Monday, June 26, 2006

Pudhupettai: Celebrating the obscene and guttural

Pudhupettai chronicles the life of 'Kokki' Kumar, a superhero who single-handedly murders almost the entire cast of the movie in his ascendancy to political power. This is cinema that celebrates the vulgar and the obscene. Violence is stylised and omnipresent, dialogue is guttural, and the acting, particularly by Dhanush, who plays Kumar, is both spontaneous and over the top.
Selvaraghavan, at the helm of his third film, makes his canvas, bigger, bolder, and darker. Scratch the surface and you might find that the screenplay is still filled with clich├ęs. But these are somehow reassuring in a film that devoid of them would have been reduced to an oddity.
The story begins with Kumar, who after fleeing home and begging in the streets, joins a gang that controls Chennai's drugs, prostitutes and politics. Starting a career selling ganja on the streets, Kumar, in a series of scenes written with Dhanush's scrawny body in mind, soon joins the murderous mayhem his gang is unleashing on the city.
The first half of the movie ends with Kumar wiping off his enemies and firmly establishing himself as the alpha male among gangsters. This sequence is clearly inspired by Godfather's famous climatic baptism sequence in which Michael Carleone (Al Pacino) ruthlessly kills to establish his power. The last shot before the interval of Kumar looking at the city he has conquered with a bitter expression on his face is perhaps the best in the movie.
Prostitutes in Tamil movies are usually pure and untouched when the hero meets them. Thankfully, Sneha's Selvi is no such oddity. And the love between the prostitute and the gangster is not glorified. Sneha stays within limitations and delivers a credible performance.
But for a few minutes after the interval, with the introduction of Sonia Agarwal, the movie comes dangerously close into lapsing into a family drama. For a while it looks like Selvaraghavan, entranced with his own heroine, might lead his movie into disaster.
But with a few strokes, this chapter, the movie's wildest and weakest, is worked into the main theme. Kumar's impulsive marriage seems to deliver that holy shrine of Tamil moviedom a neat little kick in the ass, the thali sentiment. Dhanush is at his best in these scenes. Thanks to him, portrayal of street rowdyism turns refreshing and believable. By most parameters that define traditional actors, Dhanush can only be rated as pathetic. But by being this alive to the role and approaching it with such conviction and voracity, the actor does dispel most doubts likely to arise in audience's mind of his suitability in playing a gangster.
Selvaraghavan has never made movies that are pleasant. Sacrificing logic for the sake of drama, the director has yet again delivered a powerful and emotionally vibrant film.