Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Subramanyapuram


Bheema, Kuruvi, Dasaavathaaram, Kuselan... With films with big stars and established directors turning out to be disappointments at best and disasters at worst, 2008's been a rather bad year for Tamil cinema. It has finally taken a debutant director and a new cast to give us a reason to cheer. Rousingly realistic and constantly gripping, Subramanyapuram is a daring, confident film from a director who knows his cinema.

After a short but intriguing start in the present, the scene shifts to the town of Subramanyapuram in 1980 where we meet Azhagar(Jai), Paraman(Sasikumar) and Kasi('Ganja Karuppu), three unemployed friends. They double as henchmen for an ex-councilor Somu, who dreams of making it big in politics and Somu in turn helps them out when they land in hot waters. Jai and Somu's daughter Thulasi(Swathi) have eyes for each other though they haven't exchanged as much as a word. When Somu's political plans are dashed by another politician, the three friends step in and life isn't the same for them after that.

Subramanyapuram's story is not fresh or unique. The story of friends being used as pawns by people in power and getting caught up in a spiral of violence has been seen in films like Pattiyal and Naalai and the underlying theme of "violence begets violence" has been explored in several films like Pudhuppettai. But Sasikumar sets the bulk of the story in Subramanyapuram in 1980 and the location(with the distinctive slang and the local customs) and the time period(with the dresses, the television set, the movie posters, the old cars) add a new dimension to the story, which by itself is timeless and has nothing to tie it to that era.

Subramanyapuram is one those movies(Kaadhal is another that comes to mind) that seems like the result of the director training his camera on a particular set of people going about their lives rather than on a bunch of actors acting out a script. It feels like a series of events unfolding in real time rather than a predetermined story. That makes us care about the characters and lends a sense of unpredictability to the proceedings, both of which create a level of involvement that rarely happens in a Tamil film. Subramanyapuram keeps us pinned to our seats throughout its running time.

The biggest reason for the above is that the film is completely natural. Everything, from the dialogs to the gestures to the environment to the progression of events, feels real. Take the scene where a couple of friends visit Jai and Sasi in jail. This is usually a familiar scene where the visitors have long, uninterrupted conversations with the inmates, brush or clasp fingers longingly through those tiny squares in the barricade and finish whatever they are saying just in time for the jailer to say "Time's up" with a couple of swats of his lathi. But here the place is chaotic with the friends barely able to hear each other above the din created by all the conversations and when they do get to talk, the conversation is surprisingly brief and matter-of-fact. Almost every scene reinforces this sense of realism and when the characters, their conversations and the setting feel real, our reactions and emotions don't have to be forced either.

The film's second half contrasts sharply with the first as Jai and Sasi are sucked into a whirlpool of violence. The film pulls no punches when it comes to portraying the violence and it is quite brutal and visceral. But it is the shots of the non-violent kind - those delivered through words and actions - that always hit harder and that is illustrated vividly through the developments. The impact - both positive and negative - that these developments have on us is proof enough of our involvement in the lives of the film's characters. The finish is a little open-ended though and a little more explanation about the events that led up to it would've helped.

Director Sasikumar understands that cinema is a visual medium and convey things visually rather than making his characters spell them out(which is how it should be). So, when we see Jai and Sasi jump into the fray(without asking for a reason) when they see some people hitting 'Ganja' Karuppu, we know they are good friends who will stand up for him. We don't need a sermon about friendship to understand that. Its the same when Jai calls out to his mother when he leaves after visiting him. What he says is not a lot but it manages to convey exactly what he's feeling. That's not to say Sasikumar goes for unnatural silences or makes the characters speak in those Manirathnam-style clipped sentences. The characters, whether its Kanagu prodding Jai and Sasi into action, Ravi talking about the tragedy that befell his family or Swathi's uncle revealing his knowledge about her romance, speak naturally and what they say and the way they say it sound just perfect.

From a purely technical perspective too, Sasikumar shows himself to be a director who knows his craft. He puts his stamp on several scenes but not in a way that overwhelms the film itself. From those interesting transitions in the first sequence to the deliberate tracking shots to the exhilarating segment after Jai and Sasi lay their hands on some money, Sasi displays a wonderful eye for his shots.

