Big Boss (1995)

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I felt the need to end 2012 watching something with a quick and decisive approach to justice and guaranteed consequences for the baddies. Vijaya Bapineedu’s Big Boss delivers, albeit in a fairly slapdash manner, and is boosted by the presence of Chiranjeevi, Roja and Sujatha in key roles. If you’re not a huge Chiru fan you could just watch the songs. Actually the opening titles almost tell the whole story. If you can tolerate plot holes, enjoy colourful dance numbers, or just like bad wigs and interior designs, this could be quite rewarding.

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Bavaraju Surendra, AKA Basu (Chiranjeevi), is an educated man who chooses revenge over a career. His father was murdered and his brother crippled in an incident many years ago, and Basu has not forgotten. Basu moves to the city to pursue his revenge. He ends up getting caught between opposing crime lords and is vigorously pursued by Roja who has set her cap at him.

Basu rents a room from a local widow (Madhavi) who is related to Roja (I never remember her character’s name). Living in this household allows Basu to see the injustices inflicted on residents of the area. He is the kind of guy who stands up for the defenceless and then berates them for letting one goon intimidate dozens of them. He has difficult relationships with his mother Thulasi (Sujatha) and sister Sumathi, and they don’t automatically accept he is right just because he is a bloke.

Chiru is mostly in action hero mode but the role does give him some sentimental moments with his ma, some silly mugging and slapstick with Roja and a bit of speechifying and social consciousness raising. It’s a tailor made package, right down to a running gag with Johnny (Ali) who believes Chiranjeevi is really Chiranjeevi.

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Thulasi reminds Basu of her dreams for the family, and won’t accept his decision to turn vigilante. When he takes her back to the old mansion she thanks him for returning her to the Hell she had escaped. Sujatha has little dialogue but a strong presence and her reactions and expressions are really effective. I wasn’t expecting a subtle filmi Ma but she is really lovely.

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Roja has the most peculiar wardrobe. I think the outfits are meant to be ‘modern’ and also represent her mental age of 9. She is constantly reprimanded by her grandmother (Nirmalamma) for not being able to tell the difference between flower and leaf and she does indeed seem a bit dim. She is all over Basu like white on rice and he just finds her irritating if not insane. Who can blame him?

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Rarely do I agree with the filmi advice to pop on a sari and you’ll snag a husband, but it really was a relief to see the end of the fruit hat.

Despite the horrors of the costume designs, Roja is at her best in the songs when she escapes her character’s childish habit of squealing. I know this is a remake but it is lots of fun.

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Varadarajulu is a slimy nasty villain, played to the hilt by Kota Srinivasa Rao. With his effete mannerisms and terrible wig he should be comedic, but he has a sadistic streak and a psycho wife in coloured contacts. He is bad news. He killed his father and brother (Basu’s father) with the help of his wife. Ankineedu (Narra Venkateswara Rao) is more sympathetic as crooks go, but his adherence to the mafia code means he is not long for this world.

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The action scenes are many and bloody. The fights are heavily choreographed and while that makes them look less realistic, they are violent. Death takes many forms. If you’re on the wrong side it is Chiru and his trusty matches as he douses the baddies with petrol. The police are corrupt and so are the lawyers. If you can’t get your own justice, forget it.

In a recent discussion with Beth and Sujoy we agreed that none of us understand why people say there is no sex in Indian films. Sex and relationships are clearly a part of this story. Consensual sex between people who like each other is not treated harshly at all. In many films, Roja would have been marked as the bad girl based on her dress, her forwardness, her dream of climbing into bed with Basu (and then telling her grandmother all about it). Grandma seems to have been a bit wild in her youth too. When Madhavi’s blouse is deliberately torn, Ankineedu is furious at his son’s behaviour while Madhavi holds her head high. Varadarajulu’s wife uses sex to lure men into helping her, Sumathi chooses a marriage as a way of escaping what she sees as a useless family. Women behave in a range of different ways and with varying degrees of ‘niceness’, but they have clear goals and feel free to go for them. Only one of those women dies – and as a mini spoiler, it had more to do with being downright evil than expressing desire. Telugu films are hero-centric, but if you watch what is happening on the periphery, sometimes there are interesting things going on.

Mind you, I cannot be certain that generosity is deliberate. Basu’s youngest brother appears to regrow a lost leg late in the film.

