Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sundarapandian (2012)

Yesterday, I called many of my friends and asked them if they'd like to accompany me to this movie but no one was interested. I told them they didn't have to pay for the ticket, but even that wasn't enough to convince them. The promos were completely misleading and actually gave no hint as to what the story was about. I expected it to be the usual formulaic masala action film set in a small town with knife-wielding, lungi-clad people fighting the hero for no good reason. Boy, was I wrong!

The story revolves around Sundarapandian, an unemployed graduate who spends most of his time with his friends at a Nair's tea shop. He tries to help one of his close friends in wooing the girl he fancies. This goes on for quite some time leading to a couple of funny incidents. With Naan Kadavul, I waited for it to open up and go beyond the sympathy shots of physically challenged beggars. The same thing happened here as I kept expecting the film to get past its love story and get into the usual action mode. And due to this false expectation, it came across as a non-starter, working its way around romance and comedy, which would ultimately amount to nothing in the larger story. Again, I was wrong. The entire first half is good at building the characters that at intermission, I suddenly realized I just witnessed the crux of the story with a lot more waiting to be built upon it.

Sasikumar has been instrumental in the formation of the genre we now refer to as CineMadurai. Like with his previous two films viz. Subramaniapuram and Nadodigal, the prominent aspect here is friendship and betrayal. His Sundarapandian is an inherently good-hearted person who doesn't think twice before helping someone who threatened to attack him only a moment ago. I noticed how his habitual behavior slowly changed from that of Rajnikanth, who he idolises, into something that was unique to him. The choices he makes and the reveals which happen towards the end only increase your respect towards the character.

The problems which all the characters face are not superficial but have deep moral undertones. Unlike most mass hero action films, the antagonists here cannot be color coded as black or even grey, for that matter. They all have strong motives developed due to situational crisis and misunderstandings. We have come to expect the Fathers in the Tamil films to be completely unreasonable, never listening to their children's wishes. So when we have rational parents taking sense for a change, it was hard not to be amazed. Certain aspects of the film even reminded me of Devar Magan and A Separation.

Just when you think it is about to get predictable, you are surprised when things take a turn avoiding cliches at every corner. It is very well written with tiny elements which initially appeared insignificant coming to play at a later stage (this doesn't happen often in Tamil films.) The dialogues are largely effective, be it light-hearted or emotional, never once sounding preachy. Many lines, most of them spoken by Soori, and mannerisms were genuinely funny. The acting was consistent throughout with almost everyone doing a decent job. The casting of Lakshmi Menon as the lead actress deserves a special mention. Surprisingly, the songs aren't bothersome and are used rather effectively. The climax was excellent and I had no idea how things would eventually pan out. It is a complete entertainer which had me hooked throughout. After all, this is the first time I applauded at the end of a Tamil film since Aaranya Kaandam. It is almost that good.

This industry is so starved for good films that we jump to laud every semi-decent effort that comes our way. That's not the case with this film. Sundarapandian gets too many things right- an unprecedented feat in Tamil cinema. Which is why I decided to write some more. I was wrong when I said the story revolves around Sundarapandian. I just realized how it has Archana at its center, with four men vying for her attention. Menon's acting is very good and this is just her first film. She is way more talented than all of those Bombay imports put together. This is how one writes a formidable female character.. not by making her wear a pair of stupid trousers.

The lead character is almost on par with that of Shakti from Devar Magan, played by Kamal Hassan. I think it is fair to say Shakti was a little selfish in the beginning- reckless and doesn't even take responsibility for a mistake he committed. Remember how he quickly blames Esakki for breaking the temple lock? There's a visibly clear transformation in him as we see the person he goes on to become. On the contrary, Sundarapandian has always been a gem of a person. A playful kin, a strict disciplinarian and the greatest of friends. It's the choices he makes close to the end that made me draw a parallel between him and Kamal's Shakti.

I always sensed a betrayal was in the offing. The tall guy must have been deeply hurt when he learnt Archana had feelings for Sundarapandian. It was a little unconvincing when he simply let him have his girl. This issue comes forth once again when Appu Kutty tells the tall guy that he's fighting for both of them. But Prabhakaran deftly manages to make us forget about this untied thread. So much so that when Sundarapandian asks the tall guy to accompany him when he goes to meet Vijay Sethupathi's character, I was sure he was going to die. The final reveal changed everything, didn't it? Was it a conscious attempt on the tall guy's part when he pushed Appu Kutty to his death? Was the instantaneous action so calculated that he knew Sundarapandian would own up, taking both of his known competitors out of the picture with a single hit? I don't think so. But the fact remains he is responsible and lets someone else take the fall for him.

"Kuthunavan nanban aa irundha sethalum kaatikoduka kudathu. Atthan da natpu."