Saturday, May 05, 2007

Not-so-short notes on Paruthiveeran

Note: Please do yourselves a favor, dear readers. Go watch Chennai 600028, easily the best film of the year, as yet. Saroja, saamaan nikaalo!
Rest of you all, who are still reading this post, this is another dull, “not-so-short” notes on a month-and-half old film – a modified version of a quick write-up
(albeit with a lot of additional notes and changes, I’m afraid) on the film I originally wrote soon after I saw the film, but didn’t publish for reasons best known to none.

Ameer’s Paruthiveeran (just like his previous venture, Raam) is yet another of those “new age” films, remarkable in its mise-en-scène, but unremarkable in its aspiration; and spotlessly hollow in its inspiration. In short, insipid filmmaking.
The film is set in Paruthiyoor, right in the heartland of rural Tamilnadu, commendably capturing the characteristically sultry locations, the people and their mud-walled houses, the native dialect and the way of life, with an assured hand. But, that’s all there is to it.

Veeran (Karthi), the protagonist of this film, is a one-dimensional caricature; a stereotype of the sandiyar image, conceived without much sensitivity, the few moments that betray the vulnerability of the character notwithstanding. Ameer establishes his protagonist as an aruvaal-happy, aimless urchin that we perceive through films and media – pleased at ourselves in finding it all senseless – through a series of sketches which in essence pander unreservedly to the audience (curiously enough, pander to both the “urban class” and the “rural class” with equal success here!), but passed off as something more serious and ambitious. Veeran’s ultimate objective is to be serve a term in the Chennai Central Jail. This is digestible if said in wry humour, but the director wants us to take this at face value, as a fact. In a realistic portrayal, we expect protagonist to exist within a real system. But, here, Veeran is, well, a veeran, the hero, even if not in the traditional sense. He can just go sever the ear of a policeman, or knock down a seemingly significant denizen of the village, for petty reasons; well, actually, for the laughs. Honestly, I too laughed at some of the nakkal-naiyyaandi jokes in the beginning, but grew tired of them too soon.

Thankfully, post-interval, the story actually unfolds, and, there are some good moments with Muthazhagu (Priya Mani) – the scene where she’s thrashed by her dad (a moving moment when she scoffs at her paatti asking for more food), and the scene where she tearfully pleads with Veeran work pretty well; the stock, grayish-toned flashback with the kiddies romancing, notwithstanding. But, the love story – after Veeran heeds to Muthazhagu, that is – is developed so hurriedly that there’s little one has had invested on their love as the climax draws near. And, the denouement sticks out like a sore thumb.
Here, I must digress a bit and elicit a problem that I face with a lot of films. (I’d say positively argue that it’s a natural problem with story-telling in general.) A problem with stories that take unexpected turns coming out of nowhere. Yes, it’s so characteristic of fickle human life and all that, but then you expect the filmmaker to reflect on the same, or at least acknowledge that. Else, it’s like a bad television show, as Woody Allen would have put it.
As if this abrupt turn wasn’t enough, the film conveys a silly moral out of this for the story. Muthazhagu says, “Nee senja paavathai ellaam en madiyila aethittiye da…” Now, this can be taken as a dying woman’s rambling, but Ameer is actually serious about it. Ameer’s viewpoint on Veeran is dubious and conflicting in its truest sense. It’s supposed to be a realistic portrayal of a hoodlum, but he is severely censuring of Veeran’s indulgence in petty crimes and hollow bully attitude.

On a positive note, the performances are impressive on the whole (Saravanan warrants special mention). Karthi is pretty good for a debutant, but he’s way too earnest and slightly overdoes his act, constantly “offering” us something, through gestures, body language and a bit exaggerated dialect et al. There’s not one lazy moment where we’re not “told” who he is. Also, I am much ambivalent about the extensive usage of native, amateur actors. The dialect is spot-on, but the dialogue delivery is so hurried (I don’t mean ‘fast’ here), and the acting is shuffled. (So much for the native flavour, the dialect is actually inconsistent at places. Some chaste Chennai slang words pop in the dialogue. Lazy writing.)
More brownie points for Yuvan’s superb music score – “Ariyaadha Vayasu” and “Ayyayyo” stand out among the songs – which works so well for the film.

