If you take the career of Selvaraghavan and Dhanush, both had a similar share of success and failures. But one thing common with both of them was that they were constantly evolving in their own fields. Starting the career as a story writer, Selvaraghavan later provided successful yet brilliant works like Kadhal Konden, Pudhupettai, 7G Rainbow Colony, Aayirathil Oruvan and my personal favorite Mayakkam Enna. Though I haven’t seen Irandam Ulagam (which people suggest as a waste of time), Selvaraghavan seems to be the director who is always misunderstood by the audience. Maybe its the urge of the audience to understand and to get entertained instantaneously, make his films suffer at the box office. But if you look closely into his filmography, each film had a color and a flavor. Pudhupettai is no exception.
The opening scene of pudhupettai is a metaphorical reflection of the whole film. A dark-lit prison cell, where Kokki kumar (Dhanush) is taken into. He shouts as he can’t bear the silence surrounding the prison. He narrates his story as a series of flashbacks. And it resembled more of Anwar Congo in Joshua Oppenheimer’s ‘The Act of Killing’, except for the fact that Kokki really did all the killings in the film space, as opposed to Anwar Congo, who re-creates the real events.
Though I am not really a fan for songs that mar the narrative of a film that has an engaging screenplay like ‘Pudhupettai’, I really like the very aspect of showing the dark, un-known side of Chennai, a metropolitan city in South India. In the song ‘Enga area ulla varadhe’ (literally translates to ‘You are not allowed in our area’), the lyricist almost demarcate the different areas of Chennai with respect to different classes of society. And in the course of the song, they show the events that challenge the lives of people living in the area of Kokki on a daily basis. And violence is just another one to be dealt in their lives. Even when Kokki goes to a film with his friends, he asks ‘Fightellam neraiya irrukum la?’ (Will there be more action in the film?), which makes them breed with violence as a part of life. As the tagline of the film reads ‘Survival of the fittest’, Kokki kumar faces problems right from the word go. He saw his father killing his mother and runs away from his father, as he gets to know the plot of him getting killed by his father. And after a series of struggles, finally lands up in Anbu’s gang that operates for Thailavar (Azhagam Perumal), who is the MLA (member of Legislative Assembly) of the opposition party.
In one of the clashes, Kokki, after getting caught in the midst of the opposition gang, gets beaten to pulp and finally he lands a blow on the brother of ruling party MLA, Murthy and the guy dies on that spot for the surprise of everyone. Kokki survived the first phase of his struggle by fighting against all odds and made a name for himself in the gang. How he survives the next phase is what all about this visceral, magical yet subtle take on the lives of gangsters in Chennai.
Most of the scenes are shot in green and yellow lighting that gives you the gruesome and a haunting feel into the world of gangsters in Chennai. The way Kokki rise up to the task of saving himself from his enemies and also taking against them is a direct reference to the way ‘The Great Indian rat-race’. Even in one of the earlier scenes in the film, when Kokki gets framed as a guy who sells drugs, he gets beaten up in the cell and in the fraction of the moment, you can see the graffiti on the walls that has ‘मेरा भारत महान है’ written on it, which means ‘India is Great’ in the midst of red lighting, which is a subtle reference to the darker times Indians are in, with respect to violence (domestic, communal), corruption and lots more. (Though the film got released in 2006, nothing much has changed really).
Some of the ironical situations that happens in the politics of Tamil Nadu and elsewhere in India has been shown in an honest way, which is one of the most important positives in this film. There is a scene when Kokki gets arrested the second time in the film and after some time, he gets released (typical of Indian legal system) and when he approaches Thalaivar regarding the events that is happening around him, Thalaivar quickly makes him as the Secretary of a constituency and he is welcomed with grace by the same, you guessed it, the policemen and one police officer utter his name to Kokki and asks him to remember his name. These are some of the moments, that audience skips giving attention for two reasons, one that is not really related to the narrative and two it is a usual thing and nothing so great about it. Almost all the events in the film paints the same type of scenarios, but the way every sequence unfolds into a pattern is what makes ‘Pudhupettai’ a film, that has to be watched several times not only for the performance of Dhanush as a lone warrior in the battlefield of vengeance, revenge and survival, but also for the way ‘Selvaraghavan’ has given a definition to the gangster cinema, before it was cool and mainstream. As I have watched it long back, I don’t know much about its DVD sales. But non-tamilians, if you get a chance to watch this film with subtitles, go for it and you are in for a great experience of violence in an area unknown to many around the globe.
(PS: Though almost all the songs in this film were commercially a success, this one song, which doesn’t appear in the film sums up the whole film and you can listen to this with English subtitles here.)
Poster courtesy: Indian Alternative Tumblr