Mari Selvaraj’s Haunting Images In Karnan Give Us A Surreal Cinematic Experience

The character might be a blanket to hide behind, but deep down Karnan is Dhanush all the way: true, honest, and completely submitting to his essence.
Mari Selvaraj’s Haunting Images In Karnan Give Us A Surreal Cinematic Experience

It's been four days since I saw Dhanush-starrer Karnan. I enjoyed watching the film, loved the narrative, direction, music, and the stellar performance by Dhanush. But, I wanted to write about the haunting imagery in Karnan. Not many films allow for this kind of perspective because this isn't just about the visuals or cinematography. It's about how images come together to affect us emotionally. It took me two days to realize that I had been pondering over the sheer imagery of Karnan. 

In the very first sequence, a little girl is lying on the road as buses pass her by without stopping. The following sequence shows little girls' faces—masked! Something about this surreal representation makes complete sense; you feel it couldn't have been presented in any other form. 

The second is a "screaming shot": a very cinematic one with imagery of pain, and a lot of screaming. This is when Karnan is dragged into the prison. In probably fifteen shots, his entire essence is communicated. I knew Karnan's struggle. This is all emotional: I somehow felt like the hooded and masked Karnan, even though we don't really get a shot of him.

My heart felt heavy every time the little donkey with tied legs tried to break free. The persistent imagery of the donkey intercut with Karnan's emotion makes you expect that the donkey would break free at some point. But, how it plays out is a dramatic masterstroke— with Dhanush's eyes, like knives, delivering a piercing statement to the audience!

Even more haunting is the little donkey running back to its mother. And the masked little kid is with them! This is a drone shot of a largely empty landscape; there is a supernatural aspect in the way the shots come together. The imagery speaks a million things. I don't know if it was only me, but it triggered a deep-rooted feeling. It could be because of what I'm feeling right now in my life, but it's also been so long since I saw images that came from deep emotion on the screen.

Animals in the film that were a part of the visual narrative didn't do much to me during the first viewing. But those images kept flashing in my mind after I watched the film. Everything seemed so connected and yet so distant. 

Even the folk dance, where the fabulous Lal sings and Dhanush dances, felt real. Dhanush has performed the step a thousand times before and it's no question of Dhanush's dancing skills. It's just that when everything comes together, it feels organic. 

Director Mari Selvaraj shows mastery over emotions and in finding a visual representation for them. Dhanush's mastery over his craft comes through in how real he gets at playing a role. What he's able to bring on screen is not as simple and as he makes it look. His skills run deep and he breaks into his emotions, gets vulnerable, throws himself naked into his angst, insecurities, pain, and darkness, deliberately meandering with it and gives a visceral performance that's one in a million. You see a man completely honest.

I'm sure Dhanush would agree that he is brutally true and honest to himself in front of the camera. Characters might be blankets to hide behind, but deep down, it's Dhanush all the way: true, honest, and completely submitting to his essence. Karnan is an ode to Mari Selvaraj's cinematic reality and Dhanush's unapologetic sense of truth.

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