Pudhupettai (2006)

Pudhupettai

Pudhupettai is Selvaraghavan’s ode to gangster life, telling the story of the rise and fall of Kokki Kumar in the slums of Chennai. It’s brutal and violent, and for the most part Selva doesn’t give his ‘hero’ any redeeming features making this a departure from most other Tamil gangster flicks. At the end of the day, the only real priority for Kumar is himself and trying to keep himself alive, which reflects the film’s tagline ‘survival of the fittest’. The film is shot almost like a documentary, following the wandering path of Kumar’s life rather than having a distinct narrative, and it’s this realism and attention to the details of the characters and their harsh lives that makes Pudhupettai such a fascinating watch.

The film opens with Kokki Kumar (Dhanush) in jail. He seems disorientated, perhaps mentally ill, as he shouts out for anyone who might be listening to him. These opening shots feature Kumar in green with contrasting red light from outside the cell, further isolating him and accentuating his odd behaviour. This colour scheme replicates throughout the film, maybe to illustrate Kumar’s almost split personality but it’s also used to highlight important moments in his life. It’s part of how Selva pulls the story together, using images and brief vignettes rather than long drawn out scenes to develop his characters.

The film then moves to a flashback of Kumar’s early life in the slums of Pudhupettai. He seems a typical young man as flirts with girls and is chastised by his mother for dancing in the streets rather than hurrying off to school. However, violence is never far away. His father is violently abusive and finally one night Kumar returns to find his mother has been murdered by his father. Fearing for his own life, Kumar flees onto the streets to try to make his own way in the world.

He’s not terribly successful at this and eventually turns to begging in the streets where he is accidentally picked up by the police during a raid on drug sellers operating under local thug Anbu (Bala Singh). Anbu’s men take Kumar under their wing and introduce him to their boss, managing to secure him a spot in their gang. Interestingly, Vijay Sethupathi has a small role here as one of the gang, and there are a few other familiar faces including Aadukalam Murugadoss who also pop up in the background.

Kumar gradually learns how to be a gangster and there is some good humour worked into the scenes where he learns how to use a machete and case the scene before a crime. He also has a mean temper and when backed into a corner by a rival gang lead by Murthy (Prudhviraj) he fights back, killing Murthy’s brother and turning Murthy into an enemy for life. The film follows Kumar as he meets and falls in love with prostitute Krishnaveni (Sneha) and subsequently takes over the area from Anbu after killing his former boss in a dispute over his treatment of Krishnaveni.

Kumar has grand ambitions and with the gang behind him he takes Anbu’s place working for corrupt politician Thamizhselvan (Azhagam Perumal). The body count rises as Thamizhselvan commissions murders and Kumar steadily makes inroads into Murthy’s territory. But then Kumar sees Selvi (Sonia Agarwal), the sister of his main henchman Mani, and he falls instantly in lust. Forgetting Krishnaveni he marries Selvi instead of the real groom at her wedding and immediately has another enemy out for his blood. Mani joins forces with Murthy and the two conspire to bring Kumar down.

This is the seedy side of gangster life and Selva shows the grubby political deals and bloody in-fighting between the rival gangs as something to be expected, rather than as exceptions to the rule. No-one comes out of this looking good and Kumar in particular is not a nice man. At first there seems to be some attempt to explain Kumar’s violent tendencies on his early experiences, but during a drinking session with the gang one night, it’s revealed that everyone has a similar story. It’s even a source of entertainment for the gang as they each tell their stories of abuse and murder and decide who has the funniest story.

It then seems as if there may be some compassion in Kumar when he fights Anbu for Krishnaveni’s freedom, but this doesn’t ever seem to be a grand passion or even much of a love story at all, and Kumar tends to treat Krishnaveni more as a possession rather than a lover. He’s able to completely ignore her when he sees Selvi and isn’t at all bothered by Krishnaveni’s attempt to leave him, until she announces that she is pregnant. That of course makes all the difference, and this is the one part of the film where Kumar genuinely seems to care for someone else. The birth of his son is a momentous event in his life, which makes his son’s loss later in the film more effective than expected.

There are signs that Kumar might be a better man than first appears when he takes on cases where the local people have been affected by corruption and crime after overthrowing Anbu. But this appearance of trying to help the poor turns out to be just an easy way to develop a power base and get support – something that Kumar needs if he wants to further his political ambitions and make a name for himself. I love how each time Kumar seems to be acting more responsibly it’s shown to be just another way to make sure he comes out on top. The pragmatism and cunning he shows seem to be reasonable requirements for someone who aspires to be a top politician, while the extreme violence and disregard for human life explain why Kumar makes such a good gangster.

