Why do the men in these rural dramas bother with veshtis? This isn’t something we wondered about in the Bharathiraja movies, which narrated stories set in the deep south but were primarily about the characters, not the capital-H hero. Watching these films was like being taken on a thrilling anthropological tour, with the director as tour guide, introducing us to a way of talking, a way of doing things, a way of living. But these newer films – like M Muthaiah’s Komban – have no real use for their rural settings, which end up as mere scenery. Transpose these “narratives” to the city and there’d be no difference – except, we wouldn’t see so much underwear. The goons who end up flying into orbit, courtesy the hero’s punches, do so with their legs splayed, and with their veshtis hoicked up we seem to be looking at endless product placement for the kind of underwear we might call “rustic Bermudas.” So, again: Why bother with veshtis?
That, of course, wasn’t the question surrounding Komban until a few hours ago, when we were wondering what all the fuss was about. Even if you are for free speech, you could at least see where the Vishwaroopam controversy was coming from. A Muslim protagonist, a terrorism-oriented plot – it was incendiary stuff. Even the recently released Thilagar, which no one bothered with, could have become the target of those who say they fear caste-based violence, for the film openly exhorted the “Thevar” way. But what could have caused the apprehensions about Komban? The casual lines referring to “unga ooru kaaranga” and “saadhi vandha sandai varum”? The plot revolving around blood-spattered politics in three jillas named Vellanadu, Arasanadu and Semmanadu? The fact that the eponymous hero (Karthi) is a hothead, who misses no opportunity to get into fights?
Take the controversy away and there’s very little here – rather, the fact that a controversy was created around something this underwhelming, this undeserving is worth a controversy of its own. The story is about Komban’s prickly relationship with his father-in-law Muthaiah (an earnest Rajkiran) – Lakshmi Menon plays Komban’s wife; it’s a role that redefines the word “thankless” – and had the film concentrated on these emotional beats, we may have had something. But these portions are uninspired. Nothing is developed, shaped – everything is presented in the most obvious manner. There’s a nice stretch where Komban admits he’s made a mistake – it’s the kind of pride-swallowing thing that must have been hell for him. But instead of milking these situations, the film keeps cutting to utterly generic (and unmemorable) villains. Their names don’t matter. What they do doesn’t matter. They’re just there to give Komban excuses to flex his muscles and send more goons in bunched-up veshtis into orbit, reducing them to the deep-south version of lingerie models, the dust-caked streets their catwalk. Here’s a suggestion for a brand name: Veecharuvaa’s Secret.
- veshti = see here
- Vishwaroopam controversy = see here
- unga ooru kaaranga = people from your village
- saadhi vandha sandai varum = where there’s caste/religion, there’s war
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