Subramaniapuram

Subramaniapuram

I picked up a copy of Subramaniapuram after being intrigued by the costumes, Brothers’ Gibb hairstyles and excessive facial hair I saw in the songs – which I’m worried says a little too much about how I choose which films I watch!

It all makes a little more sense when it turns out that most of the film is a flash-back to 1980, although I’m not sure that large collars and flares ever made much sense.  This is director M. Sasikumar’s first venture, but he worked with Paruthiveeran director Ameer on a few films previously and appears to have been influenced by Ameer’s true-to-life style of film-making.  The realistic approach suits the gritty storyline, although the screenplay does wander in places with the first half being essentially a long set-up for the action in the rest of the film.  However, there is enough suspense to keep the plot interesting and the attention to detail in the sets makes it an intriguing glimpse into India in the early eighties.

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The film starts with a dramatic stabbing outside Madurai prison in 2008.  To explain who has been stabbed and why, we move back to 1980 and a group of friends who spend their days lazing around the area of Subramaniapuram.  Azhagar (Jai), who my subtitles call Alagar and Paraman (M. Sasikumar) act as security for the ex-councillor Somu and his brother Kanugu (Samuthirakani), although it’s a rather informal arrangement and Somu spends most of his time bailing the friends out of jail.  Along with Kasi, (Ganja Karuppu), Dumka and Dopa, the friends prefer to drink and fight, rather than look for any gainful employment, which is a point of contention for Azhagar’s more successful brother and his long-suffering mother.

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Some comedy is introduced with the goofy looks Azhagar gives Somu’s daughter Swathi (Thulasi), and the way he cannot keep his attention on anything else whenever she is around.  It’s cute, and Azhagar’s attempts at stalking are met with plenty of encouragement, although naturally Swathi expects her man to eventually change his ways.  Thulasi has a great shy and bashful smile which she uses well and she easily fits into the role of a school girl in the first throes of love. Later on she gets the chance to do a little more with her character and is convincing as she tries to reconcile her family’s expectations with her love for Azhagar.

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The first half is slow with considerable time spent on developing the characters of the friends and not much progress with the story.  However, there is a lot going on, but these are mainly background events which gradually combine to give an overall feel for the time and place.  A trip to the cinema at one point for example, illustrates just how much Azhagar values his relationship with Swathi above his friends, which does have implications later on in the story.  It also shows just how easily Azhagar and Paraman erupt into violence for very little provocation and that the Three Musketeers have nothing on Azhagar and his friends when it comes to the ‘all for one and one for all’ concept of fighting.

Essentially Subramanipuram is a story of betrayal.  Kanugu feels betrayed when his political party appoints someone else into the role he has been coveting, and uses the unquestioning loyalty of Azhagar and Paraman to get his revenge.  It’s also a story about the betrayal of Azhagar and Paraman who expect Kanugu to come to their rescue yet again and are spurred into action by Kanugu’s failure to get them out of jail after they remove his rival. There are many other betrayals along the way, which serve to highlight the few characters that do remain completely faithful. It’s an interesting look at how each small act of disloyalty starts another in a chain reaction that doesn’t intensify, but rather just keeps perpetuating in an endless cycle.  Whether it’s about jobs, relationships both professional and personal or friendship, the betrayals come thick and fast throughout the community.

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After the interval the story moves much faster as Azhagar and Paraman escalate their violence from petty fights to actual murder.  The friends’ initial decision to kill Kanugu’s rival seems naïve, especially when Kanugu is so very obvious about his manipulation.  However, their

subsequent actions quickly demonstrate how violence breeds yet more violence and that having killed once, it’s much easier to kill again.  One of the most realistic scenes of the film does illustrate that it takes a fair amount of determined hacking to chop off someone’s head, so be warned that this isn’t a film for the squeamish (even though most of the aforementioned chopping does take place off-screen).

While Sasikumar does well at directing, he is rather more one-dimensional as Paraman, and even though Paraman has the potential to be an interesting character, he somehow never quite gets there.  Jai has a little more material to work with as Azhagar, and does a great job of expressing every emotion from infatuation to terror and finally despair as the final betrayal hits home.  It’s an impressive performance and enough to make me have a look for some of his other films, where thankfully he appears to have shaved off most of the truly excessive beard.

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Ganja Karuppu is suitably annoying as the perpetually drunken Kasi, and when he does get the opportunity to do something more than just mug at the camera, he proves that he is a very credible actor when given the chance.  Best of all though is the actor playing the disabled Dumka, who is wonderfully matter-of-fact and keeps the whole film grounded with his pithy observations and practical solutions. The character is well written, but the actor does justice to the role making Dumka memorable even though it’s only a small part.  I haven’t been able to find out anything about him, but I hope he gets the chance to appear in more films in the future.

The costumes are also fantastic and all those shirts did conjure up some hideous memories of the late seventies.  I have no idea how accurate this vision of 1980’s Madurai actually is, but it seems to be scarily reminiscent of 1980’s fashion in the UK (excepting the lungi’s of course).  The music by James Vasthanan seems to fit the time period well and this is probably the best song which features plenty of those goofy grins and bashful glances between Azhagar and Thulasi.

