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 clich├ęd, 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.