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And at the time the father was killed, there were two kids and I don’t think Thulasi was pregnant so I have no explanation for Sumathi. Maybe they just forgot to kill off the bad girls. Details, boring details!

The songs are a viewing highlight, and Bappi Lahiri is quite restrained. The introductory song is Chiru as seen by his fans, and I think it was filmed at an actual Mega Birthday event. Nearly all the picturisations are from Roja’s point of view, and are her fantasies. Roja escaped a bizarre assault in which creepy cop Tanikella Bharani threw a bucket of water over her before tearing her ugly skirt off to reveal an even more hideous dress underneath. Her grandmother had to explain the significance of a rain song. So Roja launched into one of my favourite rain songs, and kindly imagined Chiru tearing his own shirt off. In her dream of crawling into Basu’s bed she tears her blouse.

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After a few double entendres, this song actually makes sense (except the chicken references). I can’t explain the little people or their outfits.

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This isn’t a film that rests on nuanced performances but apart from Chiranjeevi, Roja and Sujatha, I have to say Ali was good. He played a character rather than doing comedy, and when I saw him tied up with a time bomb stuck to his chest, I was sorry. But he IS a comedy uncle so my tears were held at bay. Allu Ramalingaiah has a small role as a deaf yet singing policeman. Tanikella Bharani overacts like his life depends on it. Despite being cartoonish there is a nasty edge to his character although he does redeem himself a little at the end. The assorted That Guys all do their thing and succeeded in being so vile I cheered as each was dispatched.

The design teams were unfettered by practical considerations or good taste. Is that a kangaroo statue I spy?

And the costume team shared the love.

The climax fight took place in a masala death trap (complete with giant gas cooker thingie) and a godown filled with rooms of things that look cool when they break. Divine intervention, Megastar powers – whatever the reason, the bad guys got their just deserts.

One for the Chiru fans. 3 ½  stars (extra for the dancing)

Bheema

Bheema centres on the key players in a gang and their interactions with rivals and police in Chennai. It’s quite a sanitised version of the criminal underworld, and little detail  is revealed about the nature of how these guys make a living. But it has two fantastic actors at the forefront, a delightful bromance, and a focus on characters that makes the who and why of the story more interesting than the what.

Chinna (Prakash Raj) is the local hard man. He started small in a small town and has risen to become one of the biggest crimelords in Chennai. His business dealings are never overtly discussed but he is presented as a ‘good’ gangster. He looks after the defenceless, his guys don’t attack women and children, and he plays by ‘the code’. Prakash Raj is perfectly cast. He makes Chinna likeable, roguish, aggressive and menacing by turns. Chinna is under threat from an old associate (Raghuvaran) and has an uneasy and crumbling detente with the local police. Things are getting tougher, but he is not one to back down. There is a lot more to the character than just being a figurehead, and I liked the glimpses into Chinna’s past, his conversations with old advisors, his wife, even the police, that showed different facets. He thought through the consequences, he reacted emotionally to some situations and I could understand the loyalty Chinna inspired because he seemed real yet powerful. I always enjoy seeing Prakash Raj in a more substantial role, and this is one of my favourites.

Sekar (Vikram) is an enigmatic figure, shadowing Chinna and despatching his enemies before Chinna can. The reason for his obsession eventually emerges via flashback, and it reinforces the notion that justice is not delivered by the law, and what makes a man is the ability to beat the living daylights out of another man. Sekar believes in instant justice, delivered as he sees fit. Even the police in Bheema argue that they can’t operate with the constraints of bureaucracy and low budgets, and have to break the rules to achieve what they see as justice. Sekar is given the name Bheema by the police in recognition of his strength and his role in Chinna’s life.

Sekar’s sole ambition was to one day join Chinna, his role model for strength and justice and a more satisfying father figure than his ineffectual policeman dad. I’ve often wondered why characters stick with their gangleader and don’t just leg it when things get crazy. Writer Sujatha provides a backstory and motivation that gives more to these guys than just being the good baddies. Vikram switches effortlessly from the full throttle action sequences to gazing mistily at Chinna or quarrelling with Shalu, and his physicality suits the invincible Sekar. Vikram’s rapport with Prakash Raj is one of my favourite things about the film and they play off each other very well.

It’s a man’s world, and sometimes in unexpected ways. Vikram steals the focus from the item girl in this song, and Prakash Raj is the one to be almost upskirted.