Baradwaj, in an excellent review (albeit a positive one) as usual, puts forth an excellent set of points, making almost this entire write-up redundant – the movie’s preference to sensationalism (a nice dig at how the hero of today “won’t just switch off the lights, he’ll leap up and break the glass bulbs with his aruvaa!”) over sensitivity (though am surprised that he brackets Pithamagan along with), on how “[t]he infrequent bits of exposition are almost apologetic,” how the last act of the movie was curiously unmoving (not curiously so, in my case).
Well, as for me, I don’t go to theatres determined to see a story unfold per se, but it’s not that bad an idea, I think.


  1. "remarkable in its mise-en-scène, but unremarkable in its aspiration; and spotlessly hollow in its inspiration. In short, insipid filmmaking." spot on..

  2. Censuring for petty crimes and hollow bully attitude? Nah! you got that aspect all wrong. The film maker censured Veeran for his immoral stance and loose chastity. What Muthazhagu suffers is for immoral behaviour of Veeran and his contacts with Lorry drivers who are equally immoral. Now if you had carefully observed the title slide, it had a quote from Quran on man-woman relationship and the chastity needed in them as they form the basis for the whole society and community. Veeran violates the rule and pays for that with his life. Ameer was clever not to state this in the most obvious of means, instead he goes about creating many misdirections in the plot and in the midst of that the viewer almost forgets the significance of the "hut" in which the climax takes place. Surely that requires some amount of brains. Chennai 600028 is an enjoyable movie, but it is just that. Enjoyable with witty dialogues and clever screenplay. For more deeper and involving movie experience my vote is for Paruthi Veeran. It deserves a special mention as there is no justification put up for Veeran's acts and presenting him as a character instead of as a hero. All characters are presented as they are or supposed to be and that is the greatness in the story and script of PV. Final interactions of muthazhagu and Veeran deserve closer observation and appreciation. "Ennai Kaana ponamaa senjiru da" is a helluva dialogue writing. It is simple but apt and fitting. Veeran having failed to do what Muthazhagu asked in the above mentioned dialogue, resorts to something that is visually gruesome, however the right thing to do in that circumstance. Ameer couldn't have written that without placing himself empathetically in Veeran's place. For that is what he wants the audience also to feel . Empathy over Sympathy.

  3. Jaiganesh,
    Firstly, I was referring to his bully behavior with the lorry drivers (in the hut, in an earlier scene) when he "steals" a prostitute that they brought in.

    I simply don't see what's so "wrong" or "immoral" about in this to actually consider it as a paavam committed by Veeran. The tit-for-tat scenario Ameer conceives to bring about a sort of deliverance for such past deeds is so judgemental and self-righteous of the director.

  4. Hey,
    Since when did being judgemental become a strange phenomenon. I am not contesting that fact at all. In fact he swears by a concept that was laid out in the title card and tells a story about that, however in a very indirect manner and that is what is to be appreciated. You have to disregard every Indian, Hollywood movie in case being judgemental is a disqualification. There are so many one sided movies that are being made. Here Ameer simply shows a slice of life and delivers his judgement on that. We cannot dismiss the setting and back drop just as , what you guys call it? .. ahh yes mise - en - scene. There is a powerful yarn of history behind such settings that is hinted at in the Kazhuvan servai's flash back while Muthazagu attempts suicide.
    Judgements discounted, Karma theory can be brought into picture and Muthazagu's fate can be attributed as a comeuppance to Kazhuvan for his betrayal in his past - he helped in Chellaatha - the Kurava woman's murder. However these are subjective rants and taken on face value, the one liner Ameer wanted to showcase was the quote from Quran in the title card. Going by that, I didn't feel that the mise-en-scene was impressive but hollow. I thought, it served a purpose - for deliberate misdirection to keep you guessing.
    Have you noticed the irony that runs through the movie, boys invariably fancy a criminal life - be it Veeran in his youth or the boy who helps Veeran and Sevaazhai. Another irony is the failure of good people to be successful. If it was Veeran's parents who die prematurely trying to lead an honourable life, it is douglas(Ganja Karuppu) who fails everytime (to funny reactions from audience) or in a more tragic manner, Muthazhagu. Are there subtle social messages too in this movie in addition to the explicit ones. If they are intentional and not some kind of fanboy imagination of mine, then Ameer as the creator of this movie deseres plaudits.

