Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Katradhu Thamizh

Katradhu Thamizh is a difficult look at the life of a very unlucky man. Biographical movies are usually about people who conquer odds to make an impact; people who would make good role models. But this is a movie about a man who was dealt the worst cards in life. The director's attempts to link the state of Tamil today to the life of this man are artificial and even a little jarring. But as long the movie is seen as the life story of a man, it is like an accident - violent, bloody and sad but difficult to look away from.

When we first meet Prabhakar(Jeeva), he is on the rooftop of a building, ready to leap to his death. But he isn't lucky in death either and is hauled off to the police station for his suicide attempt. He escapes and goes on the run and after his life takes some unpredictable, wild turns, he feels the need to tell his story to the world. He kidnaps a videographer(Karunas) and begins recording the story of his life. So, in his own words, we learn about his childhood love Anandhi(Anjali) and the strokes of fate that led him to where he is now.

Childhood in movies is usually a pleasant phase, filled with cute songs and fun antics. Not so here. The young boy here encounters more sadness than most people encounter in a lifetime and the events leave an indelible impression that shape the rest of his life. The way the director handles the childhood gives us a hint about the tone of the rest of the film and we are not disappointed. The shadow of death constantly looms over the protagonist and tragedy follows him everywhere he goes. Having been used to movies where heroes set up a roadside eatery and turn around their lives in a single song, the starkness of the film and its protagonist's life comes as a surprise. Jeeva's transformation from a promising, idealistic student to a man on the brink of mental imbalance has been charted in a believable, realistic manner.

The way Jeeva's life spirals out of control is compelling material but I had a problem with the reasons that is attributed to. The director tries to lay it at the feet of the worthlessness of his Tamil degree but in the way the story is told, that doesn't come through. Inspite of all the problems he faces in his childhood, Jeeva studies and gets a job as a teacher using his degree. The event that sends his life hurtling out of control is a cruel stroke of fate and not his inability to leverage his degree. Even a Computer Science graduate who chose that exact moment to buy a cigarette from that teashop would have faced the same consequences. So Jeeva's monologues about the lack of respect for Tamil, the call center culture and the growth of the divide between the rich and the poor come off as rants arising out of jealousy and not frustration. The points he makes may be valid but the movie doesn't create a situation where they seem natural and justified. They seem to have inserted to give him a chance to act and to add some crowd-pleasing dialogs.

Considering Jeeva's travails, the lack of emotional attachment to his character comes as a surprise. I've felt more sympathetic to characters who have gone through a lot less but Jeeva here does not elicit a similar emotion. And its the way his character has been shaped in the latter part of the film that is responsible for this. Some of his acts, like his behavior when he visits his friend at his software company,make him earn our dislike. And its not just that his behavior is bad. It is very cinematic and unrealistic. His behavior towards the girl, while disgusting, can atleast be attributed to his disturbed state of mind. But the way he talks to his friend is silly. What comes out of the scene (and the segment where Jeeva runs into a call center employee) is the director's dislike of the growth of the software industry and his enthusiasm to thrust it into the film.

While I have always welcomed screenplays that didn't follow a strictly linear narrative structure, this is one film where I felt the way the story was narrated was counterproductive. The story moves back and forth in time many times and there are times when we have to think to understand the exact timeline of events. Though not as important as the character arc, the narrative structure does play a part in our emotional detachment from the protagonist's story.

Ironically, it is when things improve for Jeeva that we finally feel sympathetic towards him. As his life takes a turn for the better, the knowledge that his past could catch up to him makes him earn our sympathy and we wish fervently that things work out for him.

Jeeva seems to be picking offbeat films and after films like Raam and E, this is another film that gives him the opportunity to prove his acting chops. He passes with flying colors. Unrecognizable under his hair and beard for most of the movie, he is completely believable during all the phases in the protagonist's life. Anjali makes an impressive debut. Though she has a lot less screen time than Jeeva, she manages to earn our sympathy in the time she is onscreen. Director Azhagamperumal has a nice role as Jeeva's Tamil teacher. Karunas earns a few laughs with his comments about his predicament. Yuvan's songs fit the sober tone of the film. The cinematography makes us sit up and take notice. The handheld, shaky picturization suits the first-person narrative perfectly and makes us develop and immediate connection with the narrator. Some of the locales, whether the green hills of Jeeva's childhood or the barrenness of the desert when he goes looking for Anjali, are captured beautifully too.


At 1:27 AM, Blogger srijithunni said...

I was surprised to see this review, Balaji, because all the reviews i`ve read of the movie so far have been raving about it as a milestone in Tamil Cinema, but looks like it would earn only 3 stars on bbreviews..! :)

That Apart, I think Jeeva is a huge bundle of talent, which needs to be tapped better..!

At 6:22 AM, Blogger Ganesh said...