Subramaniapuram starts out like any typical Tamil film, veers off into more novel territory with some good ideas, but is a little let down by patchy pacing of the action.  Excellent performances and the dedication to recreating an early eighties feel make the most of the storyline although it’s not a film I’d recommend for the faint-hearted.  Worth a watch though if you like a more realistic style of film and don’t object to the occasional outbreak of gory violence. 3 ½ stars.

Venghai

Venghai is the latest offering from writer and director Hari and although it follows a fairly predictable path it’s still a reasonably entertaining film.

The story is set in a small town somewhere in Tamil Nadu, but presumably not too far from Trichy since the action moves there for some time. Veera Pandi is a well respected figure in the area and feels it’s his responsibility to look after the wellbeing of the local people. He is aided in this by the members of his family, including his son Selvam (Dhanush) who tries to follow in his father’s footsteps. All seems well until the arrival of a new MLA in the form of Rajalingham (Prakash Raj) who sees his position purely as a way to make money. He is corrupt, greedy for power and wealth, and wastes no time in his bid to take control of the area. Veera Pandi tries to keep Rajalingham in check but he can see the way things are going and in an attempt to stop his son becoming involved in the inevitable battle, sends Selvam off to Trichy.

Although he should be safe enough working for his uncle, Selvam soon becomes involved in another stand-off between local gangsters in Trichy who also seem to have some connection back to Rajalingam. Once in Trichy, Selvam sees Radhika (Tamannaah), and exhibits amazing powers of memory and facial recognition as he realises she is a girl he used to know many years ago in school. As may be expected, Selvam falls in love with Radhika even although she wants nothing to do with him and spends most of her time trying to get rid of him. However, after a few song and dance routines in exotic locations, and watching him throughly beat the gangsters at her college, she starts to change her mind and reciprocate his feelings. There is more to her change of heart than first appears though, and it turns out that Radhika has her own private agenda involving Veera Pandi and needs Selvam to help achieve her goal. In the end Selvam has to deal with Radhika and the local thugs before he can attempt to put an end to Rajalingam’s plans to eliminate his father.

The story is a predictable hero against bad guys with added in love interest, which does have one advantage of making it easier to follow the story without subtitles. It works as an entertainer because of the excellent performances by the lead actors. Prakash Raj is fantastic as the corrupt politician and makes the most of his bad guy persona. He swaggers around, generally looking angry as he schemes his way to more power. I think it may be to make sure that we know he’s the villain, but Rajalingham sports a really unusual moustache with rounded ends. I apologize for the quality but this is the only picture I could find. I think you will agree that it makes quite a statement and is pretty spectacular. A couple of his henchmen have mo’s which match so I’m taking it as a method of recognition for the bad guys rather than a fashion statement, but it could very well be both.

Dhanush does a good job as the son trying to follow his father’s wishes but drawn into the fight despite his best efforts. He is excellent in the scenes with his father and although I have no idea what they are saying, the emotion comes through very well. Raj Kiran is also good as Veera Pandi and the two have some effective father-son moments. Less successful is the romance between Selvam and Radhika. Tamannaah’s performance is very flat in the first half and she really only comes to life in the songs. This makes the contrast much more obvious, as when the action switches back to the romance she loses all of the vivacity which makes her so attractive when dancing. In addition, there is no chemistry between the lead pair at all. Some of this is possibly due to Radhika’s initial reluctance to recognise Selvam, but it never gets any better and it’s hard to understand why Selvam would want to continue the relationship once her true motives are revealed. Tamannaah is better in the second half when there is more for her character to get her teeth into, but it is still a very lifeless performance from an actress who has been much better in a number of other films.

I really liked the sound track by Devi Sri Prasad when I first heard it, and the songs are generally well pictured, although the person responsible for Tamannaah’s outfits has a lot to answer for. The general brief seems to have been to make sure her navel is exposed at all times! Despite some of these questionable wardrobe choices Tamannaah does look beautiful and the songs are definitely the best parts of her performance. I do think it was a little strange to go to Malaysia and then stick to a few shots of buildings and bridges as the location isn’t terribly obvious and could really have been anywhere. However the best parts of this film for me are the locations in Trichy. I work near Trichy for a few weeks every year and really love the city. So when I see the Rock Fort Temple, main bus station and St Joseph’s college it’s as exciting as seeing my home town up on screen. Judging by the reaction there were a few people from Trichy in the crowd as well!

The fight scenes are generally well choreographed and although it’s rather unbelievable to see Selvam singlehandedly take out an entire gang of thugs, at least he does it with the help of machetes, posts, sticks and any other weapon that comes to hand. There is a probably unnecessary comedy track which features Ganja Karuppa as Selvam’s friend in Trichy. As usual I missed most of the comedy as it was in the dialogue, but the two actors play well off each other and the physical comedy was reasonably funny although it really doesn’t add anything to the story.

Although the film follows a very well used storyline, the journey to get to the inevitable showdown at the end is reasonably entertaining, thanks mainly to Prakash Raj  and his gang of merry men. Not a bad film but definitely could have been better.