Director: Sudha Kongara
Cast: Suriya, Aparna Balamurali, Urvashi, Mohan Babu, Paresh Rawal
It’s lovely when the hero of a film has a solid ambition. It’s lovelier when the heroine has one, too. Maaran (Suriya) — based on Air Deccan founder GR Gopinath and his book, Simply Fly — wants to create a low-cost airline. Bommi (Aparna Balamurali) wants to run a bakery. The loveliest touch is when they make a pact (her suggestion) that their earnings go into a common pool. It’s not his income or hers, but theirs. I don’t think I’ve seen household financial decisions being depicted on screen ever, less so when the couple is yet to get hitched. The Maaran-Bommi scenes are the best thing about Soorarai Pottru, directed by Sudha Kongara. (She’s a friend. I had a look at an early draft of the script.) Suriya has many big acting moments here, and his most brilliant one is in the scene where — despite that pre-marital pact — Maaran hesitates to ask Bommi for money. Her business is soaring. His is just not taking off. You can see him struggle to bring out the words, which seem stuck in his throat.
Now, take another big acting moment, when Maaran’s father is dying and he scrapes together enough money for an economy-class ticket, but that section is full, and he now needs to scrape up more money for a business- or first-class ticket. He approaches other passengers in the airport, all of whom refuse to help, and he is soon reduced to an emotional mess. But the relationship between Maaran and his father hasn’t been as well-etched-out as the one between Maaran and Bommi, so the breakdown comes across like a standalone scene, like something from an acting audition. Again, Suriya is terrific, but we are responding to the actor’s efforts, not the character’s plight. We’ve been air-dropped into this moment. We’ve not arrived at it organically.
This feeling comes up over and over in Soorarai Pottru. In terms of sheer professionalism, the film is by far the best thing that’s come on the southern OTT space. And I totally get the decision to masala-fy this story. All biopics (even fictionalised ones) have the same boring arc: failure, failure, failure, success. You have to do something to vitalise this failure, failure, failure, success. But in the process, I got the sense that an edgier script with more shadings had gotten generic-ised and, well, simpliflied. (I don’t recall the draft I read very well, but I remember being goosefleshed over and over.) It’s the same sense I got with Kaithi (which almost everyone else loved, and I think I will be in the minority here, too). This keeps making me wonder if it’s ever possible for a strong, independent-minded filmmaker to make a strong, independent-minded film with a “mass” star. All the “flavour” in Soorarai Pottru resides in the serrated-edge songs (by GV Prakash) and the lip-smacking lyrics.
In the equally serious Irudhi Suttru, Sudha demonstrated how a story as old as time could be rejuvenated by very fresh, very funny writing. There wasn’t a moment that didn’t belong, that didn’t rise from what came earlier, that didn’t segue cleanly into what came later. The non-linear writing of Soorarai Pottru is not the problem, but the film is frantically cut and it doesn’t stop to breathe. We seem to be jumping from one high point to the next (the film seems to be on perpetual fast-forward), and I longed for a shot as basic as, say, Maaran running his hands over the surface of one of the planes he has fought so hard to get. It can’t all be noble-minded social service. (“I need to make flying cheaper for the masses.”) Some of it has to be personal, too (“Fuck, I did it!”)
The villains (Paresh Rawal, etc.) are painfully one-note caricatures, and they made me flash back to how even the oppressors in Gunjan Saxena were humanised. And the “mass” scenes (like the people of Maaran’s town sending him money) seem thrust in without a build-up. (Perhaps they’d play better in a theatre setting?) Or perhaps this is all the result of a longer film being chopped to a two-and-a-half-hour running time, I can’t say. What we’re left with is a drama that gives us a wonderful heroine in Aparna Balamurali, and a hero who does “intensity” better than anyone else in Tamil cinema right now. Soorarai Pottru is by no means a bad film. But sometimes, and with some people, you want more than “solid” and “competent”. Cruising altitude is all fine, but what you really want is for them to touch the sky.