  5. Also why does Jack Travis(Taxi Driver) feel so bad about prostitutes and pimps? Probably some people, artists and directors included are judgemental by nature. perhaps.

  6. Jaiganesh,
    I don't believe an artist must conform to some set of standards, but I do expect that a filmmaker to show some amount of sensitivity towards the various characters in his film, and especially towards the film's protagonist, who is just a wayward man indulging in petty crimes! But, Ameer, the director, isn't taking Veeran for what he is.
    Of course, there aren't really many filmmakers who are non-judgemental in the true sense, but in this film he's not only too insensitive to his own protagonist, but contrives a deliverance of sorts on him for his way of living.

    Why look elsewhere for sensitivity, take the rollicking entertainer, Chennai 6000028, now that film exudes empathy and sensitivity towards its characters.

  7. Ahh thanks that you brought up Chennai 600028! I thought that Siva's brother would feel a tinge of guilt after his brother is mowed down for his Kattapanchayathu. There was no need to make it a "Hit" to put Shiva in hospital so that he misses the semi finals. Still, Venkat prabhu couldn't resist that angle of deliverance for wrong deed . This is a part of "Thamizh" psyche. We as audience cannot tolerate a guy with wrong shades remain what he is till the end. Atleast there should be a hint of change in the character towards the "white" from "grey" or black. For a story like Paruthi veeran, the end couldn't have been a happy one. That is a given. This is not a sanda kozhi where the hero will triumph. This is closer to Virumaandi territory. Anyway Veeran has to die and muthazhagu definitely has to suffer. But at whose hands? For that Ameer uses his "difficult to digest" message. He cannot be entirely be blamed to be insensitive to him as he transforms and almost gets the "girl". Infact his tragic past is also vividly recounted to make the audience feel sympathy for him. Having developed all that, Ameer takes a mother India kinda stance at the end of the movie and delivers a message that would have made Jules from Pulp Fiction proud. It is hard to digest and thats why he put it in climax to get a shock value. Still he manages to bring some dignity to the reformed soul by showing his efforts to guard the dignity of Muthazhagu, with the "switching off lights with aruvaa" bit. I didn't find that as sensational. Hell u gotta switch those two lights in a jiffy without searching for the f***ing switch for them!! I would've done the same.

  8. Zero,
    Could you name few Thamizh directors who goes for sensitivity than sensationalism always?

  9. Jaiganesh,
    Well, as a matter of fact, I placed Chennai 600028 as a case in point just because you brought it up as "an enjoyable film, but just that," in your first comment.
    I don't see how the assault on Karthick (Shiva) comes off as a deliverance for his brother's wrong deed in any sense. It's rather a MacGuffin using which Venkat Prabhu place the key plot point -- the cricket match -- and a key character of the film in a predicament.
    I am not sure if you remember this. When Karthick's brother vows that he'll pay back well to the people who planned the assault, Karthick asks him to wait till he's out of hospital, and proposes to pay back a bit later. He says, "apparam aarappottu avangala adippom!"

    Coming back to Paruthiveeran, it's the conflict in Ameer's depiction of Veeran that was off-putting. At one end, he simply sympathises with the protagonist and his past, and then reprimands him (What for? For sleeping around with loose women!) in the end. This is just playing a bluff on the audience.
    If the kind of end that Muthazhagu and Veeran meet in the film is commonplace (something on those lines could be a social commentary), one wouldn't ask these questions. But, they surely aren't getting what they deserve, nor is the director musing that "deserve's got nothin' to do with it."
    As for the "switching off lights with aruvaa" bit, I just liked the way Baradwaj put it! It didn't come off as noticeably odd at all to me when I watched the film, but he certainly had a point when he said that it's a "bit of macho insanity."

  10. Of course, this doesn't mean I am dismissing Muthazhagu's (idea of) chastity or dignity or Veeran's efforts to guard it in the climax, but it comes in the least expected and acceptable way in the film.

    Muthazhagu is the one character in the film that's conceived so well.
    Veeran's character is depicted with no sensitivity or depth, he's designed for the audience to observe, "look, how wayward and criminal some men are in the heartlands of rural Tamilnadu." And, it's nothing short of pandering when the film tells us the protagonist's serious ambition is to be jailed in Chennai Central Jail.

