August 16 1947 Movie Review: Excessive Violence and A Drawn-out Screenplay Dilute An Exciting Premise

When the hero finally triumphs, you have already seen enough gore that you are ready to sigh and leave the theatre, but then it hits you that it’s time for an intermission and not the end card
August 16 1947 Movie Review: Excessive Violence and A Drawn-out Screenplay Dilute An Exciting Premise

Director: NS Ponkumar

Cast: Gautham Karthik, Pugazh, Richard Ashton

In recent times, several Tamil films that set out to stir patriotism, do so through genres of sports or action. Only a few titles like Madarasapattinam (2010) and Kaaviya Thalaivan (2014) are set in pre-independent India and touch upon what it means to fight for Independence. Cut from the same cloth, August 16 1947 does not just promise to take us back in time but also let us experience the most vulnerable moments of our country — especially, the crucial few hours before and after Independence.  

Have you ever wondered what a newly Independent India would’ve felt like moments after gaining freedom? While the whole of India is celebrating, a remote fictional village, Sengadu, in Tamil Nadu is kept in the dark, as they struggle to stay alive. In history, it is said that one of the main reasons the first revolt for Indian Independence did not create the intended spark was a lack of means for communication. So even when we know that the village will eventually learn of their independence, the events leading up to it create a certain intrigue.

But its promising pursuit is marred by a superfluous screenplay that spoon-feeds the emotions repeatedly: be it the romance between Paraman (Gautham Karthik) and Thenmozhi (Revathy Sharma), the pain and everyday violence that the village people go through or the templated dialogue and actions of the British General Robert (Richard Ashton) and his son Justin (Jason Shah) — there are just too many scenes that evoke the same feeling again and again. 

Maybe it was intentional that director NS Ponkumar wanted us to feel the monotony of their lives, but the tedium, unfortunately, passes on to the film. Even the beautiful songs (credits to Sean Roldan’s score and the lyrics) —  a love track, a song about their plight and another as they rejoice a day’s break from all the violence — feel stretched out. And it is one of the reasons why the film, despite being only close to two-and-a-half hours, feels way longer.

The makers have crafted restrained and genuine characters, with most of them not being reduced to mere numbers in the village — they are real people with their own backstories and purpose. But the same cannot be said of the Britishers, who play caricaturish villains — Robert beats people to a pulp and Justin is a lust-driven maniac. Violence and bloodshed predominantly occupy the screen. While real depictions of struggle are necessary for a film that talks about the Independence movement, it is unclear where one should draw the line. 

However, it is not to say that the film got everything wrong. Besides the exciting premise, the sets, costumes and dialogue truly take us back in time. The film is also elevated by some wonderful performances. Gautham Karthik is sincere as the self-centred Paraman, who is not a hero leading the village, a brave man ready to die fighting for his loved ones. Pugazh (who plays Paraman’s friend) had about ten releases in the past two years but none of performances stood out. It felt like the actor couldn’t capitalise on the momentum he gained with television. But August 16 1947 brings out the performer in him and how! Watch out for the scene where the villagers finally understand what he was trying to convey all along — you will find yourself smiling at the heartwarming moment. 

The film also explores what freedom essentially means to different people. Is it knowing that the British no longer rule the village? Is it knowing that no one gets to decide when you wake up, sleep, eat or work? Is it knowing that there is no authoritative figure you should fear?

Or, in essence, is it letting go of the fear and standing up for yourself, irrespective of the threatening figure? It is when August 16 1947 talks about freedom and how the village people begin to understand it, that you see the potential fragments of what the film set out to be. So when the village eventually learns that they are on the brink of freedom, they are initially in denial. But they weep and slowly start celebrating. And the camera captures a close-up of an old woman (with her unbridled emotions) who looks up  — the sky looks back at her with birds that fly freely — and you can feel what freedom actually is. 

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