//What comes out of the scene (and the segment where Jeeva runs into a call center employee) is the director's dislike of the growth of the software industry and his enthusiasm to thrust it into the film.//
Isn't it hypocritical?Considering these kind of low-budget films gets noticed by the general public only because of the publicity given in internet and other forms of media.

At 7:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

let's hope this movie earns enough for jeeva to fund his nose job?

is he even thamizh?

At 9:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have not seen the movie yet - but saw a few scenes on TV and on the NET and quite impressed with it - except for that one scene where the hero(!) meets his friend in the software company really irritated me - not because of it's content but because it's very artificial and ill-conceived! I like Jeeva for his variations (unlike some wannabe superstars who just add a sixth finger to "show" the varition!!) in roles he plays and he DOES JUSTICE most of the time! From RAM, he'been discovered like Surya after Nanda and vikram after Sethu. Good going Jeeva!

At 10:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At a time when the likes of Vikram are satisfied languishing in meaningless big-budget larger-than-life hero masalas with endless hype, it is nice to Jeeva atleast attemtpting roles like these.
Unfortunately, with the dearth of good directors/writers he will eventually yield to commercial pressure and would be doing medicore stuff like Dishum

At 1:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Am one of the people who lacks the will to catch up on new movies on the big screen, even though am passionate about Tamil movies. The second day katrathu tamizh was released i was requesting people to accompany me for watching the movie.., and just couldnt get any company :) From what i heard, Jeeva himself was very enthusiastic about the way the film has shaped up. I was really impressed with his characterization in 'E'.

At 3:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good film imo. Not looking forward to his next couple tho' Rameswaram and Thennavatu........commercial nonsense :)

At 9:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really have immense respect for actors (like my Cinema Kadavull!) who dare to experiment. For every Raja Paarvai that flops, a Nayagan (definitely an "experiment" way back in '87) will hit the bull's eye if the films are made with utmost sincerity. But we have seen how Parthiban has hurt himself by obsessing over the need to be different. Alavuku Adhigamaa Pochuna Amudhamum Nanju Thaan...So, Jeeva nee maara venaam...aana, jaagarthaiya iru anney!

will watch Thamizh MA some time just to see what this team has attempted...

At 10:16 PM, Blogger Naren's said...

HI ..have been a regular reader here..though this is the first time am leaving a acomment..couldn agree more with your views on the movie..jus wanted to highlight something abt the changing timelines in the movie...te director miserably fails to cpture the exact timeframe where jeeva happens to pursue his M.A, given that the original title was Tamil M.A...

At 10:43 PM, Blogger Srivatsan Sridharan said...


Good comments :) especially your Nayakan reference. We can almost take it for granted that Mani won't make a film close to it in future.

Among the younger crop, Jeeva is easily miles ahead.

At 10:45 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

srijith, based on the reviews i've read, this is another of those movies where my opinion differs from the popular opinion :)

ganesh, nice point. i didn't think about it that way, i admit :)

anon, i think he is :)

apala, that was easily the worst scene in the movie. singlehandedly lowered my opinion of the film :)

vijay, i actually didn't think 'dishyum' was mediocre. it was very natural and realistic, considering the cliched story :)

indira, yeah, jeeva's character was one of the best things about 'E' :)

prin, thenavatu... paere sariyillaye :)

ram, my respect for jeeva has grown with each film. can't believe this was the guy who made such an unimpressive debut with 'aasai aasaiyaai' :)

naren, thanx :) yeah i felt the same thing. after that one scene where the tamil HOD talks to him, his entire college life was skipped :)

At 8:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great movie & must watch.. Jeeva is the next Kamal in the making.. As director pointe out, among the active guys around only Kamal & Vikram are capable of donning such roles.. Jeeva deserves the credit..

At 10:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Balaji, he isn't. "Jeeva’s father, R B a noted South Indian film producer despite having Hindi as mother tongue and hailing from Rajasthan, a north Indian state."

His face is a giveaway, to put it gently.

At 11:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

bb, but if u remember we all thought that he was quite good for a debutant, in "aasai aasaiyai." i think the so so movie is what made u say that he was unimpressive...

At 10:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

jeeva is the next kamal in the making..........definitely

At 8:30 AM, Blogger பாரதிய நவீன இளவரசன் said...

Though I read many reviews about this film, it is only your review has tempted me to go for this movie, not because of your analysis but because of your appreciation of the movie despite your differences with the theme of the film.

Anyhow, I could not comment more on your review before seeing the picture.

And about Jeeva - Of all the younger lots, he seems to be so choosy about his roles. RAM, DISHYUM, E.... and now this movie.

At 12:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

some quarters on the net say he is hindi, some say mother is tamil or malayalam. Then greatandhra says his father is telugu. So his ethnicity remains a bbig X.

But who cares? The guy loves tamil or else he wont b in the movie.


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