By: By Moviebuzz
Critic's Rating: 17/5
Thursday 15 January 2004
Kamalhassan, Abhirami, Napoleon, Nassar, Pasupathy, Rohini
Kamalhassan?s Virumaandi is a vital, sardonic and disturbing brave attempt at good cinema with a provocative message. It is an eloquent argument against capital punishment without excusing the killer for his crimes.
At the moral centre of the film are two men - Virumaandi (Kamalhassan) who is waiting for death sentence for crimes that he has not committed and Kothala Thevar (Pasupathy) serving life imprisonment after killing many innocents. Maybe there is redemption yet as Angela Kathamuthu (Rohini) a documentary film-maker and a fierce critic of capital punishment comes to the central jail in Chennai to make a TV documentary on this sensitive issue.
The two protagonists are initially reluctant to speak but later confess their respective side of the same story and Angela is able to bond with them more out of duress than choice and is slowly sucked in as the videotaping turns dangerous! Kamalhassan weaves together real life incidents; fantasy and imagination with a chilling motif - people are not what they appear to be. The background details are perfectly worked out though there are rankling echoes of Hollywood anti- death penalty movies like Kevin Spacey?s The Life Of David Gale and Sean Penn?s Dead Man Walking .
Virumaandi is a film both told in the present and past which makes it slow paced. The film at times looks arty with its documentary approach to story telling. The double narrative with typical Theni dialect is confusing at times. Virumaandi is a brave man, a lovable rascal for the villagers of Chinnakkolarpatti in Theni district. He is emotional about his friends and will do anything for their sake including taking part in jallikattu (bull fighting). His biggest supporter is Supputhayi, his grandmother who always reminds him that he owns the most fertile pieces of land in the village as it has ?Liquid Gold?- water.
A local chieftain and influential man Kothala Thevar (Pasuathy) eyes Virumaandi?s property though they are good friends. Kothala?s niece, Annalachumi (Abhirami) is a bold, aggressive girl who travels in a moped and runs her own poultry farm and rears Sorimuttu, a jallikattu bull, whom Virumaandi defeats and she falls in love with him! In Kothala?s fight against another chieftain Nallamanicker (Napolean), Virumaandi supports him to the hilt. Slowly but tactfully Kothala frames Virumaandi but Annalachumi helps him and they elope to a nearby village and get married.
But Kothala traces them with the help of a corrupt police officer Paykamman (Shanmugham) and she is brought back to be humiliated and get forcefully married to Kottaichami. But Annalachumi commits suicide in disgrace and Virumaandi is now on a rampage and is helped by Nallamanickar. But in a twist of events Virumaandi is caught and sentenced to death for killing 24 innocent people and abducting and raping Annalachumi. But Kothala who surrenders is only given a life imprisonment. Now Angela unspools her tape as the film moves to a bloody climax in the jail.
Kamal unfortunately is unable to dovetail the film to its logical conclusion. What starts off as a full-throttle premise peters out to a lame finale. However topline work is elicited from cinematographer Keshav Prakash and art director Prabhakaran who were able to give a local flavour and smell of Theni village to Campa Cola grounds in Chennai especially in the Jallikattu scenes. Ilayaraja?s music is melodious.
Pasupathy as Kothala Thevar is menacing and has given villainy a new meaning. Naseer and Napoleon are wasted in insignificant roles while Rohini does a superb cameo. Abhirami brings compassion and conviction to the role of Annalachumi. She is brilliant and is able to match up to the hero in those steamy romantic scenes. And finally at the epicentre of the film is Kamalahassan. As the tale heats up the versatile actor comes alive and captures the zest and passion called by the script. Be it his flawless comic timing or his denouement in the prison, he is astounding.
For the first time in Indian mainstream cinema a director has made a film, which consists of different narratives by two central characters connected by one sole incident. Sometimes you will see the same scene that will make sense as the story unfolds. On the downside there is too much blood and gore and violence against women, which could have been avoided. Still Virumaandi is a cut above the common place.
Verdict: Class Act