Madura Veeran; Director: PG Muthiah;
Cast: Shanmugapandiyan, Samuthirakani, Bala Saravanan
Given all the rural films we’ve made over the years, you’d think it’d be hard to think of something new in the genre. But PG Muthiah’s Madura Veeran can’t be so easily dismissed. It has all the typical moments you would expect from such a film, and yet, it also manages to pull away from the trappings of the genre.
Take, for example, the hero introduction scene. Kodhandam (a hilarious Bala Saravanan) asks his lackeys to get the hero who is returning home but unfortunately, they end up bringing someone else.
You may expect a rousing entry for the hero, but Muthiah will have none of it. He introduces Durai (Shanmugapandian) with the least fuss. Immediately after, the energetic Kaapathu Karupaa kicks off and shows all the grandeur of a village festival. This invocation to the almighty also serves as a placeholder to the title cards.
If you thought from the promo material that Madura Veeran is a film about jallikattu and the resultant protests, it’s not. It is the story of Durai who has come home from Malaysia (Sagaptham was set in Malaysia; so it is a nice little callback) to get married but in truth, wants to find out who murdered his father Rathnavelu (a fantastic Samuthirakani).
Samuthirakani increasingly feels like the actor who most directors feel they should reach out to when they want to convey a social message. Here too, he is the conscience of the film but why this character feels so different is that the writing is meshed in so well with the main motive of Rathnavelu: conducting a jallikattu with all of the surrounding villages. There’s also a caste element that Rathnavelu has to solve. This small flashback portion anchors the entire film and makes it a riveting watch.
The director’s deft handling of caste is quite evident not just in the way he has written his characters but even in the framing of the scenes. Enna Nadakkudhu, a lament sung in the flashback portions, has dancers dancing on the stage with the photo of Lenin-Marx-Stalin in the background, while the dancers are all clad in black and white. The theme of red, which one associates heavily in a Madurai-based film for the blood that is spilt on screen, is used in a completely different political way. The black and white comes to the fore even in the present day as Durai and his friends don black shirts and white veshtis to protest the ban of jallikattu.
That the villagers who have the most dirty minds are clad constantly in white shirts and dhotis, whether by intent or coincidence, is notable. Strong emotions have always been an important aspect of this genre, and so it is in this film.
All said, the film does have its downsides. The biggest of them is perhaps the lead actor, Shanmugapandian, who seems at home when he’s delivering roundhouse kicks (the sort his father’s quite famous for). With his height and reach, you almost wince when the goons get beat up. But in the portions where his acting chops are called into action, it is not entirely convincing. Also, the constant shots of him smiling and walking towards the camera get tiring after a while. If the script works, it’s largely despite him.
Also, another downside is the inconsistency in pacing. The first half seems hurried, while the second is more languid and almost threatens to derail the first half’s effort. A needless song and romance angle stretches things further.
But the film recovers well and the climax is at once both convenient and intelligent. All in all, it’s a really good directorial debut that achieves a balance with its intent to deal with both caste and Tamil pride.