Jai's diction is a little suspect but he conveys both the shy, carefree side and the fiercely faithful side of his character. Sasikumar doesn't take any wrong steps in front of the camera either and provides able support to Jai. Swathi overdoes the romantic look and shy smile bit somewhat but that is what the role requires her to do. 'Ganja' Karuppu utters a few very funny one-liners but shows us that he can do more than that. The rest of the film's cast fit their roles perfectly. Kangal Irandaa... is a wonderful melody from debutant music director James Vasanth. The Subramanyapuram... bit that plays in the background in one sequence is quite catchy too.

26 Comments:

At 11:12 PM, Blogger Venkatrangan said...

hey,

dasavathaaram was not a disaster, it was a successful film .Please dont use it in the list with Bheema and the rest..it was a marvellous film and you will regret to have made this comment after a few years...

 
At 11:24 PM, Blogger Srijith Unni said...

Balaji, I knew you would like this one.. ! 4 stars..? :-)

 
At 11:52 PM, Blogger Filbert said...

Balaji, Subramaniyapuram is a locality in Madurai and its not a town by itself :)

Haven't watched the movie yet. Waiting for the DVD to come here. But from what your review, the friends meeting in the jail scene remind me of similar scenes in Mahanadhi.

Finally, same question as Srijith - 4 stars? Can't wait...

 
At 12:47 AM, Blogger skanda said...

This sounds like Bad news that "Kuselan" has bombed at the boxoffice, I see very bad times for tamil cinema now....

 
At 4:45 AM, Blogger B o o said...

Watched this movie a week back and was waiting for your review. I liked the movie loads. Loved every detail of the 80s. The phone, the car, the tv, cycles, bus,... Awesome work. Its nice to watch a movie where the director does nt think he can get away with less than perfect details because the audience are idiots! Kangal Irandal is on a non stop loop at home! :)

 
At 5:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

dasavatharam blockbuster - internationally recognized movie. Please change blog or people will laugh at your blog.

 
At 7:03 AM, Anonymous arun said...

Watched it last week and yes it's among the very few good movies released this year. However, there were some sequences that dragged too long... like the thiruvizha/mokkachaami sequence, with its the loooong song, drags for (what feels like) a good half hour and the only contribution seems to be a funny ending that makes you chuckle a bit. Also the romance was cute to begin with, but the couple seem to exchange looks for way too long :) Overall a good movie, but could've used a bit tighter editing.

Four stars would be too generous, I think. May have felt like 3.5 stars, probably because of the current drought of good movies. But a solid 3 star. Just my opinion... let's see what you thought :)

 
At 7:08 AM, Anonymous AG said...

Thanks for the review.

Where did you watch it? A sruthilayam DVD?

 
At 9:12 AM, Blogger Balaji said...

venkatrangan/anon, i meant 'dasavatharam' was a disappointment(for me) and not a flop :)

srijith, 3.5 :)

filbert, there was a scene where jai & sasi ask 'ganja' karuppu to "go to madurai". thats what made me think it was a nearby town :)
and the jail scene has been seen in so many other movies and i think thats why it stood out for me :)

skanda, but a few good movies opening soon. lets hope for the best :)

boo, exactly. he made the movie without being condescending of the audience. without making any compromises whatsoever with the excuse of the audience wanting it. he guessed that they'd like a well-made movie and he was right! :)

arun, the tiruvizha sequence didnt seem too long for me. the song was nice and like the opening fair in 'paruthi veeran', it contributed to the atmosphere the movie created. same thing with the looks betn jai and swathi. didnt feel it went on for too long and her comment when they actually talk was short and sweet :)

ag, dvd but not sure which one :)

 
At 1:13 PM, Blogger Srivatsan Sridharan said...

BB,

No hard feelings but I feel safely Kamal and Rajini can retire at their highs currently :-P

You might say I might be hasty in concluding. I see both of them are past their peak. The moment Kamal announced Marmayogi was 120crore film I thought I was in store for another Dasavatharam!!

