His films have always diverged from the routine formula flicks, and offered a fare different from the usual ones. And now Jhananathan yet again strikes a different chord with his latest Purampokku.... The film tracks the journey of three men with different mindsets and ideologies whose lives get intertwined. It touches on various issues, social and political. Meticulously etched with attention to details, it offers a well researched documentation of laws and the working of the system. It touches on issues like capital punishment, capitalism and privatisation, and the attraction that ideologies like communism still hold for those disillusioned with the ways of the State and the system. But it is appreciable that nowhere does it sound moralising or didactic.
The three characters — Balu a revolutionary sentenced to death, Yama Lingam a reluctant hangman, and Macaulay an upright jail warder in-charge of the hanging — are well fleshed out. Each actor gets his space and moment to perform, in a perfectly balanced act. The names seem to have been carefully chosen suiting each character. The film opens on a commentary about the country being a dumping ground for harmful and toxic wastes of developed nations. When Balu is arrested and sentenced to be hanged for his anti-State activities, Macaulay’s search for a hangman leads him to Lingam, a man guilt ridden due to a past incident in his life. But Lingam would soon get his chance for redemption. Kuyili, Balu’s comrade in arms, had planned a rescue mission with her comrades and Lingam was persuaded to be part of it. The first half takes its time establishing the characters and their backstories.
In a script of this genre, songs seem redundant and it’s distracting when they are forced into the narration. Like he has avoided a romantic track, the director could have avoided the song-dance numbers too. While Lingam’s back story is a brief one, the Balu-Kuyili one strikes a discordant note, taking a lot of unwarranted screen space. The shift of locations here, to the deserts of Rajasthan and to the snow-capped hilly terrain, seem more for providing some eye catching visuals, than for any urgent need of the script. Sethupathy brings out well the mental trauma of the character, his Lingam providing the relief in a film that is largely intense and serious. Arya’s Balu is underplayed, though at times one does feel that he could have been more involved with his character. But the surprise package is Shaam. With neither humour to lace his character like Lingam’s, nor the sympathy factor rooting for him like for Balu, Shaam working on his instincts, essays Macaulay with finesse. A wrong expression or body language would have made the character of the upright cop seem more like a typical villain of the piece. But it’s to the actor’s credit that he plays it with perfect precision and control.
It’s in the second half that the momentum goes up, with many suspenseful and thrilling moments. The set of the prison (kudos to set designer Selvakumar), is authentic, and the activities in it give a real feel, where a well-read Balu uses his time to solve the problems of the prisoners; Lingam making frequent visits to acclimatise himself with the job to be done; and Macaulay with hawk eyes making sure that nothing goes wrong. It’s a riveting moment where Balu tries to escape, substituting for another prisoner-on-transfer. Shot in a rainy ambiance, it’s a scene splendidly choreographed. Interesting are the methods used by Kuyili and gang, to hoodwink the jail authorities and monitor what was happening in the prison.
Since female leads are usually sidelined, it is appreciable that Kuyili here is showcased as feisty and strong in a role that is substantial. And Karthika plays it with competence. Kuyili on the rescue mission, and the sharp intelligent Macaulay making every effort to thwart it, provide some edge-of-the-seat moments. The scenes leading to the climax — a touching one — have a fatalistic feel. Informative and entertaining, Purampokku... is one film where the characters and moments linger in the mind, even after one leaves the theatre.