Throughout, Dhanush is excellent despite a tendency to overact in the prison scenes where he has to explain his story directly to the audience. His transformation from a scared adolescent to a violent and cold-blooded criminal is brilliantly achieved, and his tendency to become completely feral when he loses his temper gives the character a chilling authenticity. Here is someone with few morals, who decides what they want and then goes ahead and takes it without worrying about the consequences or the possible price. Sneha does a fantastic job with the character of Krishnaveni and gives her dignity and grace despite her profession and her association with the gang. Krishnaveni seems to genuinely love Kumar, although some of this may be gratitude for helping her escape the brothel, but she brings some normalcy into the storyline and provides a good contrast to all the violence. She’s not completely innocent either and her entrapment of Kumar by mentioning her pregnancy after he marries Selvi is a clever twist, as is Selvi’s nasty dig when she points out that Kumar can’t be sure that the baby is his. It all rings true and despite the buckets of blood and excessive use of knives (check out Kumar’s impressive machete storage cupboard!) this doesn’t seem to be too fantastical a story. The characters all seem plausible too, particularly in the way they let their petty squabbles and problems spill over to affect the whole area.

The rest of the cast are uniformly good too – Sonia Agarwal has less to do than Sneha but she is excellent as the reluctant bride, while Azhagam Perumal has so many backflips that it’s a wonder he can work out which way to look at the camera. Clever writing and good dialogue ensure that everyone has a role to play while the good performances mean it all flows beautifully.

The film is enhanced by excellent cinematography from Arvind Krishna, who makes Chennai look stunningly beautiful one moment and then grimly ugly, just as Selva juxtaposes Kumar’s dreams with the harsh reality of life as a gangster. The songs and background music by Yuvan Shankar Raja also suit the film well with the songs seamlessly flowing into the dialogue and some hauntingly beautiful instrumentals.

At almost 3 hours Pudhupettai is a long film and at times it does tend to drift into indulgent territory, but then it’s so well made that it’s hard to complain. This is a film that seems to get better and better with repeated viewings as more of the story becomes clear. As with most Selvaraghavan’s films, the subject matter is dark and his characters flawed, but the subject matter here suits this type of delivery and as a whole the film works very well indeed. Not one for the squeamish given the preponderance of edged weapons and gory bloodshed but for anyone who enjoys a gangster film, this is one of the best. 4½ stars.

Advertisements

Irandam Ulagam

Irandam Ulagam

Selvaraghavan can always be counted on to take a different approach, and this time he heads into fantasy for a tale of love so great that it could transcend worlds.  It all sounds fine, inspirational maybe; except that the love between the characters never feels passionate enough to even inspire a short trip across town, let alone across worlds.  The execution of the story is also clumsy with the action jumping between two love stories without any apparent commonality, except that Arya and Anushka are the two actors in both cases. Irandam Ulagam is disappointing on many levels; even more so because there are flashes of a good story, some engaging ideas and even a few entertaining moments hidden among all the dreary dialogues.  And as if that wasn’t enough, seriously, how is it even possible to make Arya look this bad?

Irandam Ulagam

In this world there is the romance between Madhu Balakrishna (Arya) and Ramya (Anushka). Initially it’s a one-sided affair as Ramya feels that in Madhu she has found her Mr Right, but doesn’t know how to approach him. And then when Ramya does finally ask Madhu to marry her and is gently refused, she immediately decides instead to marry the man her parents have selected. Presumably because giving Madhu a chance to recover from the surprise proposal and perhaps give him time to find out something about her would be too much to expect! Madhu does however eventually fall in love with Ramya, and follows her to a medical camp to try and win her back before her wedding takes place.  After building Madhu up as a wonderfully caring man who looks after his disabled father (one of the best scenes in the film), Selva doesn’t seem to find anything odd in the concept that Madhu would recklessly dump his family responsibilities and job as a lecturer to follow a woman who blows hot and cold and generally doesn’t seem to have any idea what she wants from him.  Ramya is tedious in her indecisiveness and by the time the lifeless romance does manage to reach some form of conclusion it’s hard to care in any way about either Ramya or Madhu.

Irandam Ulagam

In the other world Varna (Anushka again) is a Xena kind of gal, who can swing a sword and take care of herself in a society where woman are definitely second class citizens.  Here Arya is Maruvan, a drunken buffoon who wants to fight in his father’s army, but is woefully inept even when sober.  Inexplicably he decides that Varna is the woman for him and after some heroic action does finally manage to win her as his wife.  Except that it’s not the idyll he was perhaps expecting but is more a constant combat as Varna can’t stand him. So not much love there either.  Not really looking good for a story all about grand passion that can span the stars.

