Readers Write In #298: Soorarai Pottru viewed through the lens of VIP

Posted on November 14, 2020

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(by Amit)

It had been a really long time since I had seen a Surya film. I was excited for SP. Sudha Kongara had mightily impressed everyone with Irudhi Suttru. This was also supposed to be Surya’s big comeback which it very well might still be.

When I was watching Soorarai Pottru, I was often reminded of another film – Velai Illa Pattadhari – A film that was supposed to be a big comeback for another actor – Dhanush.

The films are eerily similar. Let me.

In Maara, and Raghuvaran, we both have individuals who wanted to succeed but couldn’t because of the society trying to bring them down.

Both of them have father issues and loving mothers. This is where SP falters. This is where VIP shone. Most of why it doesn’t work is because we don’t get to know them all too well.

Both SP and VIP has the scene where the disgruntled son has an outburst towards his dismissive father. In VIP, that scene was among those that warranted your attention, and it held it beautifully once it got it. It worked because we saw Raghuvaran’s anger being pent up. A slow build up and an explosion is always cathartic. In cinema, and elsewhere.

But in SP, it’s just noise. The major part of why it doesn’t work is there’s too little time invested in getting to know that Maara. A series of montages as a flashback quickly sped through is not going to make us care enough for the outburst.

Both Maara and Raghuvaran lose their parent. Both Maara and Raghuvaran are late to visit their dying parents.

In SP, the build up to the mourning is beautifully set up. Surya sells us the agony he is in when he cannot pay up for the airline ticket to visit his.

But the actual mourning. Now that felt too long, too theatrical. Contrast that with the silence of Raghuvaran. Raghuvaran’s silence spoke much louder than all the wailing of Maara. Again this is because the father-son relationship was simply non-existent in SP.

We feel for Raghuvaran’s plight more (at least I did) even when his childishness was the cause of his mother’s death. Maara was misunderstood of not loving his father due to short and unstable telephonic calls, and he clearly wasn’t the reason his father died so you’d expect Maara’s plight would tug at one’s heart even deeper but since there was no on-screen portrayal of their relationship, it simply wasn’t enough.

Both SP and VIP has the scenes where the crowd pitches in. In VIP, that was a whistle worthy moment. In SP, that was a scene that played out normally. There was no punch. It came out of nowhere and disappeared where it came from.

On the other hand, the scene where Karunas hands over his life-savings is executed well. I only wished the crowdsourcing scene had the same impact.

Both SP and VIP has a social message spouted as a piece of dialogue during the proceedings. Raghuvaran rants about the education and it kind of blends in. The socialite/socialist seemed forced in.

In both VIP and SP, there’s a scene where the protagonists reach out to the people in large. Raghuvaran uses social media. Maara uses AIR.

The similarities don’t end there. Even the villains of SP and VIP are similar. One villain is hell bent on unleashing the dark force while someone close to them reminds them that maybe, maybe… don’t go all in. In SP, it is Paresh’s brother. In VIP, it was the villain’s father.

All this is not to say the film was bad. It was anything but bad. It was good for most parts. But it had it in it to become great. The production values are top notch. The visuals are good.

I don’t know what’s with current generation directors’ tryst with non-linear filmmaking is. The technique is not in question, it’s handled pretty well. But the usage is.

Just when we are trying to soak in, the film carries us over and drops in another entirely different setting. It doesn’t let us breathe. This going back and forth also doesn’t help in establishing any sort of emotional connect one would hope in a drama.

Simple, conventional storytelling would have salvaged much of the beats the non-linear filmmaking misses. Non-linear filmmaking generates drama in films like Memento, Pulp Fiction, Vada Chennai because the device is used in a way that facilitates drama. Here it fizzles away the drama. It uses non-linear filmmaking as an excuse for too many flashbacks.

The relationship between Maara and Bommi was the brightest spot in the film. It’s been years since I last saw an equal, progressive couple in Tamil cinema. The last I could remember is OK Kanmani. Aparna was a whiff of fresh air. Sudha has a great eye for her heroines.

But even Bommi’s spunk which kept the first half lively, fizzles away in the second half. Speaking of slaps and controversies, here’s a man, who’s living off of his successful wife and he slaps her without any repercussion. I felt this to be problematic. That after this, the only thing she does is throw a tantrum doesn’t help either.

The film throws one conflict over another. While conflict generates drama, you can’t keep battering the protagonist until a point when the audience thinks, “This is it, right?”

After getting beat left-and-right, you at least want the payoff to be grand, to make up for the slow build up. The explosion. The happy ending. What is with the new-gen directors and their need to be subtle all the time?

The climax was anti-climatic. There was nothing rousing as one would expect. You want to go out on a high. Not limp afterwards. Imagine Bolt going at full-speed for 90 metres only to walk the last 10 metres. Imagine Ken Miles going at it in full-throttle for much of the race only to slow down before the chequered flag. Oh wait. That did happen and the frustration I felt at that time was akin to what I felt watching SP’s climax.

There’s only so much runway for a film to take off. This one doesn’t and even if it does, it barely flies. It’s like the bumblebee metaphor the film uses often – it flies alright, but is it high enough?