Director: Vijay Milton
Cast: Rajakumaran, Venkatesh, Subiksha, Radhika Prasidhha
There’s a nice bit of technical showboating in the first scene of Kadugu (Mustard), where the filmmaker Balaji Sakthivel plays... a filmmaker. His latest project is about alcohol addiction.
The Sakthivel character is talking to his assistant, who leaves, and enters the wardrobe van, and exits the wardrobe van, and meets Pandi (Rajakumaran), a folk artist who specialises in dancing like a tiger (there is no equivalent English word for “puli vesham,” is there?), and the assistant gives Pandi a part, and Pandi spreads a sheet on the ground beneath a tree and hangs a mirror on a knobbly outgrowth on the trunk and begins to get ready. It’s one unbroken shot, and it keeps going.
And then, this happens. The assistant extends a bottle of liquor to Pandi, so he can shed his inhibitions and perform better. Pandi balks at the idea, leaving us to stew in the irony that this sequence of events is transpiring on the sets of a film about the dangers of alcohol.
The assistant says, “Who’s going to know?” Pandi says he’ll know, and he unleashes this mind-boggling metaphor. If my shirt and pant are dirty, then everyone will know. But if my underwear is dirty, no one will know but me. Does this mean I’m going to wear dirty underwear? I may not be remembering this metaphor exactly right, but it’s in this general zip code.
A little later, lamenting his plight, he whips out the precise number of tigers in India and says there are people looking out for their conservation, but for a tiger-mimicker like him, there’s no one.
Pandi has no shades, and he’s the lead. You may feel ennobled by his actions, but it’s hard to watch a movie about him
If you’re wiping away a tear, then you know Vijay Milton’s new movie is for you, and you should probably stop reading. Because I found Pandi insufferable. He’s one of those do-gooders you find in this kind of movie. He doesn’t seem very well off. He hangs around an inspector (Venkatesh) as some kind of help.
But when he sees a little girl being slapped by her PT master because she’s wearing torn shoes, Pandi buys a new pair of shoes and places the box behind the weeping girl and scurries away, like a secret Santa.
So yes, it’s not improbable – maybe he saves a little every day and his do-goodism is funded by his own little piggy bank. It’s just that going there would have given us a shade to the character. Pandi has no shades, and he’s the lead. You may feel ennobled by his actions, but it’s hard to watch a movie about him. The character Nasser played in Avatharam – also about a practitioner of a dying folk art, whose finest “performance” comes when someone he cares about is harmed – was far less contrived, far more effective.
In 2014, Vijay Milton made a cracker of a movie, called Goli Soda. What he accomplished there was one of the most difficult things to do in mainstream cinema: he made the masala movie seem fresh and fun again.
The next year, the director bombed with the Vikram starrer 10 Endrathukulla, an actioner so execrable that anything would seem an improvement. Seen one way, then, Kadugu is a step up. At least, it isn’t mindless. It tries to say something. It tries to be about something. It tries to tell a story about people we don’t usually see in the movies.
The moment that really made me wince was when Pandi berates a man – all red-blooded men, really – for running after “blue-film actress” Sunny Leone for an autograph, and yet staying put when a local woman is abused
Like Nambi (Bharath, whose low-key assurance is a relief in the face of Rajakumaran’s 11-on-a-10-scale performance), a boxer who dreams of becoming an MLA. At his core, he does appear a good man. In an early scene, he saves Maga (Subiksha) from being harassed by a vile bunch of roadside Romeos.
But later, owing to his ambition, he makes a deal with the devil, who comes in the form of a politician who belongs to the same caste (and favours Nambi for this very reason). Nambi refuses to save a little girl, Keerthi (Sakthi), who’s in far bigger trouble than Maga was.
Or take Evi (Radhika Prasidhha), Keerthi’s teacher from school. Evi carries scars from the past. People still point fingers at her, and when she sees Keerthi in a similar situation, she chooses to keep quiet, hoping that silence (and time) will make it all go away. What if it doesn’t?