Kamal and Abirami are seen sharing a light moment with her Kalai Maadu (Bull) – Sorimuthu. Abirami openly berates Kamal for being as brash and mindless as her bull. Kamal evokes a pet formula seen in Tamil films wherein often the heroine is shown to ‘mother’ their ‘not-so-worldly-wise’ mate along with romancing him.
In my view Kamal Haasan is the ‘Class Act’ in modern Tamil cinema. Virumaandi is an excellent movie by him wherein he dons the roles of the lead actor, director, producer, lyricist, singer and story writer. It is hard to beat such versatility and it gives you just a glimpse of his persona and deep understanding of the art and craft of filmmaking. The movie was released in 2004 and went on to achieve critical acclaim as well as commercial success.
The film is full of gory violence but you need to watch it to understand what Kamal meant by trying to convey the message of nonviolence through an extremely violent movie. He seeks to abolish ‘Capital Punishment’ and showcases how extreme violence can happen due to extenuating circumstances and Machiavellian manipulation of earthy characters. For those who seek to find ‘Iagoesque’ characters in Indian cinema, they need not look far to spot the diabolical character played by the villain Pasupathy. He is the ‘find’ of the movie and is set to have a long innings in Tamil movies.
Kamal has been inspired by the Japanese movie ‘Rashomon’ in setting the template for the tale. The narrative moves back and forth from the perspective of the various key actors of the event. This helps the viewer understand better than anyone else the real sequence of events – all the same the debate remains about whether everyone experiences the same ‘universal truth’ or actually perceive it through the prism of their own version of ‘reality’.
The story is simple enough. Kamal plays with elan the character of a rustic bumpkin who is brawny and impetuous. He fails to spot the devious machinations of Pasupathy who befriends him and betrays him in order to grab his fertile land. Pasupathy also seeks to prove his dominance in the village and ensure he retains the ‘respect’ of his brotherhood. Abhirami as Pasupathy’s niece plays the role of gutsy woman who fathoms that some evil plan is afoot and she elopes with Kamal to try to save him.
Pasupathy is relentless in his pursuit and forces Abhirami to commit suicide. Kamal avenges her death. The ongoing feud leads to the brutal killing of 24 people caught in the cross fire. Abhirami does a fine portrayal of her character and is able to stand up to the veteran Kamal. Rather disappointing to note that she didn’t pursue her career further beyond this film.
Rohini plays the role of a ‘documentary film-maker’ researching about the lives of prisoners sentenced to Capital Punishment. She seeks to abolish the ‘Death Sentence’. She pilots the film into the zone wherein the viewer is gradually made aware of the complex web of events that led to the gruesome killings. It dawns gradually that Pasupathy contrived skillfully to trap Kamal into committing such violence. Napoleon (benign Village Headman), Nasser (upright Jailer), and Shanmugarajan (scheming Sub-Jailer) play useful cameos as well. The climax is about the final face-off between Kamal and Pasupathy. And it ends with Rohini reiterating her belief that ‘Capital Punishment’ should be abolished.
The movie, without doubt, belongs to Kamal. Despite dealing with a grim tale, it has its amusing moments in the realistic depiction of ‘Jallikattu’ (Indian version of a Spanish bull-fight) that enables the hero to prove his valour and win Annalakshmi’s heart. ‘Jallikattu’ is a traditional sport played on the Mattu Pongal day (harvest festival) that is popular in the countryside where a is released from a closed enclosure and the youth try to ‘cow’ it down. The sport requires courage and skill as one can suffer grievous injuries in attempting to control the Bull. The winners don’t get much in terms of cash but their image improves and it is a popular way to ‘impress’ girls and engage in formal courtship.The Bull too can be a hero and the ‘unconquered’ ones are in demand to improve the available gene pool.
It was famously depicted in Rajnikant’s ‘Murattu Kalai’ but the nuances of the fight are captured well in Virumaandi as well. Kamal even sings a popular song “Kombulae Poov Suthi” to celebrate his victory. He follows it up with a duet with Shreya Ghoshal a mellifluous, ‘Onna Vida …’ penned by him. The music is by the maestro Ilayaraaja.
Kamal pulls off some neat moments of deception. We have the village priest perjure that he did not solemnize the marriage while he tries to hide the ring that he received as a payment for performing the same. Ah! The sign of a guilty conscience eh! Kamal has been attacked with a sickle that bears the name of Pasupathy loyalist. Pasupathy scents trouble but is able to convince Kamal that this was a sabotage. Abhirami knows better and guides Kamal to seek a reconciliation. Pasupathy again jumps in and ensures that the fight continues.
The Tamil dialect is strong and I had a tough time following the dialogues. In fact the movie is so action packed that you miss many nuances when you watch it for the first time as one is far too dazzled by the subterfuges at work. So it makes great sense to re-visit the movie later in order to savor the deft touches Kamal has put up throughout the movie. And that makes the movie a perfect classic for me!