Irandam Ulagam

Both characters played by Arya are wishy-washy with few redeeming features.  Although Madhu is a kind-hearted man, he’s rather dull and has no chemistry whatsoever with his co-star.  Maruvan seems to have been based on Shrek, which at least suits the fairy-tale landscape, but his transition from drunken village idiot to invincible warrior is just a little too instantaneous to be believable.

Irandam Ulagam

Anushka gets a better deal with Varna who at least has some personality, but Ramya is another weak character.  There is nothing endearing about Ramya to explain why Madhu would sacrifice everything to be with her, and nothing about their love story which suggests passion or grand desire. And that’s the problem. To believe in a love so great that it transcends everything there needs to be evidence of that love – and it just isn’t here.

Irandam Ulagam

The soundtrack by Harris Jayaraj is excellent, but the songs are completely out of place and don’t seem to fit the narrative, although that may be due to the rather woeful picturisation.  There are however a few moments where the choreography is different enough to almost work, if there were just a few more steps and a little less awkward shuffling.  Even the background score by Anirudh Ravichander is a disappointment as it’s frequently loud and intrusive, and doesn’t seem to suit the storyline particularly well either.

The special effects are fine, although nothing too spectacular.  They do create a different world, and the creatures such as the amazing ‘lion’ produce a fairy-tale atmosphere, enhanced by the fantastical fighting skills of our hero.  However I did keep thinking that if those planetary bodies were really that close in the sky then the gravitational field would have been completely different – which was a little distracting at times.

Irandam Ulagam

Irandam Ulagam needs a passionate and believable romance to make Selvaraghavan’s concept of true love convincing, but the lack of chemistry and any emotion between the main characters results in a failure to bring the idea to life.  Considering that Selva’s last film Mayakkam Enna was laden with emotional drama and desire, it’s strange that he seems to have missed out on this crucial ingredient here.  The story has the potential to offer more and the concept of a world without love is intriguing, but there is nothing to draw you in and generate interest in the characters. Even the performances by two normally engaging actors are laboured and unappealing.  The only thing I can recommend is the soundtrack, otherwise sadly I have to put Irandam Ulagam down as a miss.

Yaaradi Nee Mohini

This was my very first Dhanush film and the one that made me a fan, despite the fact that for most of the film his character is not very appealing at all. Added to that, the first half contains annoying plot points that seem to recur in Southern Indian films with disturbing regularity and it’s amazing that I enjoyed this film as much as I did! But it’s the performances, particularly by Dhanush and Raghuvaran, along with an excellent soundtrack and a better second half that made this film worth watching. It’s a remake of Selvaraghavan’s Telugu film Aadavari Matalaku Ardhalu Verule which I haven’t seen, but it does seem a lighter romance than Selva’s usual fare.

Back in 2008 when this film was released, I’d never heard of Dhanush and the Tamil films I’d watched were all either Rajinikanth or Kamal Hassan starrers with the odd Vijay or Madhavan film that somehow made their way into my DVD collection. But then I saw this song on the bus heading out to work in the villages around Trichy and I was instantly intrigued. I wanted to know why the guy was wandering around in a total daze following a girl who seemed totally oblivious to his presence and since I loved the song too, I knew I had to find a copy of the film!

Dhanush plays Vasu, a rather miserable layabout who half-heartedly applies for jobs where he doesn’t really ever seem to have a hope of being employed. He has a couple of good friends, Cheenu (Karthik Kumar) and Ganesh (Karunas), who seem willing to put up with his morose disposition, and a long-suffering father (Raghuvaran) with whom he has a difficult relationship. But just when Vasu seems to be going nowhere, he sees Keerthi (Nayanthara) and falls instantly in love – although this does seem to be based solely on her appearance and enjoyment of the rain. Which is where that song comes in. We’re back to the disturbing premise that stalking = love for this part of the film, but as Vasu follows Keerthi he finally becomes motivated and manages to secure a job at the same software company. Keerthi is his boss, and although she isn’t impressed with Vasu, her irritation with him doesn’t deter Vasu’s enthusiasm or belief that she will fall in love with him too.

