, we feel trapped in a goo of good intentions. Take the early moment where Arjun, on the road in “some part of Tamil Nadu,” chances upon a signpost. He instructs his driver to stop. He gets down and examines the sign. He calls a college-mate and asks him if their friend Shanmugam, the one who’s dropped off the radar, wasn’t from the village named in the signpost. And after receiving this confirmation, he decides to go in and find out what happened to Shanmugam, thus alerting the audience to what he is going to do – all but issuing a statement of purpose to the camera – before he goes ahead and does it. What if Arjun had seen the sign, stopped, ordered his driver to turn around, and then, as he made his enquiries, we gradually woke to what he was after? Wouldn’t that preserve some of the mystery?

But keeping the audience in the dark isn’t probably a major consideration for a film that wants us to invest in the mystery of what happened to Shanmugam, when the pre-release reports have all been screaming that this is a story about honour killings. For a plot strewn with internecine caste rivalries, petrol-bomb attacks, a procedural-type investigative setup and a simmering Prakash Raj (he plays the village’s periyavar), Gouravam never really gets going. About the only thing I was thankful for was the absence of duets between Arjun and Yazhini (a miscast Yami Gautam), a lawyer he befriends in the village – though there is a let’s-rise-and-fight-for-the-right number, where everyone wears matching denim outfits. Between buying glasses for Shanmugam’s impoverished father (whom he begins to call appa) and making speeches against violence, Arjun is idealised as such a saint that it’s hard to care about anything he does. At least he isn’t wolfing down pizzas and burgers.

An edited version of this piece can be found here.

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Posted in: Cinema: Tamil