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Virumandi (2004)

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Written and directed by Kamal Haasan
Starring Kamal Haasan, Pasupathi, Napoleon, Abhirami and S.N. Letchumi

Kamal is a unique hybrid in the Tamil film world. They call him Sakala Kala Valavan, which roughly translated as 'a dude who is good in all forms of art'. Forgive me for the crudeness of that sentence, but that is what it supposed to mean and I beg to differ. He is a great actor, though still a long way to go to attain Sivaji's perfection. He is a good singer, but can never go near S.P. Bala or T.M.S in terms of cinema songs. He plays music instruments, and well there are scores of other great instrumentalists around. Hold your horses! Before you get all heated up, here's my point: Despite all these talents, I knew that one day he will be a film director and will certainly be the best director in the Tamil film industry. There... you can keep your rotten tomatoes and eggs, Kamal fans.
It is always difficult to write a commentary of a Kamal Haasan movie without getting emotional, for the mere fact that I am a fan of his. The same happens when I write Rajini film reviews. Both have been a big influence to us brothers' upbringing. We will never forget it.
It was back in the eighties when I saw this headline in a movie magazine, "I want to be a director" with the picture of a young Kamal peering through a viewfinder. I have been waiting since. I would argue with my brothers and friends that he 'ghost' directed our favourite films like Guna, Mahanathi, Sathya and many others since the groundbreaking Nayagan. The truth is out there...with all due apologies to the original directors.
I have not seen Shree 420, which is a remake of Avvai Shanmugi (which is a remake of Mrs. Doubtfire). I saw Hey Ram and loved it technically. But the film is too self centred, and his central character is too busy with either his wife, himself, his ideologies or with his facial hair. I could never understand him or relate to his feelings. Kamal the director also put in a lot of effort in the ambience, the production design and pushed Ilayaraja to his maximum. Kamal the scriptwriter bored me. So, here we are Kamal's second film in Tamil as a director. How does this one fare?
Script. The foundation of it all. And may I say that this is one hell of a writing job. With this script in hand, you can get Rama Narayanan to direct it and still get a good result. On a second thought...
Anyway, Kamal has done a superb job with the script. Every character is fleshed out in perfectly balanced way. The dialogues are both crisp and fleshy, at times allowing Kamal's wicked sense of humour to seep through. They are a real joy here. The pace is fast and at times, furious. The story-telling technique is not new. We are given two points of view as to what happened to this village where both Kamal's Virumaandi and Pasupathi's Kottalathevar are accused of murdering 24 people. One narration belongs to Pasupathi, while another belongs to Kamal. This has already been attempted in various Hollywood movies, and in Tamil, a glorious production called Antha Naal appeared fifty years ago.
But here, the script tries to probe the issue of communal violence and capital punishment. It actually starts with the latter, and goes into the former, before coming back to the question, "should death penalty be allowed in these days of political correctness and love for peace?" When we are deep in the trouble Virumaandi goes through in his backyard, we actually forget the original question the film asks. But Kamal comes back and sticks the question back down our throat. It could be intruding and interrupt the smooth flow of the narration, but we know that this is the intend of the film all along. The script wins hands down.
The cinematography is excellent and does not call for attention to itself. Likewise, Ilayaraja did an apt job. The songs serve the script, rather than the music hungry radio listeners. But this is not his best collaboration with Kamal. Personally me (and my brother) was disappointed. Only one song caught our attention. What made it worse was apart from the Virumandi theme, there was nothing else to tug our heart. Remember the Appu theme in Apoorva Saghotarargal, or the Ten Paandi Cheemaiyile opening chimeduring the tender scenes in Nayagan? All missing here. Basically hack job, aptly done.
The performers are all great. Kamal has never been at this ease in his career. His Virumandi, the carefree, loafer is not the cold-hearted violent thug as he was rumoured to be during the production. His love for his grandmother, played by the scene stealing S.N. Letchumi further enhances the fact that he is much more human and in fact innocent of crimes purported.
Pasupathi and Napoleon all have done an exceptional job, especially Pasupathi who plays the bad guy. So does Abhirami, who impresses us with the talent yet to be seen by Tamil film fans.
This movie deserves repeated viewing. It is nice to know that good old Kamal has will carry on surprising us desperate movie fans.