Cast: Elamaran, Jeyaraj, Anil Kumar, Muthuraman, Aadukalam Naren, Velu Prabhakaran, Radha Ravi, Pasi Sathya, Seshu, Vijaya, Charles Vinoth
Whenever a critic rips apart a movie, there is always someone who asks, ‘well, if you know so much about making movies, why don’t you make your own f-ing movie?’ So, after ripping apart numerous movies and getting rather legendary for it, Maran has gone and made his own movie. First, a big salute from the critics’ community. And a smaller salute from the cinephile community. For what Maran has done is that he’s made a message movie and shown that you can make such a movie with some amount of cinematic finesse, without boring the audience.
When I say cinematic finesse, I’m not talking at the level that great directors have. But for a first-time filmmaker to even attempt such things shows a certain level of cinematic ambition. Not just script level ambition, where I am going to put everything on screen and make the actors deliver their lines. But I’m going to stage some scenes.
That was surprising to me because I’ve rarely seen him discuss technical aspects of filmmaking in his reviews. I don’t know if he does it deliberately or not. He focuses mainly on the story and actors. He rarely discusses camera work or editing. The fact that some things here are interestingly staged was a nice surprise.
The very way the title is written, the font, has the symbol of all major religions of India — Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. And there is a fable narrated early on that religion is never the problem. The problem is always those who use religion for their own selfish, anti-social and anti-Indian purposes. This theme is elaborated by the fact that we first see a cop whose name was Baasha and his father is Ibrahim. Now, because his name is Baasha, will he get a Muslim burial or his connections to Hinduism and Christianity result in those traditions being followed.
No religion is spared. Because this is a message movie, you expect a lot of speechifying. Yes, there are preachy monologues. But what Maran does, very interestingly, even in his writing of the screenplay, he places these monologues in the mouths of people while they’re in the midst of bigger crowds. What would have been boring monologues between people become dialogues, interactions about this particular issue that he has planted at the beginning of the film.
Maran is known for his trademark humour. This film is that rare message movie, which shows that just because you want to deliver a message doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. There are some laugh out loud lines, involving a boy erecting a shamiyana that are an absolute riot. Notice how this scene is filmed. This boy, out of sheer frustration, is calling somebody. All that was needed is to make him stand and make a call.
But Maran has a way of staging the scene. He makes the boy go back and forth, his frustration keeps multiplying and the camera keeps following this boy’s movement. Even the very first scene surprised me. It’s a single shot. That’s not extraordinary. You find it in a lot of films. But for a first-time filmmaker, it’s a bit of an indulgence.
Taking a single shot means that you have to have a lot of rehearsals. The actors have to make their mark, the technicians have to hit their mark. You have to make sure that nothing goes out of place. There is a lot of precision planning needed.
This is kind of surprising that Maran is not just a script level filmmaker, but he has some amount of cinematic ambition as well. I want to mention two more scenes that stood out in terms of staging. He stages gaana songs, they kind of are a combination of gaana and oppaari and they’re being staged like a stage play. That is the camera is stationary in front of this group of men who are singing the song. There is an audience behind them. We just see the camera being stationary and observing it like a stage play.
That’s interesting because we hear the whole song and the interaction between the various men as they look at each other and talk about various things while singing the song. But while this is happening, there is a piece of information regarding a by-election that plays a major role in the movie. And this bit of information is being passed on from member to member of the audience.
What Maran does is instead of telling us what this information is right away, he makes one audience member pass it on to another and then another and finally it comes to the person who is right in front, Baasha’s mother. Finally, Maran reveals what this bit of information is. It’s a lovely bit of humour and very practical stuff. It involves votes for money and it’s not the kind of stuff you needed to think of as being part of such a scene with this gaana song going on or crowd mourning the death of a person.
The other scene is when the leaders of the two parties — ruling and opposition — address the media. Maran again places the camera so that they’re very close to the leaders and the people around them. And we don’t see the media at all. There are no mics pressed into the faces, we don’t see the reporters. So, it is just these politicians that we see, so when he cuts from the ruling party leader and opposition and back and forth, it’s as if they’re having a conversation between themselves. And the media is kind of nowhere in the picture.
The film is set in a fisherfolk community during a by-election and Maran captures this atmosphere perfectly, whether it’s the fisherfolk themselves or the corrupt cops or politicians. The scenes flow smoothly and organically. There is a sharp focus to how one scene cuts to another because there is always something that’s happening that gives a little bit of a twist.
For example take the scene of peace talk between all the major religions being conducted by somebody close to the collector. Now this scene goes on as usual as you’d expect — arguments, counter-arguments, sounding like an actual debate rather than something staged with a bunch of monologues and people blaming each other. What really makes the scene is that when a cop takes the seat after the collector leaves and a gun makes an appearance and points in a particular direction deliberately.
There is this little bits of humour scattered throughout the movie and they make the messages palatable. There is at least an effort to add a sugar pill around the bitter medicine. There is no denying that this is kind of a rough film, it’s not super smooth. Some of the acting could have been better. Some of the rough edges could have been smoother. The final stretch degenerates into high-pitched melodrama considering what we’ve just seen. And it doesn’t seem to fit especially with that closing line that is really in your face.
But to make a message movie in Tamil cinema that doesn’t send you home with a freaking migraine, that is no small achievement. So, yes, colour me surprised. Mr. Maran, you’ve earned the right to rip apart several more movies.