What sets Bheema apart from other grim gangster fairytales is characters having a life, or at least ideas, outside of the job. Chinna was in love with Padma but they drifted apart. Sekar, ever the loyal lieutenant, reunites them.

Prakash Raj does some delightfully girly fidgeting and stammering, and can’t hide either his happiness or trepidation at marrying his old flame.

Padma (Lakshmi Gopalaswamy) is gorgeous and her scenes with Chinna have a warmth and maturity that suits the slightly older lovebirds. They talk about the risks of her being part of his life, and she is firm in her assertion that she has no illusions. I found the dialogue rather flowery but the emotions came through and they seemed to have a deep mutual affection. He talks to Padma about Sekar, since Sekar is like family and Padma is in charge of the household. She and Chinna make fun of Sekar when they find out he is turning into a gooey romantic wittering about flowers, and their playful banter is another glimpse into the relationship.

Sekar loses his focus on being a thug when he starts to think of love and  Shalini (Trisha). He knows that his priorities have shifted and he can’t rely on himself to be as focussed, fearless and impulsive as he once was.  Chinna lets Sekar go, in a scene more like a breakup than an exit interview.

Unfortunately, Shalini (Trisha) is stupid and irritating for almost all her time in the story. I’m not sure why Indian film heroines characterise innocence by appearing to be dim-witted but Shalu is dumb as a box of rocks and about as interesting. Sekar falls through the roof into her courtyard one night, landing on her. Because of this, she decides he is the one, manufacturing reasons to be near him and imagining they share likes and dislikes based on absolutely no evidence. I did find her stalking Sekar mildly amusing just because it is a bit of turning the tables, but that was all I could see in her favour until quite late in the piece.

Once Sekar succumbs, Vikram and Trisha generate some chemistry and that made their relationship seem vaguely plausible. I liked that they had playful but still intimate scenes together as things developed, and it helped make up for the brain-dead start.

Chinna is a surprisingly sentimental old school don and sometimes that works against him, as he plays by rules others are starting to disregard. Sekar idolises Chinna and can’t abandon his old boss but feels compelled to take Shalini away. Once the other players sense weakness in Chinna, they start closing in. How will it all work out?

There are indicators. Shafi is in the support cast in Chinna’s gang. And Shafi does tend to play characters that bite the hand that feeds them. Also, I have developed a theory. In the imaginary Tamil Film Writing School in my mind, the compulsory class on ‘Ways to End a Film – Traditional (aka Everyone Dies (Rape Optional)’ is well attended. The final elective class ‘Ways to End a Film – Creative Writing (aka ‘No Rape, No Murder – stop being so lazy and think of something else’) falls the day after the big end of year dinner and people are either too hungover or they’ve already got enough credits to graduate, so most students don’t go. Thus there is generally one ending for a Tamil film, regardless.

I quite like the songs by Harris Jayaraj, but the picturisations of the romantic duets seem to exist mostly as a safe channel for the wardrobe department to vent their creativity.

The support cast includes so many reliable character players but the focus isn’t on them and I barely paid any heed to Ashish Vidyarthi, Tanikella Bharani, Shafi, or Raghuvaran among others. Chinna and Sekar dominate the story and Prakash Raj and Vikram likewise dominate the performances.

Linguswamy has directed an action packed film that doesn’t feel hurried or slapdash, and it is very satisfying to a point. The ending was a disappointment and yet almost exactly what I expected. The action scenes are typically excellent as is standard for this genre. There were some nice little extras – when Sekar belted a group of guys with a metal pipe, they chimed like bells as they dropped. The editing is good and the quick cuts and occasional use of effects enhance the sense of urgency or disorientation. It’s a very competent film and a pleasure to watch.

If you’re lukewarm on the South Indian gangster genre, this could be well worth a look. It has better than usual characterisations, some excellent performances and good production values. And one of the best filmi bromances. 3 ½ stars!