Despite never having shown any previous signs of genius or diligence, Vasu turns out to be a computer whizz-kid and manages to single-handedly save a project by working all night. The power of love I presume since he also has to teach himself basic programming along the way!  As a result he is sent to Australia with Keerthi and a few others from their team for a short-term contract. I have no idea why Selvaraghavan’s screenplay demanded that the job should be in Australia since these scenes are quite clearly shot in Thailand with Thai extras, even though director Mithran Jawahar has tried to add an Australian flavour with the addition of surfboards and a song on the beach. It’s still not very Aussie though.

The best part about the first half is the developing relationship between Vasu and his father. Raghuvaran is excellent as Vasu’s father although his illness at the time is apparent in his frail appearance, and sadly Yaaradi Nee Mohini was his last film released before his death. He complements Dhanush in their scenes together and their relationship feels very genuine as a result. As Vasu gains maturity through his job he becomes better able to relate to his father and there are some great moments between the two as they explore their new rapport. Dhanush is very believable as the young man gradually discovering his self-worth and makes Vasu’s developing confidence seem very natural.

But after such promising character development, the next few scenes are just awful as Vasu declares his love for Keerthi and is rejected. There is some completely inexcusable dialogue as Vasu threatens Keerthi for insulting his father, and his immature and aggressive behaviour here is disappointing after an hour of watching his character supposedly grow up. Keerthi also seems to act out of character but thankfully the screenplay quickly moves on and things do improve for the rest of the film.

The action moves to a rural village in the second half as Vasu is persuaded to visit his friend Cheenu after Vasu’s father dies suddenly. Cheenu is getting married to his cousin who of course turns out to be Keerthi, and Vasu is forced to confront his unresolved feelings for her as well as deal with Cheenu’s large and very traditional family. The strangeness of village life for a city-bred boy provides some comedy, and Vasu lurches from disaster to disaster as he tries to cope with the lack of sanitation and contend with Cheenu’s tyrannical grandfather (K. Vishwanath) and Keerthi’s eccentric grandmother (Sukumari). Keerthi’s younger sister Pooja also presents a complication as she falls in love with Vasu and stalks him relentlessly. I was waiting for some realisation from Vasu that Pooja’s obsession for him was similar to his own for Keerthi but sadly this never happens. Still, Pooja’s character is very entertaining and Saranya Mohan is excellent in the role. Her attempts to get Vasu to notice her are amusing and I love her fantasy as she imagines them together in this remix of Palakkattu Pakkathile from the Sivaji Ganesan and Padmini starrer Vietnam Veedu

Although Vasu still mopes around miserably for most of the second half, his interactions with the children and Keerthi’s grandmother are charming and the development of his relationship with Keerthi seems natural and sweet. There are some funny moments as Vasu struggles to adapt and since the comedy is integrated into the story it flows well without disrupting the romance. The one fight scene is rather less successful since the only reason for a gang of rowdies threatening Cheenu’s grandfather seems to be just so that Vasu can defeat them single-handedly, and as such it doesn’t add anything to the plot.

While the story is fairly routine, there are a number of reasons why this film appeals to me as much as it does. Firstly the performances are excellent and there is good chemistry between Dhanush and Nayantara as their relationship develops. Dhanush really is impressive and fits well into the role of a rather ordinary young man while still capable of displaying a wide range of emotions without veering into melodrama. His attempts to do the right thing and keep Keerthi at arm’s length are very well portrayed and he gets the facial expressions just right to portray his inner turmoil. Plus he is funny and can dance – that’s pretty much everything I need.

Nayantara has a role with a reasonable amount of depth and she does a good job in making Keerthi more than just an average Tamil heroine, while Karthik Kumar makes Cheenu an interesting and likeable alternative to the hero. All the other cast members are excellent in their roles and I love Sukumari’s grumpy and fractious grandmother and Saranya Mohan’s determined younger sister.

Another plus for the film is the soundtrack by Yuvan Shankar Raja which has some great songs and in general they are well pictured. This is my favourite,  and it’s still one I watch regularly. I love the way the backing dancers are added in to the choreography and I think it’s  just a beautiful song that fits into the development of the romance perfectly.

There are also lots of little touches that keep the film feeling realistic such as the general clutter and disarray in Vasu’s house and the organised chaos of the family house in the village, while a shopping trip to buy sari’s is scarily familiar! These very normal scenes contrast nicely with the really quite wonderful dream landscape where Vasu dances with Keerthi which seems to be the only place where their romance can possibly happen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite the issues I have with the first half of the film, I love the second half and Yaaradi Nee Mohini will always be special as the film that introduced me to Dhanush. It’s not just for Dhanush fans though as all the cast are good and it’s nice to see Nayantara in a role with a bit more substance. I give the first half 2 stars, but the second half 5 which comes to a probably just about right average of 3 ½ stars.