I watched this movie at the preview held the day before the release. Even before I got into the theatre, there were drums and dancing and shouting happening outside. I wondered if the movie would live up to its hype. It did.
Virumaandi is a good film , it’s not exceptional, but it’s not bad either. The story starts with documentary-type footage. A female reporter played by Angela Kathamuthu (Rohini) and her cameraman are interviewing prisoners and prison officials. Their stance is a solid one against capital punishment and their aim, to enough footage for a documentary elucidating their viewpoint.
They interview two prisoners, Kotthalathevar (Pasupathy) and Virumaandi (Kamalhaasan). Similar to “Courage under fire” the first half of the movie delivers the story of Virumaandi and the village of Chinnakkolarpatti, Theni District. First Kotthalathevar gives his version of the truth, painting our hero in an unfavourable light as an angry and impulsive youth who knows no fear and is incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong.
Virumaandi is interviewed next, after some coaxing, telling his own version of the truth. Just as he finishes, riots break out in the prison and the 1.5 hours that follow after the intermission are nothing short of action packed entertainment.
I watched this movie without high expectations; in fact, I was bracing myself for another half-baked attempt. Like Anbe Sivam and Hey Ram, there are numerous sub-plots (sub-ideas are a better word) which are not fully developed. However, unlike its predecessors, the whole is larger than the sum of its parts in this case. Simply put, although Virumaandi does venture into other elements and sub-plots that are neither central to the general theme and idea of this movie nor played out to its completion, the fundamental part of the movie remains untouched and wholly gratifying to the viewer.
The movie gives us an insightful perception of the life in the village. Innocence mingles with primitive brutality in this embodiment of rural Tamil Nadu. The everyday activity of these villagers seem horrifying to the educated movie-goer. But at the same time, in spite of the strangeness of their emotions they are nonetheless understood.
The villagers, shrouded in sheaths of animalistic emotions and violence are nevertheless made more human by their primitive portrayal of the very basic emotions of love, anger, hate and passion that distinguish us from animals. The love between Annalakshmi (Abhirami) and Virumaandi is fragile and beautiful even if the lovers themselves are not.
The love-making scenes, seeming at first excessive and unreal for depicting a pure love between two villagers, on retrospection seems consistent with the character of Annalakshmi, a passionate and valiant woman.
The actors have all done an excellent job. Their portrayal of the characters is moving and truthful. The movie tastefully depicts rural life without condescendence. Violence is seen as a vital part of the film instead of just extra-padding to make this an ‘action film’. The love scenes, although between two hardened individuals, seem innocent and pure. And finally, the social message it conveys is understood and felt without seeming manipulative or over-bearing.
The ambiguous ending may get mixed reactions due to the film’s refusal to take the easy way out by satisfying the viewer with a definite stance on a controversial topic. It leads the viewer to make his own deductions and is all the more richer by it.
The only fly in the ointment for this impressive film is the graphics (which seem unreal and over-the-top especially during the ending) and inclusion of some ideas that are not fully realized within the 3 hour span – like the fight over water a basic and elusive necessity, capital punishment, the lassitude and corruption of our legal and justice system.
But that is a minor distraction and on the whole this film is a very good accomplishment; taking us on a journey of innocence, love, hate and passion set against the captivating and strangely innocent backdrop of Chinnakkolarpatti, the heart and soul of the Tamilian experience.
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