Pithamagan is not a film for the faint hearted. Like other Bala films, it deals with society’s poorest and most disadvantaged – in this case, he delves into the world of cremators, petty con artists and drug pedlars.  And yet it’s very watchable, with excellent performances from Vikram, Suriya and the rest of the cast making Pithamagan much more than just another film about the miseries of being poor and outcast.

The focus of the film is the relationship between Chittan, an orphaned cremator and Sakthi who is a small time criminal. Chittan is born in a graveyard and brought up there by the cremator who seems to do his best for the child. However Chittan grows up to be unable to deal with society; he cannot communicate in words, and is unable to understand the basic tenets of normal behaviour.

After his guardian dies, Chittan ventures into the local town where he creates mayhem before being rescued by Golmathi, a local cannabis dealer. He ends up following Golmathi home, and since she has a kind heart and feels sorry for another orphan like herself, she helps him to find a job. This turns out to be at a cannabis farm and when it is raided by police, Chittan ends up in jail. There he meets Sakthi who also feels sorry for Chittan and tries to help him cope with life inside prison. Sakthi is a petty crook who runs street tricks and confidence games which seems to have given him a performers approach to life. He has a sunny disposition and a positive outlook despite his circumstances and occasional rather interesting dress sense.

After Sakthi is released from jail he works with Golmathi to secure Chittan’s release, and along with Manju, a student who was once victim to Sakthi’s confidence tricks, the friends then spend most of their time together. They work on improving Chittan’s appearance and behaviour, and try to get him away from the drug trade with mixed results.  However, the local drug baron has other ideas and the final conclusion is as bloody and gruesome as you might expect.

While the story itself is rather predictable, overall the film works well and this is down to the chemistry between Vikram and Suriya. Vikram seems to be able to take any disability and make it instantly realistic. I really believed that he was blind in Kasi and here he is totally convincing as the mentally disturbed Chittan. His facial expressions are just perfect and he really does appear to be totally wild and uncontrolled. It’s hard to define exactly what Chittan’s problem is, but as a scientist (and brain researcher!) I’m immediately intrigued and want to analyse the cause of his condition.  Is he simply a wild child – raised without the benefit of society and therefore unable to function within its rules? Or is it more organic and he has a functional neural developmental problem? I tend to favour the latter as the cremator who took him in was able to speak and obviously had some idea of how to interact with the townspeople. So the total inability of Chittan to communicate and relate seems to be something more than just growing up with little social contact. It also doesn’t explain why he was able to fight so well, but obviously that was essential to the plot and we can’t ask for too much realism I guess. I love that he left the policeman upside down in the shot below – the fight scenes really were good in this.

I also find it interesting that in so many of Vikram’s films, his character is somewhat crazed, and he is completely convincing each time! But as good as Vikram’s performance here is, I think that Suriya manages to equal it. This is the first film where I have really ‘got’ Suriya’s appeal. I’ve seen him in a number of films and while I thought he was good as the cop, or the good guy, or even as the bad guy, I’ve never felt that he’s been anything more than that . But Suriya is absolutely fantastic in this film. He is funny and charming, and breathes life into the story. Most of the comedy comes from Sakthi and his various cons, and without this balance Pithamagan would have been very grim indeed. Suriya’s character has plenty of flaws but at heart he is kind and his relationship with Chittan allows this side of his character to flourish.

Sakthi’s friendship with Chittan is cleverly developed throughout the story and makes it credible that the two would end up as constant companions. Chittan seems initially perplexed by Sakthi’s benevolence towards him but soon realises the benefit of a friend. And later, Chittan’s obvious jealousy when Manju is spending time with Sakthi is both childlike and logical since Sakthi has become the centre of his world.

Sangitha is perfect as Golmathi with her paan-stained lips and philosophical approach to life. Her character is another orphan and her initial pity for Chittan seems similar to how she would feel for a stray dog. But as a drug dealer and someone who is shunned by the local community (unless they want her product), she is able to empathise with his alienation and is the first person to start opening up his world. Golmathi’s emotions and reactions are all plain to see on her face which helps make her character much more sympathetic.

On the other hand, the first time I watched this film I really didn’t like Laila’s character and felt that she over played the schoolgirl. But on re-watching, I think she was supposed to be a fun character with a sense of adventure and an awareness of the possibilities of life which was intriguing to Sakthi. However I think Manju is a much less believable character than the others, and her presence is often more irritating than anything else. Initially her father seemed to be quite strict, even taking her to the jail to beg for Sakti’s forgiveness for her actions, which in itself seemed a really strange thing to do. But then later on in the story, her family seem to let her do whatever she wants, despite knowing that the man she is involved with is a convicted criminal. They do turn up to support Manju in the end, by which time it seems to be too late and is perhaps just a way to make a contrast to the other characters  whose only family is each other. Manju’s presence also provides another dynamic to the relationship between the two men since she becomes a barrier between them. But my biggest issue with her character is her inability to articulate what had happened to Sakthi, and this is a major flaw in the story for me. While I’m quite sure that in real life people become too distressed to be able to communicate, here it just didn’t seem to suit her personality, even allowing for her youth. It was also just a bit too over the top and filmi for a story that relies so much on gritty realism – at least for most of the film.

There is one other odd note, which is the protracted interlude with Simran. This completely changes the nature of the film and lasts just a bit too long. In fact it reminded me of the Hindi film Shakti, where Shah Rukh Khan turns up for an item song and ends up taking over a large part of the final scenes. While the song here is fantastic, and I love it, it stops the flow of the story and the subsequent scenes initially feel out of place as the pace abruptly changes again. But here it is anyway, since both Simran and Suriya are brilliant and it’s very funny.

I think Pithamagan is an excellent film despite a few flaws with the pacing. The friendships are successfully portrayed and the action is fast and well choreographed. Vikram’s grunting and animal noises are interesting and effective, and so much better than his singing which is absolutely brilliant in its tonelessness. I wonder just how hard Vikram had to work to make it sound that bad! The music by Ilayaraja is quite beautiful but not particularly memorable, especially since it’s often used as a backdrop for more of the story. Overall though it’s the performances that make this film worth watching and I would recommend it for Vikram and Suriya who are both outstanding. 4 stars.