The title of Suseenthiran’s new film, Maaveeran Kittu, suggests a look at the life and times of the LTTE militant Sathasivam Krishnakumar, who was called Kittu. (This film’s protagonist, played by Vishnu Vishal, is even named Krishnakumar.) And while the broad beats of Suseenthiran’s story are similar – an arrest, a mysterious disappearance – this Kittu is a Dalit graduate who wages a quiet war against caste discrimination in a village in Madurai. He isn’t even much of a “maaveeran,” at least not the way we know from our cinema. When confronted by an upper-caste elder for “touching” an upper-caste girl (Kittu was just taking her to the hospital), he apologises meekly. He fails in his attempt to teach an upper-caste cop (Selvaraj, snarled by Harish Uthaman) a lesson. He isn’t even much of a protagonist. He’s more a pawn. There’s a fascinating film to be made about this Kittu’s life and times, but Maaveeran Kittu isn’t it.
Viewed from a social angle, any film that talks about the evils of caste and the efforts to bring about equalisation is automatically important. But viewed from a cinematic angle – after all, that is the chosen medium – an important subject isn’t enough. The filmmaker needs to be less of a social activist, more of a storyteller – a compelling one. Suseenthiran’s only concession to narrative excitement is the little twist that changes our perception of an event. Otherwise, this is a dull drama, shockingly reliant on dialogue to move the plot along as well as make its big points (most of them from Parthiban’s character, a kind of message-dispensing machine). The film begins with a voiceover that lays out the situation in the village, and people keep talking. And talking. The low point is when the Dalits get themselves their own bus, and a little girl exclaims, “Hai! Pudhu bus! Inime nadakka thevayilla.”
There are many narrative threads, but no strong centre around which they cohere. There’s the love story between Kittu and upper-caste Gomathi (Sridivya, who seems to speak without moving her lips). Suseenthiran shows us what happens to another inter-caste couple, and those events could have cast a shadow over this romance. There’s the conflict between Kittu and Selvaraj. There’s the activist (Parthiban) who fights for the rights of his people. Then there’s Kittu himself, who’s first seen bathing a buffalo. He dreams of becoming a collector, but destiny leads him elsewhere. The film – set, for no apparent reason, in the 1980s – keeps shifting focus. We stop caring.
Characters come and go. Like Soori. You want to ask him what he is doing in the film, but he probably doesn’t know either. Major plot points – where is Kittu? will Gomathi betray him? what will Kittu do at the end? – are treated with such disregard for suspense and drama that you wonder if the film was made from a screenplay or an essay. Imman’s background score tries to compensate, but it’s too much. Everything is generic – the duets, the situations, the characters. There are no shades. Everyone’s defined by a single, simple adjective. Selvaraj is evil. The Parthiban character is good. Kittu is earnest. Suseenthiran is uninvolved. The audience is too.
- maaveeran = brave man; warrior
- “Hai! Pudhu bus! Inime nadakka thevayilla.” = Wow. A new bus. Now we don’t have to walk anymore.
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