  11. Thilak,
    It's not about working in a creative space limited by commercial parameters at all. (Paruthiveeran smugly dismisses most of the so-called commercial compromises anyway.) Nor is it as if I am "demanding" a degree of sensitivity that's so very rare in Tamil films.
    Anyway, to answer your question (without the qualifier 'always'!), even if I exclude stalwarts like Kamal Haasan and Mani Ratnam, we have Bala (hands down, my favourite by miles), Balaji Sakthivel, and even Selvaraghavan.
    Ameer, in the 3 films he has made till now, simply falls flat in comparison.

  12. I agree with the fact that with Veeran's character Ameer is caught in no man's land. In fact in the recent interview he gave to Suhasini in Hassini program in JayaTV(where Suhasini reviews films and interviews film makers), he confesses to the fact that Muthazhagu is a better conceived character and how he had to insert scenes like the one where veeran goes to ask Muthazhagu's hands just because he felt the character of the girl gaining more prominence!!! That was so naive admission of script rape according to me. That fact not withstanding, my grouse against your review is mainly the silence on muthazhagu's character and Kazhuvan character played by Ponvannan. for me it was sheer brilliance from the part of Ponvannan in the way he essayed this role - very difficult and complex role. I couldn't believe if this was the same ponvannan who came off as just OK in Bharathiraaja's Karuthamma and Pasum pon. Your review as well as Baradwaj's was largely silent on this and the wonderful flash back sub plot. Veeran's ambition to go t Central Jail is summing up his character. In fact he is a blood thirsty goon with good sense of humour - a role that Satyaraj of his younger days would have relished to play and revel in. I do understand that Karthee has played this role out of skin, still it doesn't underwhelm awesome work by Ponvannan (who gets the least mention in any review of this movie and Priya Mani). I was expecting your review to high light these aspects, however you chose to remain so very silent on these. I was very happy to see a woman character so neatly written and it was since KB and Bharathiraaja days we got to see a character like Muthazhagu on screen, barring a Gomathi character in Pithamagan. The character's ill fated obsession might be so unbelievable to film critics, however I have seen and heard women who have fell in love with such wrong men very much like Sasi from Aayitha Ezuthu.

  13. Strange but I have not seen a negative character having such a lenghty a flash back sequence like the one Kazhuva servai has in this film?

  14. Zero,

    O' course. I didn't mean 'commercial elements'. :-D
    As for Bala, I reserve my comments, he peeves me with his weirdos. And various other 'irritations'. I agree with Baradwaj about PM :) OTOH, Selva irks with his eccentric kids. Why just pick on Ameer? Btw, I was expecting Mani saar for that question. :) My point is, even he would go for 'sensationalism' than 'sensitivity' in different junctures in his films. Kamal's and Mani's 'sensationalism' wouldn't be as pronounced as the young guys. I do agree that, KH and MR are the finest, but they aren't that far from "switching off lights with aruvaal", for example.

    PV has its own commercial elements. It was cliched, but then, I quote "Veeran's character is depicted with no sensitivity or depth, he's designed for the audience to observe, "look, how wayward and criminal some men are in the heartlands of rural Tamilnadu." ", Really? I partly 'agree', but I did see a glimpse of Veeran's 'sensitive side'. The character wasn't 'developed' and 'defined' as we would have liked to. But, I didn't get the feeling of his 'waywardness' alone. I guess you took an objective view.

    About the paavam in the end, remember Thevar magan climax, Kamal would say inda paavam yenna summa vidadhu da to Vadivelu. Isn't it by 'instinct'? It doesn't have to be an ooran movie per se, it's realistic even otherwise! In PV's case, Does it necessarily have to be Ameer pointing out Veeran's nanbargal (lorry drivers) or his Narcheyal (with the prostitute) before? Isn't it 'natural' for Muthazhagu to say that? she's in an unexpected and an unfortunate state for god's sake, just like 'Thevar magan' who cuts off Mayan's head! Here, we see Muthazhagu's angst as she suffers from sheer pain and 'shame' (credits to 'our system' where people feel ashamed to be a rape victim, they would rather see themselves killed). I would like to know why do we have to 'nitpick' the paavam rant thrown against Veeran , and discount the whole effort, it could have easily been 'natural' than 'contrived'.

