Some directors jump from one genre to another effortlessly while others make the leap rather shakily. Karu. Palaniappan, based on Sivappadhigaaram, falls in the latter category. After the wonderful Parthiban Kanavu, a sweet, feel-good entertainer, he slips rather badly in this wannabe-social actioner. His good intentions and sincerity are apparent but can’t save the film, which starts off being boring and after the halfway point, becomes familiar.
Ilango(Raghuvaran), a retired professor, moves back to his village along with his daughter Charulatha(Mamta). He wishes to publish a book about the folk songs that are so popular in the countryside and Satyamoorthy(Vishal) joins him a day later to assist him in his task. But we soon learn that the two have a much bigger agenda.
Karu. Palaniappan’s sincerity is not in doubt. His intentions are noble and his attempt to convey positive messages is laudable. But good intentions alone do not make a good film. Popularizing folk songs sounds like a good idea but there not many ways to present it interestingly and it shows. There are too many folk songs (one would become a chain smoker if one walked out for every song in the first half!) and though the first couple sound good, they soon overstay their welcome. Getting real villagers and singers(I think) to participate is a good idea but with no hint of a story, the film meanders, seeming more like a documentary during these portions. The intermission point occurs less than an hour into the movie but it seems much longer.
The folk song track is then completely abandoned as the focus turns to the actions of Raghuvaran and Vishal. We soon realize that the movie has started only after Vishal’s first attack and that everything that went on before it was completely disposable. That realization further irritates us about the first half! The attack itself is completely unbelievable(we are expected to believe that someone can stab a politician who is going to file his nomination for the election and walk out unnoticed) but is welcome since it finally gives some direction to the movie.
As expected, there is a flashback that explains Vishal’s actions but there’s nothing new there. We get power-hungry politicians and corrupt cops doing what they usually do in the movies. And like all movies about vigilantes, we get a personal revenge angle. But the segment does work as a damning indictment of politics with pretty much every politician, right from the Chief Minister down, shown as being completely immoral. As they plot their moves, the depths they sink to are pretty scary and so, quite interesting.
The flashback is mostly set in a college and for once, doesn’t make a mockery of college life. With the Kalloori Saalaikkul… background number, the movie presents a college where students do study(apart from having fun) and the teachers are inspirational and treated with respect. Considering Tamil cinema’s track record when it comes to portraying college life, the segment comes as a relief.
As Vishal goes around executing his plan, the movie begins to resemble other vigilante movies(most notably Ramanaa). All elements of those films - like an officer trying to unearth the vigilante's identity, the targets getting scared of his actions, a flashback detailing the reasons behind his mission, etc. - are present here too. The climax in the middle of the Azhagar festival has the right elements in place but ends up being too simplistic and cinematic.
Vishal definitely has good screen presence and does the brooding role well. But his diction is a big problem and his trouble with the zha sound makes some of his long lines almost embarrassing. Mamta looks beautiful though like most heroines, she doesn’t fit in in the village. Raghuvaran is his usual self. Ganja Karuppu has some nice one-liners that inspire chuckles and the villains are the usual bunch. Vidyasagar, after some disappointing soundtracks, comes back to form here. Chithiraiyil Enna Varum… and Atrai Thingal… are both wonderful melodies that are appealing the very first time we hear them. The former is picturized in a suitably mellow fashion while the latter has the lead pair romping around. The background song that plays when Vishal is on his missions is also inspirational.