There is one big problem with all these filmmakers who set out to make movies with a plot bearing any minor pertinence to social issues of any kind: they can be exceedingly loud in terms of presentation. So much so that, the plot takes a backseat after a point and the director’s urge to communicate his opinion leads to alliteration-laden lengthy monologues. This problem has ruined many regional films that could have been quite a few notches higher on the quality ladder had the treatment been spruced up with a little more innovation.
One such movie was “Katrathu Tamizh”. The debutant director had a very innovative and relevant theme that translated into a loquacious narrative complete with value education lectures towards the end. In an effort to pictorially present an alternate take on the economic reforms that shook India in 1992, the director gifted us a half hour lecture on globalization. Though the theme appealed to me, I personally felt that the director tried too hard to make a different flick: one that tried to be different for the heck of it! I personally feel cinema being the visual media that it is, messages are best conveyed and appreciated through pictures. Dialogues play a very vital role but being a little stingy and conservative on that count can only enhance the charm. I’d prefer a graphic representation, visual depiction to a lengthy lecture any day.
That’s exactly why Azhagarsamiyin Guthirai is a gem. It’s a light hearted take on the various superstitions and the social evils that plague remote villages in Tamil Nadu. The problems due to these unscientific practices are part of the storyline i.e. they don’t appear as sidetracks thus making multi-Para monologues unnecessary. Yes, the movie features controversial issues like inter-caste marriages, satirical digs on meaningless rituals, fortune-telling and black magic, superstitions and the like. But at no point does the audience or the director feel the need to tag along a scene in which the protagonist transforms the village with his oratory skills. On the contrary, one of the central characters in the movie, an iconoclast in love with a female of another caste, is shown to be a person who openly sneers at tradition but doesn’t feel the need advocate his views to change the world around him simply because he doesn’t see a point and lacks the belief that things are going to change. He prefers to whisper wisecracks to his friends who echo his thoughts or mouth a one-liner to a police inspector who appears to be bewildered by the omnipresence of ignorance around him. These verbal tickles and the smile that they bring on your lips are definitely more effective than those verbosely sermons.
Satire is another interesting feature in ASK. Be it the director projecting his hilarious intent through the scenes mocking at fortune-tellers, the villagers performing shockingly funny rituals and investing in thoroughly unscientific beliefs in the name of god as the iconoclasts have fun watching them or the sarpanch and his sidekicks getting embarrassed in the process of hunting for funds, the sarcasm is of the highest order. The dialogues are crisp and explosive. Sample this: “dai ithu saami guthirai. ithu un guthirai than nu sollarthukku unkitta enna Saatchi iruku?”
“ithu saami guthira than nu solrathukku unga kitta enna Saatchi irukku?”
The best part about ASK is that it’s not preachy. Total abstinence from fanaticism is an astounding feature: nobody is deemed perfect; at no point does the director point fingers at a person and tell us that this is how you got to lead your life. He examines the beauty of various characters, marvels at the splendour of diversity and depicts the pleasurable chaos that reigns as a result. The movie seems to be glorifying pragmatism and rationalism at certain junctures, the group of suspecting, sceptical youth start becoming a little larger-than-life and heroic: but just when you start feeling that way, the director comes up with a comical scene in which a kiddo makes a fool of these ostensibly smart men, indicating that no one or nothing is foolproof.
Another interesting aspect that’s been highlighted is the plight of rationalists in the society. Just because they speak against the conventional motion, they’re dubbed as real life villains. (I know people who hate Kamal Haasan and Karunanidhi because they are atheists!) Rationalists rarely care about the indifference they are subjected to, but this movie makes a conscious effort to underline the fact that people with alternate ideologies can be humanitarians too. Though I have come across many militant atheists who speak passionately about atheism and are fanatic about it and make it a religion like cliché in the process, I also know of people who are open to arguments and know to respect an alternate faith at the same time as long as it’s not imposed on them. The climax is a beautiful exhibition, an honour crowned upon the people of the second kind.
But the most enjoyable character in the movie was definitely appukutty dude! I find him cute in his own way and he’s a pretty good actor too: I loved his introduction scene where he runs at the sight of his horse as Ilayaraja gives us goosebumps with his background score. The tinge of innocence and a conscious effort to not hurt others in spite of overt love for his horse has been gracefully portrayed. The emotions in the scenes involving appukutty have worked wonderfully.
Ilayaraja is a different beast in this movie: we see a contemporary version of the maestro. The lengthy orchestrations are replaced by brief strumming and strategically placed fill-ins though he does dig out scenes to exhibit his traditional genius. The songs are a little below par but they are a treat when you watch it on-screen with a little visual help. The cheeky interludes still evoke that occasional smile on your lips.
To sum it up, the film’s a breezy piece of visual poetry that’s sure to invigorate you!