Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Swords of Chennai, Now

I am not sure how much I liked Pudhupettai. After watching the movie twice, that is. The first time I walked in to the theatre to see the film, at the end of a terribly tiring day, I really wanted to like it (Ref: a preview of the film in this blog). But, when I came out, much as I was impressed with some parts of the film, I was disappointed on the whole.

The film is about “Kokki” Kumar, born in the slums of Chennai, who joins the shady world of the city due to adverse circumstances, and eventually rise to dizzying heights of the Chennai underworld. Straight off the bat, Selvaraghavan gets some brownie points for his no-holds-barred depiction of the lead character as a basically ruthless person, a vile man, striking back at his fate blotted by some unpleasant situations with all fury. The complementing red and green color tones suggest that what’s a “red” for some (and for most of the audience) is actually all “green” for him and that conventional morality has no place in this world - The title, “Pudhupettai”, comes up as he runs away from his house, escaping his father who killed his mom accidentally last night and who might possibly kill him. As is Selvaraghavan’s wont, he doesn’t shy away from the brutal reality. Instead, he revels in it, be it the brief scenes silently fading in and out, montage sequences, or the subtle dark humour.

Now that we have acknowledged that Selvaraghavan’s capability and intention of such story-telling, we obviously expect more. But then, he gets a little too self-conscious of what he is doing. Much original as the film is, he throws in all the standard elements, sometimes clichéd, of a “raw, gritty” gangster film. A reason why many sequences appear forcibly thrust into the film and we don’t care much about what’s happening onscreen.
Take for instance the mandatory “Baptism Sequence” in the film. How inappropriate! In Coppola’s masterpiece (or Mani Rathnam’s Nayagan, or even RGV’s Sarkar), the sequence is the high point, a grand climax for the tussle between the protagonist and his foremost enemies/competitors. And here, it’s just a couple of meek men who won’t stand up against him and another local goon (Yes, there is one big-shot, a qualified stronger enemy, but you still wonder why he is clubbed along with the rest.) And to top it all, once all the acts are completed by his men, we see the don doing his hair and muse in a pensive mood, tears in his eyes (when the intermission is declared). We never quite get this “tragedy” of Kumar.
The dark humour that’s strewn throughout the film is commendable and works well for the most part. But, it does get a little too overt or tedious at some points. (Some sequences are – e.g.: the politician scolding his sidekick hurriedly, before starting his senthamizh speech, Kumar assessing his henchman’s slashing skills – amateurish and out-of-place.)

Another problem is that the film tries to tackle multiple genres; a derivative of martial arts genre, for instance. I am not a sucker for realism, but this marriage of martial arts genre with the gangster genre didn’t really work for me. What was with all those swish-swashing of multitude of flashy swords, all of them looking exactly alike? (Or even, the “code of conduct” which Kumar abides to before killing his enemy.)
Why concoct Goodfellas and Kill Bill together?
In RGV’s Satya, Satya points a knife at Bhiku Mhatre, an underworld don and says, “Mauka sabhi ko milta hai!” Here, Kumar has some sort of a magical persona and wins over everyone by his sheer grit and perseverance. Not that I complain, but this “heroic” quality seems quite incompatible with a realistic narrative.

The film starts wandering in the second half further exploring his personal relationships, “love” life (or rather the lack of it) and his rise in politics. In these parts, the film seems to ramble on till the point when Kumar learns about his own progeny and that’s when you see the actual emotional side of the man. (“SeyyaradhukellAm oru artham vennum’la!” he says.) Then again, the film stretches into one long bloody battle between Kumar and his enemies. The denouement, though surprising, rather comes off as a weak trick.

A round of applause for the majority of the cast with some good fresh faces! Be it, Kumar’s father (superb; is he related to Pasupathy?), his mentor (neat), his associates, Balasingh, Azhagam Perumal (superb), all of them play their part well, their looks, dialect and just about everything is flawless. Dhanush, though has given a sincere performance, is miscast. He doesn’t look his part; the lack of age clearly shows up.

Selva knows the medium well and exhibits an exhilarating visual style, but at times when he intends to examine and explain the psyche of a gangster, he does get a little verbose and theatrical. The film is shot very well, and despite using color tones heavily, it didn’t come off as a showy exercise. But, Yuvan’s symphonic background score is, by and large, inappropriate and I wished there were more silent moments or solo pieces. Of the film’s soundtrack, which I immensely liked, only some songs (“Neruppu Vaayinil”) gel well with the film’s narrative while the rest (“Enga Area”, “Varriyaa”) don’t, but are yet enjoyable (“Enga Area”). And the best song of the album, “Oru Naalil”, isn’t even played.

And did anybody notice the numerous instances of Dhanush’s hair (and beard) drastically varying in its length between consecutive shots of the same scene? A case of re-shooting some parts of the film?

Probably, I am taking the good points of Pudhupettai for granted and being picky about its shortcomings. The film had some fine moments - raw, gritty, in-your-face, deadpan, darkly funny, but the film, in its totality, didn’t quite turn out to be a definitive thumbs-up venture.


  1. the protagonist's character is what i admired most about the film. its so rare to get a hero with no redeeming attributes in tamil cinema. and did u notice there's no real romance? probably the 1st tamil film that can claim that!

  2. "but this “heroic” quality seems quite incompatible with a realistic narrative"

    I think you are mistaken here. The movie was not supposed to be rea;istic in its true sense. Just imaging that the story was narrated by a madman. 'Kokki' kumar is not in his senses when he narrates the entire movie, is he?

  3. Balaji,
    Yes "Kokki" Kumar had no redeeming qualities that the "protagonists-on-the-shady-side" have had in Tamil cinema till now. But, how far does this aspect help in making the movie a really good one?

    escape.... great escape,
    That only some (specific) parts of his past are being reminisced by the slightly deranged "Kokki" Kumar seemed intentional, but not that his reminiscence is itself highly exaggerated. (In fact, his recollection of his past is more melodramatic, sort of, a "regret" on his chosen path, which was part of the "weak trick" I was referring to.) Not to mention the directorial standpoint of the film as a "raw realisitic portrayal of Chennai underworld" that Selvaraghavan has taken.

  4. Correct. The melodrama and exagerration of the situations were both because of the unstable mental condition of the Kokki.

    My guess about a drunk guy ranting on the road, would be that he would oscillate between extreme aggression and extreme repentance... Kokki talks about anything only the way he sees it at that point of time... I mean when he says he slashed 50 guys with a sword (all swords are similar looking liek they were assembly line products)... he might have just slashed at 5 guys...

    And when he says how cooperative Sonia Agarwal was.. on the day of her wedding... and the day after, he might have just been ranting. That was the realism that Selvaradhavan had wanted... the rant was really realistic ;).

    Or i might just be thinking way beyond the movie. :-). And selvaraghavan might just be laughing reading all this.

  5. escape.... great escape,
    Again, the melodrama is in his recalling his past rather than in the past itself. (The film's USP itself is in portraying the men of the shady world in an unapolegetic way.) All I am saying is that the recollection (of only some parts of his past) is supposed to be taken more as-is than with Rashmon-esque subtext; not exactly as-is though, but his "heroic" abilities are used to substantiate his stunning rise in the underworld, something which came off very well in the film!
    So much for realism, the lack of which I really don't mind much.

    And I think his rave about "how cooperative Sonia Agarwal was," was supposed to be his wishful thinking even within the flashback. If you get what I mean!

  6. Most of the shortcomings are related to Darwin's theory. Re-captivating the crux of the movie's screenplay would prove that it is a superior script which has been done a lot of thinking in Selva's mind. Almost his best film thus far.

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