Heather says: I’m a fan of Tamil gangster films and usually enjoy anything by N. Linguswamy, but Bheema was rather disappointing all round. Instead of the usual well-developed storyline and strong characterisation I expect from such an accomplished director, Bheema staggers from fight scene to overdone fight scene without any real justification for the characters acting in the way they do. Rahguvaran is ineffectual as the ‘evil’ don Periyavar and his feud with ‘gangster with a concious’ Chinna seems clichéd and unimaginative. The second part of the film which concentrates on the new Police Commissioner and his vendetta against the gangs is more convincing but still seems formulaic and just not that interesting. The relationship between Chinna’s new lieutenant Sekar and the rest of the gang could have been made into something more exciting but instead it’s thrown in towards the end to try and spice up the climax. Something which only works to a limited extent. However, it’s good to see that Shafi continues his quest to always play the smarmy, self-satisfied sycophant and he does his usual thing here as one of Chinna’s men to good effect.

Despite the issues I have with the story, Bheema is saved to some extent by the excellent performances from Prakash Raj and Vikram who both breathe life into the film. I agree with Temple that their camaraderie feels very genuine and the interactions between the two do much to make up for the dreariness of the plot. Vikram’s character is very much the strong silent type and he does a good job with the rather dour Sekar, but Prakash Raj steals the show as the gangster with a heart. His romance is perfectly played and he brings out a human side to Chinna making him much more than just another world-weary gangster. Despite his good performance, Vikram looks rather over muscled here and I confess that I prefer him in more character driven roles such as in Pithamagan and Kasi where he has more range to work with. The one-man indestructible army of Sekar was just a little bit too much to take, especially with the distracting musical sound effects and overly loud soundtrack during the fight scenes.   The implausible relationship between Shalini and Sekar was another disappointment and the two never felt comfortable together –  odd, considering the considerable chemistry the two actors shared in Saamy. In fact there is much more sparkle between Chinna and Sekar!

Bheema does have a good soundtrack and there are moments where the film starts to grab your attention, but sadly they’re just not sustained. Worth watching once for Vikram and Prakash Raj but that’s all. 2 ½ stars.

Kandukondain Kandukondain

Kandukondain Kandukondain is an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and one of the first Tamil films I saw. It’s still one of my favourites, largely due to the good performances and the strong screenplay. Tabu and Aishwarya Rai play the sisters – sensible, thoughtful Sowmya, and the mercurial Meenakshi. Rajiv Menon retains some of the novel’s ambiguity about whose way is ultimately better, and he and dialogue writer Sujatha focus on the characters and how they develop.

The heroines’ characters required little adaptation. Regency heroines and filmi ones tend to spend a lot of time waiting for the right man or angling for a suitable husband so it probably wasn’t much of a challenge. The suitably ladylike occupations of music and teaching are retained which happily allows for more songs than one might expect from Jane Austen. The female characters in the film are memorable, distinct and very appealing. And I do like the image of big burly film directors reading Austen or Georgette Heyer for their inspiration!

Tabu has a lovely gravity that makes Sowmya very sympathetic. There are small things that make her seem so real – in scenes talking to her ailing grandfather Tabu’s face was sweet and serene, but the sudden slight tension in her throat gave away her real feelings. Tabu’s performance was wonderful, and I totally believed it when Sowmya decided to open her heart to a persistent suitor only to find that she may have been mistaken.

True Love rarely runs smoothly and there are obstacles, real and imagined, that try Sowmya’s patience and resilience, challenging her apparent acceptance of her lot in life. Her confusion and disappointment over Manohar was palpable.

Sowmya thinks that her bad luck has relegated her to a life of service and domesticity in the family home. Her journey towards accepting that she has a right to her own love and happiness is one of the elements of the novel that I enjoyed. She avoids being a stereotypical Regency novel spinster – she is intelligent, personable and has a sense of fun. Sowmya also has a decent job and shows determination in pursuing a career and financial independence.

This is one of the films that made me decide Aishwarya is a capable actor but needs a director who can coach her. She has a lively spark that suited this version of Marianne Dashwood, and Meenu’s feisty streak was always in evidence. The opening song shows off Meenakshi’s extrovert nature, features some excellent dancers and lets Aish show off her animal impressions including a valiant attempt at tiger face.

Aish and Tabu had great rapport and details like the way they leaned in to speak to each other, or would catch each others hand as they talked were really charming. But Meenakshi wasn’t all sweetness.

When she was angry she let fly, and Aish was excellent in those high energy dramatic scenes. Meenu confronted her mother over a family secret, and threw Bala’s love back in his face with no compunction. But she wasn’t malicious so much as impulsive and emotional, and I think the script and the performance combined to show this clearly.

