Readers Write In #317: Revisiting key moments of Soorarai Pottru

Posted on December 29, 2020

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(by Anuj Chakrapani)

Murphy’s Law in action

Start-up founders in the Tech space may look back at their struggles from ideation to fruition with pride, but those may pale in comparison to the challenges in front of Nedumaaran Rajangam (Surya), who is the CEO, the janitor and everything in between of his venture Deccan Air, which aims to make flying affordable for the common man. First off, his idea fails to garner the funding of VC’s for a long time, and when it does, he cannot secure the aircrafts he needs. And when he eventually gets them, they cannot land in the country thanks to the evil ways of a competitor. There’s more dreadful stuff in store, as his inaugural flight has to be grounded almost immediately after take-off, having to deal with an engine on fire. And finally, take 2 of the inaugural flight is almost a faux pas thanks to a software glitch (this is 2003, when software glitches were commonplace, with the Y2K problem being from a not-too-distant past). For Nedumaaran and his small motley crew, their life and times are a case study in Murphy’s Law. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

Drama, the Mama!

In a movie about the protagonist’s soaring ambitions, you would expect the film’s most hair-raising moments to be the ones that involve “David” Nedumaaran taking on the “Goliath” Naresh (Paresh Rawal) in the battle for the skies. In Soorarai Potru though, it is the emotional drama moments that stand out. Like, for instance, the brief scene in a courtyard featuring a young Nedumaaaran and his father. Unafraid to fight the establishment for his demands of having a passenger train stop at their ramshackle town, Nedumaaran has just accidentally hurt his best friend and almost blinded him during the protest.  In a classic set piece, the father-son confrontation happens amidst pouring rain and features a heated altercation between the principled ways of the father and the firebrand approach of the son. It’s a wonderfully orchestrated scene, at the end of which, the old man’s glasses get drenched and fogged up, forming an invisible partition, a veil between him and his son, that remains till the end. Another wonderful scene is the emotion-filled moment when Nedumaaran’s Mom (the ageless wonder Urvashi continues to be a scene-stealer) mourns the loss of a family member, reciting verbatim the letters that never reached the local post office. Then there’s the scene in the second half when Nedumaaran’s wife (a splendid Aparna Balamurali) reminds him of their pre-nup when he needs to borrow money. I could go on and on, and the point is that Kongara stirs the audience’s mood with such finely crafted emotional scenes, and yet, the scenes that are supposed to inspire us fall flat, like the one when Nedumaaran looks to the skies riding a bike parallel to the runway and dreaming of success. It’s a big screen moment that is designed to give the audience a feeling of euphoria. Unfortunately, we feel none of it. 

The Elevator Pitch

Pushed to the wall, running out of cash, and unable to navigate the red-tapism, Nedumaaran takes an all-or-nothing plunge to meet the country’s President with the help of a lady friend, risking his future as a private citizen and her career in a state-run radio station (their relationship has an interesting back-story, one that involves the safe arrival of fryums and pickles). Unable to successfully get past the guards as a technician, Nedumaaran cleverly plays the Tamil card, yelling in his mother tongue, so the great man will hear him. It’s a lovely scene, as we rub our palms to catch a glimpse of India’s greatest scientist on screen, now occupying the highest office in the land. Narrated to him and us in flashback, we are shown the events that lead up to the moment in Nedumaaran’s life when the seeds are sown in his mind and his heart to make flying affordable to the common man. It’s a surreal moment for Nedumaaran; a life-comes-full-circle moment for Dr. Kalam, who inspired millions of Indians to dream big. Nedumaaran may just have been one of them.

The wrong vehicle

While the movie works for the most part, it isn’t without its problems though. With Kongara attempting to chronicle every challenge of Nedumaaran’s in such painstaking detail, the movie appeared to lose steam occasionally. I wondered if such elaborateness was needed for a movie; she could have chosen to do a mini-series instead that would have been more faithful to the heavy agenda she was trying to tackle. At one point towards the end, I could neither keep track, nor care, which year and month it was. Add to that some inconsequential bits involving a liquor baron. Is this Kongara’s way of ensuring parity between reality and fiction in this pseudo-real tale of Captain Gopinath, or is she playing a hasty “spot the celebrity” game with us? And if she did need to capture everything in such detail, maybe a mini-series would have the right vehicle for the movie, not a 150-minute movie. After all, we like our movie-watching experience to be like riding an A380. Despite so many things well done, Soorarai Potru, at times, seemed like a bumpy ride on a single aisle aircraft.