    Zero says to himself, "heck, why does this guy get so judgemental over Ameer not being judgemental". :-)

  15. Jaiganesh,
    Right, I saw his interview with Suhasini on Jaya TV as well! I was amused. Forget that, I think it's ok for a director to engineer a script to suit his external motives. I don't expect that much from someone who's making his third film or so.

    And, the film didn't really dwell on Muthazhagu or Kazhuvan, did it? The film is about Veeran, it starts with him, and it ends with him. I did mention about Muthazhagu in my post. Her scenes were the ones that I actually liked in the film.
    As for the Kazhuvan flashback, coming to think of it, it was sketchy; some parts are hurried and play like it does in a crime report while some serve as interesting bits of exposition. Tell me this, how does this even relate to the way the film proceeds from thereon except to serve as an archaic plot point? That Kazhuvan and Veeran's family are rivals and Kazhuvan was possibly responsible for the ill-fate of Veeran and his family in a way. Something that a Virumaandi achieves in a single piece of throwaway dialogue!

    Muthazhagu's ill-fated obsession came off as completely believable to me, so I think I am not part of the insensitive "critics" you're referring to! :)

  16. Thilak,
    Of course, it's not that those directors make films oozing out sublime sensitivity. After all, it's just about how sensitive one finds a film on the whole, isn't it? :)
    And, I feel Baradwaj was right when he wrote about the film's preference to sensationalism over sensitivity.

    About Veeran's character, as I had mentioned in my post, there were "few moments that betray the vulnerability of the character," like the scene in which he goes to Kazhuvan's house to ask for Muthazhagu's hand, but they were almost apologetic and hurried, if you ask me. (Apparently, Ameer inserted that scene to 'strengthen' Veeran's role. He said this in that Jaya TV interview Jaiganesh refers to above!)

    About the climax, I wasn't nitpicking. I have said in my post that, "this can be taken as a dying woman’s rambling, but Ameer is actually serious about it." And, I think Ameer does actually pass such a judgement not just because of that piece of dialogue, but also because he mentioned as much in his interviews after the film's release.

  17. As to defend Bala in relation to the purported sensationalism in his films, I think it deserves a separate post.
    The way I see it, the violence in his film almost always serves a dual purpose. It serves to deliver the action sequences but it also has a deeper resonance in the film.

  18. Now having discussed the film with you guys, I have come to a point where I feel that the film is a good one that could have become a 'great' one. Now I feel the setup of the industry is partly to blame as people like Ameer try to pull the whole thing off all by themselves, right from conceiving, scripting and writing dialogues, while the clever ones like Mani and Kamal collaborate and involve people who can bring fresh perspective to the subject, which probably would bring in "sensitivity" angle to the whole story that critics are all keen about. At this point I would rest saying that by Ameer's confession he has made 70% the movie he wanted to make. Probably you have qualms about the 30% and probably that is why you are a film critic. The same reason I am celebrating the movie for the 70% that it was able to pull off, while you are asking Ammer to take care of the 30% too which will push him into the league above.

  19. Zero bhai,
    I agree to what you say (right to the miniscule details). Haven't seen the interview though. Of course, I hate few films because of the interviews from the respective filmmaker. Like Shankar calling boys a 'sarasari ilaignarin padam', made the film puke-worthy. Even Cheran's interviews are for branding his product to be 'realistic social commentary', so one tends to hate the film as they expect some reflection of realism.

    Even if Ameer had said that, getting judgmental for that scene, is of course a drawback. I've also heard that Ameer was defensive about the ending, he apparently said that there could be 100 endings, but he went for this one, critics would expect the other 99. But tamil nadu makkal has liked his ending. Really cuts across as an arrogant guy.

    But as VPJ said, I still think this lad could give better stuff. He is no worse than the other young prospects. I am seriously waiting for these younger gen directors to take a leaf out of the stalwarts book and improve their standards. I am seriously hoping for a Kamal film with these directors, as he would guide and tweak them (unless they are vetti punnakku like Gautam menon). Did you hear about the Vasu-Kamal venture? I'm disappointed.

    And what's your take on Jivaji? I'm in the bandwagon (with Rangan and others) waiting for your take.