Meenu grows to realise that love encompasses respect and friendship, not just passionate attraction to a dream hero. She doesn’t exactly become her sensible sister but she decides what she needs from her life partner and chooses to look beyond the obvious. When Srikanth makes an offer he thinks she won’t refuse, things become crystal clear to Meenu. She sets about getting her way with all the vigour she had previously put into avoiding Bala.

Mammootty is excellent as the embittered drunk with a loosely fitted prosthetic leg, Bala (based on Colonel Brandon). Living with his war injuries and a sense of disillusionment he seems intent on pissing his life away. He is drawn to Meenakshi’s beauty but I think it is her fiery temper and cheeky disrespect that really captures him. Mammootty transforms from angry man to shy boy and then seems to regain his love of life and enjoyment of people, resuming a full and happy life with no booze and less anger.

Unlike Colonel Brandon, he has loyal sidekick Sivagnanam (the excellent Manivannan) to provide strategic advice and moral support. The ‘talk to the hand’ scene was sweet and very funny. Bala had the maturity and patience to deal with Meenu, and the intelligence to realise that she would come round or not but he couldn’t force it.

He helps the family from decency, not to buy Meenu’s favour. His thoughtfulness and generosity made Bala a hero. And of course he does save her life.

When it looks like Bala might see his dreams come true, Mammootty shows the underlying vulnerability gradually give way to joy. It’s such a well judged performance and he supports Aish beautifully.

Ajith is hampered by the least successful storyline. In the novel Edward Ferrars is gentry with strong principles and a secret engagement he is unable to break, torn by his love for Elinor and his duty. Making Manohar an ambitious film director didn’t carry the same limitations and so he came across as more selfish and whiny than noble.

Manohar made the decision to leave Sowmya until he had made his first film. There was no need to make such a choice and it was silly. I struggled to see him as the right man for smart sensible Sowmya. The supposed ‘other woman’, the top actress and action hero Nandini Verma (Pooja Batra) was lots of fun but again her occupation and personality didn’t match the dynamic from the novel and it fizzled. Instead of being worried about being forced to marry an unsuitable woman and lose the one he loved, Manohar often looked quite content with his situation.

Well, until the day he decided he was finally ready to claim Sowmya. Ajith was adequate in the role but the lack of credible tension in his story left me unconvinced.

Srikanth (Abbas) was perfect for the film’s Mr Willoughby. I don’t think he is at all attractive but his entrepreneurial character and silly floppy hair fit the style of the society man on the make. And talk about making an entrance…

The wet shirt scene was completely unnecessary and did him no favours in the inevitable comparison. Srikanth was self centred, self satisfied and avoided responsibility. His relationship with Meenu was based on his surface appeal and her dreamy silly notions and very pretty face.  Srikanth was devoid of substance and sense, and seemed genuinely shocked when things fell apart.

The supporting cast are all very good. Shamili as little sister Kamala, Srividya as the mother who wanted the best for her girls and Manivannan as Bala’s friend were all great. Rajiv Menon and dialogue writer Sujatha gave the support actors lots to do which helped reinforce the domestic feel. Bala’s mother (I think) is obsessed with weddings, and long suffering Sivagnanam even gets the family cats married to keep her quiet. Thankfully the comedy is centred on necessary characters and incidents.

The soundtrack is lovely but the song picturisations are a mixed bag. Some look amazing and others are like something from a high school rock eisteddfod. Some have a bit of both!

Cinematographer Ravi K Chandran made the most of the lovely rural locations, and also captured the more enclosed and subdued lighting of the city. He certainly made his leading ladies look stunning.

It’s a beautiful film, with a quality AR Rahman soundtrack and some excellent performances. And it’s one of the more successful adaptations of a novel I know well and am very fond of.  4 stars!

Heather says: I’m generally not a fan of adaptations of Jane Austin. I fell in love with her books as a child, in fact Sense and Sensibility was the first I read, and so far nothing on either the big or small screen has lived up to my expectations. Kandukondain Kandukondain is no exception, although I do think it is one of the best adaptations I have seen.  Despite that, I failed to connect with the characters and although the whole film looks beautiful and has some lovely songs in the soundtrack, it’s not a film I really enjoyed.

