Aaranya Kaandam’s Lawless Jungle And The Meaning Of The Opening Quote

From the meaning of the title to its similarities with Ramayana, here are a few answers to questions from the film’s admirers.
Aaranya Kaandam’s Lawless Jungle And The Meaning Of The Opening Quote

Aaranya Kaandam released a decade ago and went unnoticed until it gathered a cult following and director Thiagarajan Kumararaja went on to make Super Deluxe later. In an episode of AskBR, Baradwaj Rangan answers  questions about Aaranya Kaandam from the film's admirers. Edited Excerpts…

What makes this a special neo-noir film?

Noir in French means black. So noir in cinema refers to a set of black and white films made in the 1940s and 50s. Generalizing a bit, the dark shadows of the cinematography hinted at the dark, pessimistic and cynical world the films were set in. Neo-noir is a new generation of noir made from the 1960s onwards: color cinematography, more violence and nudity, and also references or callbacks to the earlier noir films. 

Aaranya Kaandam is a neo-noir film because of a lot of themes associated with the genre: the woman who traps an unsuspecting man into her scheme, the voiceover, a fairly complex plot, a lot of gangsters without a cop in sight. Even the cops aren't authoritarian figures we're used to seeing; they're shown as foolish people. The film also has lots of shadowy lighting, tilted or Dutch camera angles and there are no good or bad guys. It's a world that allows bad guys to go unpunished. It's not a moral world. 

Does the film's title imply similarities with the Ramayana?

I don't think there are similarities, though the way Pasupati's wife is kidnapped reminds you of Ramayana. But this is more about the meaning of 'aaranya' which means forest. It's about people who live by the laws of the jungle. 

The names of the characters are from the animal kingdom too. Singamperumal looks like a lion baring his teeth, though Thiagarajan Kumararaja says that it's the face he usually makes to his mother. Other characters are called Pasupati, Kalaiyan, Chittu, Gajapathi and Gajendran, all with names referring to animals. 

What made Yuvan use melodic music in the final gangster faceoff?

I look at it as something that goes with the existential mood of the film. This is not your typical action movie where you need an adrenaline pumping score. The action has come about after a lot of deliberation by Sampath's character. So, the key motion is not the action itself but whether he will be able to pull off his dangerous plan. The music reflects that. 

Similarly, there's a waltz bit in the film with a bit of sadness but the basic beat prevents it from getting too sad. It's something existential. The music in the film doesn't hype up the emotions. 

The film opens with a quote by Vishnugupta that says: Dharma is what is necessary. What does this mean for the film?

Thiagarajan Kumararaja said that he picked the quote from one of his favorite books: 'From Volga to Ganga,' a set of short stories that mix fact and fiction to describe the migration of Aryan tribes from Eastern Europe to India. Kumararaja told me that the quote was eye opening for him and explained many riddles of human behaviour. 

If we apply this quote to the film, each person in the film has needs and their behaviour comes from that. Only the good guys get a bit of justification. For everyone else, there's no motivation or justification for their action. Their actions are defined by their needs.

Why do you think Subbu shot Sappai in the end?

I think that it could simply be that there were no more bullets left. There's a shot where she pretends to cry in front of Pasupati after she takes a look at her gun. So, maybe she realizes at that point that there are no more bullets. But, I thought I had heard only five shots: four aimed at Sappai and one aimed at a henchman. Perhaps, she realizes that shooting Pasupati is a risk. It was probably easier to pretend to be a helpless woman and slip away.

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