If they made T-shirts for down-on-their-luck villagers who inhabit a certain tract of Tamil cinema, this is what the slogan would read: “Life’s a bitch. Then you end up in Chennai.” Eleyadevan’s Gnanakirukkan begins with a harrowing scene of childbirth in a nondescript village, and then the father (Ganesan, played by Daniel Balaji), who appears possessed, uproots a trident from the local shrine and holds it over the infant. Given what’s to come, this is the happy-days flashback. For a while, we seem to be in a story about the travails of the mother (I thought it was Meenal, but it’s her sister Senthi). Her elder daughter runs away. Then she’s excommunicated by the village. Then the son Perumal – the infant from earlier, now grown up and played by Jega – runs away. And there’s the husband, who just lies there, doing nothing. What’s with him, we wonder. Is he really possessed, or is he just an eccentric?
But then, bizarrely, we begin to follow Perumal’s story, after he flees to Trichy. These scenes are actually promising. We see the young boy unflinching in the face of hardship, and there’s a genuine sense of triumph when he makes some sort of life for himself. But he cannot be allowed to remain happy for too long – otherwise there’d be no movie, at least this kind of movie. So he loses his job. He loses the girl he loves. He buys a one-way ticket to Hell Chennai, and there he finds a fellow-sufferer, Sumathi (Archana Kavi). (Thambi Ramaiah is also in there somewhere, because you cannot make a movie these days where Thambi Ramaiah isn’t there somewhere.) Thereon, it’s one thing after another – there’s an attack by drunks; there’s a gang-rape; there’s a lecherous old man; Sumathi almost ends up in a brothel; she falls ill; and then we discover that her mother, back in the village, is blind. At this point, back-to-back screenings of Mahanadhi and Naan Kadavul began to look like a pick-me-up. The director strives for the lyricism of Kadhal, but someone should tell him you can’t write poetry with a battering ram.
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