The trailer for PS Ramnath’s Thirunaal made me expect yet another “rowdy movie,” and the film is that – but it’s also a little more. This time, the rowdy doesn’t even have a name. He’s known by his implement of choice, a razor blade that he snaps in half and tucks into his tongue, the way Rajinikanth once stashed away cigarettes. Blade (Jiiva) has a cool trick. In action scenes, he snaps the blade into smaller pieces and spits them out at attackers. And yet, his intro-shot tells us something. He’s not fighting. He’s not singing and dancing. He’s found sleeping in a van, in a scene that focuses on the other passengers. The character is written in a lower key than the usual rowdies who usually strut across our screens. Blade is an orphan, and he’s more like a kid who just needs a home. First, he finds that sense of belonging with Naga (Sharath Lohitashwa, who’d make a magnificent asura if we still made mythologicals), the gangster who lords over the Thanjavur-Kumbakonam area. Then, when he falls in love, Blade finds he’d rather be with Vidya (Nayantara).
To no one’s surprise, she softens him – or given his nick, maybe we should say she blunts his edges. She gives him a name, Ganesh. She gives him a birthday, hers. In return, he gives her a lovely song (Srikanth Deva’s Pazhaya soru). There is nothing here that we haven’t seen earlier, but the director has a way of surprising us with little touches. Vidya’s father (Joe Malloori) is imbued with a quiet dignity. He never raises his voice – not when Naga (his business partner) cheats him of his share, not even when he catches the soon-to-be-engaged-to-someone-else Vidya with Blade. Naga, too, has his reasons for not wanting Blade and Vidya together. If they get married, then Blade becomes a business rival. These motivations may not be major, but they’re something – proof that some attempt has been made to get into the heads of these characters. And bonus points to anyone who casts the sadly underused Marimuthu. The role is unworthy (another corrupt cop!), but the effortless bits of “business” he infuses his performance with show what a rare, naturalistic talent he is when compared to the horribly stagy (or TV-serialy) supporting actors that populate so much of Tamil cinema.
Ramnath’s staging is alert, alive to local colour – it made me want to catch up on this director’s first film, Ambasamudram Ambani, which I missed during its theatrical run. The romance, too, is treated fairly well, resisting the temptation to make every scene a highlight, and even the item number is contextualised, springing out of a conversation. An aside: How marvellously earthy these song-dance sequences seem in Tamil cinema, with dancers seemingly plucked out of the streets and with buxom women who move with abandon, without a care that a Katrina or a Deepika would fit into one of their fat rolls. In contrast, the dancers in Hindi cinema are so tiresomely uniform, so plastic, as though picked up from the assembly line in Shiamak Davar’s dance studio.
The biggest problem in Thirunaal is that it does not chart Blade’s transformation from animal to human being. In an early scene, Blade forces a man to sell his house at a lower price by using the latter’s daughter as a bargaining chip. The daughter is a cop. She’s on duty. Blade kidnaps her, strips her (this isn’t shown, but a line of dialogue later leaves us in little doubt about what he did), and sends her uniform to her father as a threat. The poor man does what’s needed to free her, and when she’s let go, this female cop can do nothing but seethe silently. After Vidya comes into Blade’s life, I expected this incident to come up again. Maybe he’d apologise. Maybe he’d regret – or at least think about – what he did. But nothing. However, when others abduct Vidya, Blade yells, “Yaaruda ponnu thookinadhu?” and fights them off. Why these double standards? Love is transformative, no doubt, but can someone truly transform without acknowledging the sins of his past?
- thirunaal = special day, especially a festival
- asura = demon
- Ambasamudram Ambani = see here
- “Yaaruda ponnu thookinadhu?” = Who kidnapped the girl?
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