Kandukondain Kandukondain is shot to make the best use of scenery and to accentuate colour in the landscapes as might be expected from someone with Rajiv Menon’s background.  The indoor scenes look just as good and I like the way the colour and light of the first half gives way to duller lighting when they move to Chennai and the family have to fend for themselves. In fact this is the best part of the film for me as I enjoyed Sowmya’s search for work which felt very realistic. Meenakshi’s singing and her career problems were also well depicted and I loved the way that Mahalakshmi was also secretly working. At this point I was able to forget any Jane Austin links and the characters started to come alive. But then the film went back to the respective love stories and I lost interest  again. I didn’t feel that the original characters from the book were well adapted into modern-day romances. While I thought the lives of the sisters were modernised and well written into an Indian setting, the men, (with the exception of Major Bala) seemed to be poor copies of the Jane Austin characters and I didn’t like them at all. Ajith was fine as the film director but like Temple I had problems with his decision not to marry until he had made his first film. Or rather not so much the reluctance to marry until he was established, which did have some legitimacy, but rather the long separation without any contact which just seemed ridiculous. Abbas looked too much like Tony Hadley from Spandau Ballet for me to be able to see him without grinning. Especially when he donned a cloak in one of the songs! His character isn’t supposed to be likeable but I couldn’t even find him charming here, and Meenakshi’s devotion to him was only based on his ability to recite poetry. Again this follows the book to some extent but there is so much more to the whole romance than that and for me it wasn’t well brought out in the film. Aishwarya was absolutely stunning as Meenakshi, but I thought there was too much beauty and not enough depth in her portrayal. However I think this is more the fault of the character she played rather than a problem with her performance, which was actually quite natural and one of her best. Despite the changes in the story, I wasn’t able to forget that Meenakshi was basically Marianne from the book and in that context she wasn’t my mental view of that character. Although Sowmya was a more individual character and I thought that Tabu gave a good performance, I couldn’t connect with her at all. By the end I really didn’t care if she managed to get married or not despite having originally felt some sympathy for her. I wanted her to get on with her life on her own terms and not be so reliant on a rather weak man. But then, that’s often a problem with both film and regency romance heroines. The one character that I really enjoyed watching was Major Bala. Mammootty was fantastic and I did empathise with his situation and his attempts to win Meenakshi. His performance was the definite stand out and his interactions with his friend Sivagnanam were some of my favourite moments in the film.

There is nothing really wrong with Kandukondain Kandukondain and I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more if I’d been able to just forget about Sense and Sensibility. But I would much rather read the original book again rather than watch the film.   It still gets 3 stars from me but they are nearly all for Mammootty and a beautiful soundtrack.


Paruthiveeran

The film opens at a temple festival, full of colour and music. The camera draws the eye in through a range of points of view, creating the feeling of being part of the milling crowds. It’s all very colourful and entertaining, and then the knives come out. We’re in a place divided by caste and old grudges, where the police are the law but not the authority.

In a black and white flashback, a young girl is pushed into a well. Her cousin, Paruthiveeran, helps to keep her alive, and an obsessive love is born. The children become friends and promise to be together always, even after they grow up.  Soon Muthalagu tells anyone who will listen and everyone else as well, that she will marry Paruthiveeran and only him.

Back in the present day Paruthiveeran, or Veeran, played by Karthi (knife wielding ne’er do well from the opening sequence) and Muthalagu (Priyamani) are still in the village. What will happen to a strong willed girl who refuses all other offers and stands up to her father? Why would she want Veeran who is a drunken womaniser, not interested in her and not particularly attractive? Priyamani and Karthi make the melodrama more compelling than it might seem.

There are lots of spoilers ahead so if you really don’t want to know, please stop now.

Muthalagu is an interesting character, and not your usual romantic girly heroine. Priyamani’s performance is totally convincing, even as I was rolling my eyes at some of her character’s choices. Muthalagu is complex yet single minded and while I couldn’t see myself ever obsessing over Karthi, I could believe that she was.  She is beaten and verbally abused by both of her parents but will not flinch, and even threatens her father in return. Her teachers and others keep asking why she wants to throw herself away on a man who is usually in jail, why she would deliberately fail 4 years of school so she can postpone being married off. She takes poison rather than marry another man. She drugs Paruthiveeran, ties him to his bed and tattoos her name on his chest.