    BTw, did you see Mozhi 100th day celebration?
    There was this age-old argument. Commercial masala films like Sivaji (yes they named it blatantly)vs films like Mozhi (that is sensible cinema aka Artistic films).
    Heated argument between Balu mahendra, Pyramid natrajan, Ameer, Madan, Vivek, Prakash raj (who was sensible and typical no-nonsense guy that he is)

  20. And check Tirru's cinematography in Kireedom trailer, and let us know what you think!

  21. "Please do yourselves a favor, dear readers. Go watch Chennai 600028, easily the best film of the year, as yet."

    Could you be anymore patronizing? Get off your high horse before writing your next review. For a change, go observe how the people represented in this move live in these parts of Tamilnadu. Then, you might be taken more seriously as a 'critic."

  22. Indiansrespond,
    When I wrote this post, I had had watched Chennai 600028 and loved it, so added a quick note about it (before jotting my thoughts in a separate post). As for saying, "go watch!" it's best taken as a figure of speech or simply ignored. So, there.

    P.S.:- I don't want to be taken seriously as a "critic."

  23. I had watched Chennai600028 and I loved it too! It is easily the smartest movie of the year. However Paruthiveeran tries to get into a different league. C6L28 is very whacky and witty and fun! Screenplay and dialogues are aimed at provoking extremely patronizing reaction from the audience and I don't mistake Zero's patronage and infact find myself patronising the movie in my friend circles and find many of my friends doing that too. Probably this is what we call "Word of Mouth" publicity. Still I would say the character detailing of C6L28 was not all that great to accord a "classic" status. The screenplay and dialogues can vie and probably secure that status. Speaking of which, "Saroja Saamaan nikalo" was an input of PremG Amaren spoofed off from Mudhalvan.

  24. Oh, yes, I was, and am, patronising the film (Chennai 600028), not the readers.

    I was just saying it's a delightful film and quite easily the best film of the year. And, I think it's much superior to Paruthiveeran. That is all.

  25. I was expecting some reaction to my post. Zero bhai doesn't seem to be interested :(

  26. Cinematographer cum director dies in Russia during the shooting of Dhaam Dhoom.!! :-(

  27. Thilak,
    Ah, my bad. Apologies.

    * - I find Ameer boring in the interviews he gives, and what comes off as his idea of filmmaking, quite laughable. But, I don't want to judge his films based on that. The film by itself did have an out-of-nowhere ending, contrived to "make a point."

    * - I didn't like Sivaji; I'll come up with a post if I've anything worthwhile to say...

    * - The next Kamal film with P. Vasu is indeed disappointing. But, then... that's how it goes, I tend to think.

    * - I didn't catch the Mozhi 100th day celebration. Was it on television? I tried looking for the video on the web when I read your comment, but could only get the worthless video at IndiaGlitz showing the event with a background music all along, and some video clips of Yuhi Sethu and Vairamuthu onstage at Sify; couldn't catch the heated discussion you're referring to.

    * - I checked out the trailer of Kireedom. The film visually looks good indeed. The wide-angle lens is suitably used, which is a rarity nowadays. (The solo violin piece in the trailer is also very impressive, though it reminds me of one of Rahman's pieces.) Thanks.

    P.S.:- Ippadi high school assignment maari task-u mela task-u kuduthuttu, odane respond pannanum 'naa, eppadi mudiyum, sollunga...

    P.P.S.:- Adhenna "bhai?" Oh, oh... Indhi!

  28. Jaiganesh,
    Yes, I heard of his sudden demise too.

    R.I.P. Jeeva.

  29. And, about the catchline, "Saroja Saamaan Nikaalo," yes, it was a take-off on a similar line from Mudhalvan!
    I was thinking of adding this piece of trivia as a footnote, but somehow didn't; however, had posted it at Triviapettai.

  30. >>"The solo violin piece in the trailer is also very impressive, though it reminds me of one of Rahman's pieces."

    Ah, kandu pidichutten! The piece has distinct shades of Vinmeengal Thaandi track of Dil Se/Uyire.

  31. Indiaglitz would have edited it. Who dares to go against Rajini? The 'cowards' can never report 'honest news' about Rajini. -censored-

    About kireedom, I would check out that violin piece.

    About 'bhai'. haha. Sorry. I posted that, after reading some of your comments in Existential angst about 'indhi'. :)

    Now corrected: Thanks, Zero AnnE! :)

    P.S: Waiting for Jilebi review :)