Aaranya Kaandam should come with a warning – an excess of fake violence, actual real life violence against chickens and naked Jackie Shroff. Yes really! Jackie Shroff takes his clothes off in this film. We have no idea why the organisers of the Indian Film Festival decided to choose this film over many other excellent Tamil releases this year. Perhaps they wanted to see Jackie with his kit off, but why we all had to suffer is a mystery!
The film is a long (too long) tale of double crosses by Pasupathy (Sampath Raj) when he is caught between two rival factions of gangsters. One gang is led by the aging Ayya (Jackie Shroff) and Pasupathy starts out as his more adventurous and able lieutenant. Ayya resents his younger henchman and when Pasupathy organises a drug deal through a corrupt cop to steal cocaine from a rival gang we know it’s all going to turn out badly. Adding to the mix are Ayya’s mistress Subbu who wants to escape, Kaalayan who manages to stumble across the drugs, his competent little son Kodukkapuli, and the other gang leaders Gajapathy (who has an impressive pair of ears) and his brother Gajendran.
Although the overall story is interesting there is too much time spent setting the scene and explaining exactly who is who. First time writer and director Thiagarajan Kumararaja seems to have been heavily influenced by films such as Traffic and Pulp Fiction where there are a number of apparently unrelated threads which come together to form the climax of the film. But while he manages to bring the various storylines to a more or less satisfactory conclusion, they don’t all work as well as each other. In addition to the pacing problems, there is a heavy reliance on gimmicky edits and lighting effects that lose their impact through over use. The actual cinematography was excellent, and the street and interior scenes were saturated with colour. Again, we suspect some of the highly stylised angles and use of colour filters was influenced by films like Traffic but it lacked structure so it looked a bit too try-hard.
The soundtrack is a mish mash of musical styles and sounds. We think this might have been meant to create an art house feel, but really it sounds more like someone bought a world music CD and used that instead of going to the trouble of composing anything special. Like the gimmicky editing the music became intrusive and sometimes detracted from the scenes, often simply because it was too loud.
The story of Kaalayan and his son is rather laboured and the inclusion of some rather nasty cock-fighting scenes with lots of lingering slow motion shots and buckets of gore was quite unnecessary. A lot of this could have been cut without losing any of the backstory in our opinion. The child actor was fairly effective, and the audience certainly responded to his performance.
Sampath Raj puts in an impressive performance as the man trying to work his way out of a difficult situation. He has a good hero run, and puts it to use frequently throughout the film.
We know that traditionally anyone who is Jackie’s friend in a film seems to be marked for a horrible death or at least significant misfortune so we were expecting the wheels to fall off for Pasupathy. Jackie Shroff grunts his way through a series of inexplicable grimaces and as we mentioned decides to bare all. Thankfully there is pixilation but just not enough of it. Jackie Shroff himself may have preferred a larger area of pixilation as frankly it appears there was not all that much to be covered up! It’s not surprising that Subbu wants to escape from his early morning coughs and gurgles as well as the obvious horror of naked Jackie. Ravi Krishna is the gullible Loser who gets caught up in her plans for flight. Both he and Yasmin Ponnappa in her debut role turn in good performances despite a hackneyed plotline.
What does work is the dialogue, which seems snappy and funny despite the overuse of swearing in the subtitles. According to our Tamil language expert the characters weren’t actually swearing most of the time, so it seems strange that the subtitles decided to include as much profanity as they did. Especially when it seemed that every second word out of the kid’s mouth was something that our parents would still disapprove of. Maybe they knew there wasn’t enough plot to last the distance?
Temple says: This was a bore and a disappointment. The entertaining moments were few and far between, and the direction wasn’t focussed enough to make the incident heavy plot stay on track. I quite like Sampath Raj and if the story had been better balanced, this might have been a good gangland thriller. As it is, it’s a mess. I give it 2 stars – for Sampath Raj and so the torture of the poor roosters wasn’t in vain.
Heather says: While I didn’t find this film boring, it really wasn’t pleasant to sit through. There was a lot of really unnecessary violence of the gruesome and graphic kind, and the rooster fight scenes were totally unwarranted. Jackie Shroff was a real disappointment, although I didn’t have high expectations from him anyway. I can think of many actors who would have played this role much more convincingly – although all preferably without the nude scene! There were some good moments hidden amongst the carnage, some reasonable performances from a number of the actors, and even some good comedy. But not enough to save this film from collapsing under the weight of all the various plot threads. 2 stars from me.