This is not a shrinking violet, but nor is she a crazed caricature. She knows everyone is talking about her, but she never tries to hide her feelings or make any pretence. She believes Paruthiveeran is her fate, they are meant to be together and she will not break her promise to him or to god. There is no swaying her, not even his protests can persuade her.

It’s not a glamorous role – most of the time Priyamani is in plaits with the scrubbed face no makeup look. She doesn’t try to make crying look pretty; she lets the anger and frustration burn through. Her body language and facial expressions really capture a mix of arrogance and uncertainty. When Muthalagu smiles, she is a radiant young girl in love. Priyamani has been praised to the skies for this role and bagged a number of awards, and I can see why.

Karthi did his best in his debut to give his character some depth.  Veeran is a bully and a bit of an idiot, his only ambitions seem to be to upset local dimwit Douglas and to commit a big enough crime to go to Madras prison.

He spends a lot of the film hanging around with his equally useless uncle Sevvalai (Saravanan), getting into fights, avoiding Muthalagu and shagging an assortment of women (some paid, some volunteers). He basically steals a prostitute from some local men (he gives her back when he is done), and is asked to share one of his girls with them one day – a throwaway line that will have repercussions. He rejects and humiliates Muthalagu time and time again, and he is as frustrated by her obsession as she is by his resistance.I did enjoy his visible transformation to the semi-domesticated boyfriend; once again, ruler straight side parted hair seems to be the Good Boy indicator. But how good can he possibly be? Well, he does get that tattoo amended to have both their names enclosed in a heart so I suppose that is a commitment.

Once the two admit their now mutual feelings, the film starts to go off the rails a bit in search of more dramatic tension.  The family feud gains intensity, caste violence takes the stage and some of the characters seem to go out of focus. There is another flashback sequence that explains the origin of the family enmity, but I didn’t think such detail was all that necessary.

The film builds to a finale that is both highly melodramatic and somehow shockingly real. Deciding to make a break from the village and start a life together, Paruthiveeran hides Muthalagu in his shack and leaves to protect his uncle. Unfortunately, that sleazy guy from the prostitute episode sees her and decides it is time to claim his dues. After a horrible gang rape sequence that is disturbingly matter of fact, Veeran comes back to find her dying. I don’t think this is a case of a ‘bad girl’ being marked for death – Muthalagu died because of Veeran’s actions and who he was, and she didn’t seem to be subject to a directorial judgement by Ameer Sultan. The death scene was well written, and not at all sickly sweet. Muthalagu’s parting words to Veeran are a demand for some kind of explanation as to how she could have waited her whole life, and ended like this. And I was asking the same thing. Veeran decides he must cover up the dishonour to his love, and perhaps also use her death to have one last shot at her father.  What he did startled me and while it made a sort of sense, the ick factor was high. Karthi did reasonably well with the extremely emotional scenes, but it was in the quieter sorrowful moments that he really convinced. It was quite unnecessary that we got an eyeful of Karthi’s butt in the final scenes but whoever pre-ripped his clothes was very determined. I am sparing you the sight.

The support cast are very good – they look and sound the part and this isn’t a glossy view of country life. I wasn’t so taken with the little girl who played young Muthalagu. Her voice was a monotone buzz that grated, but her expressions were fun and she managed to be precociously flirty and still a child. Saravanan as Sevvalai is good but doesn’t get much to do apart from support Karthi. The grandmother and mother (Sujatha) in Muthulagu’s family are intense and their performances are high on energy but not overly histrionic. I really felt the tension in her family, and it made the typical family disapproval scenes much more compelling.

Yuvan Shankar Raj’s soundtrack is excellent. Some tracks sound as though they are sung by traditional singers rather than studio artists, and I think that works really well in building the sense of place. The rural setting is very picturesque and appealing, and the cinematography captures both the energetic village life and the open countryside.

The flashbacks took up too long, and the ending is what I have come to think of as typically ‘everyone dies or lives unhappily ever after Tamil romance’. I’m never very happy about the depiction of rape in films, but I think this was given some weight and treated as an assault, not a justly deserved punishment. It was not made to be the girls fault, despite what her rapists may have said, and I appreciated the writing that made the scene compelling. Priyamani is the reason I picked up the DVD in the first instance, and her performance is remarkable. I don’t imagine I will feel the need to watch it again anytime soon, but I did like seeing great acting, a strong female character and some interesting relationships on screen. I give it 3 and 1/2 stars.