 
At 3:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

kamal doesn't need to retire, just his ego. virumaandi was a good movie, except for the hero antics at the end. vettadu and dasavatharam were bad, but mostly bc kamal bc wants to be too hollywood and too in every nook of the movie.

life doesn't end at 50, and i would love to see movies about older men as central characters in the stories, but they would need stories and characters rather than just platforms for kamal to show off.

 
At 7:09 PM, Blogger Rajesh said...

Thanks for the review. I watched this movie last night, a good movie - perhaps the best among 2008's movies I've seen.

Yet to watch Kuselan, will do on Sunday. But after reading your review and some comments from friends, I am not terribly excited about the movie.

-Rajesh

 
At 11:36 PM, Anonymous Rags B said...

You have summed it up pretty well....I personally liked the visuals, the camera angles were spot on and most of the dialogues came from the camera per se. A director who has a vision should prefer making movies with new faces (have control over them and to get the best out of them)......I would however request Sasi to just stay behind the camera, because we notice that he has the extra talent, which would ensure perfection

James Vasanthan has done a very good job with the songs. I would make it 3 stars....Whts ur call Balaji?

 
At 1:22 AM, Anonymous raj said...

balaji, I think Mahanadhi had a *similar* jail scene. Not "Mahanadhi also had a jail scene".
What you are appreciating in the jail scene here is exactly what filbert was pointing to as done in Mahanadhi. Not that it takes anything away from this one. But when I see you responding to filbert that you have seen many jail scenes and this stood out, I thought you didnt understand what filbert pointed out.

 
At 6:29 AM, Anonymous APALA said...

To add to Raj's Comment:

Untill "Mahanadhi" came, all our heros in jail had been shown having "gala" time of their life! (Singing, making jokes and partying all the time!) But ONLY "Mahanadhi" showed the real miserable life behind bars. (Even thinking of the movie makes me feel for "Krishna" - that's the impact Mahanadhi has on me even though I have not seen it in years!)

I liked that here too they had followed the same path. Good movie with very good performances. Really liked this one.

 
At 9:06 AM, Anonymous indira said...

i have been following Jai's career since chennai 28 and knew long before that he was starring in subramaniapuram. what endeared me to him in the former was his smile-less countenance and terse dialogue delivery... which was totally upset by his constant smiling in the romantic scenes in the latter. Yes, swathi was quite irritating in the way she kept staring with head held low - koocham not subtly portrayed.

 
At 9:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has Rajinikanth's Kuselan bombed at the box-office? The distributors of the film have approached Pyramid Saimira who marketed it for a reimbursement of their losses. The film which released on August 1 carried mixed reports from day one.

By day two of its release, in NSC area the number of shows was reduced, as it was released in too many screens. The fans did not like the film, and the family audience kept away due to vulgar comedy scene of Vadivel.

The film just did not take an opening that one associates with a Rajinikanth film. On Monday, the film crashed by more than 50 percent. At the end of the first week in multiplexes like Sathyam cinemas, it was moved from bigger screen to smaller ones, and number of shows reduced.

No Rajinikanth films in modern times have taken such a poor opening. The trade blames Rajinikanth, director P.Vasu and producers K.Balachandar, G.P Vijayakumar, and Aswini Dutt for this fiasco.

Vasu diluted the essential spirit of the original (Katha Parayumbol) by introducing scenes and characters which were not there in the original.

The producer's piggy- back rode on Rajinikanth's larger than life image and sold it to Pyramid Saimira for Rs 60 crore, when they knew very well that he was only doing a special appearance.

Why did Rajinikanth after initially saying that he is there for only 25 percent of the film agree to keep a studious silence when the film was sold to PS as a full fledged superstar film like a Sivaji or Chandramukhi?

It lends credence to the story in the trade that he became greedy when he saw big money being traded on his name.

Anyway, coming back to the basic facts touted by the industry on why Kuselan was not appreciated by neither his fans, the youth nor his traditional family audiences.

* First and foremost Rajinikanth is a prisoner of his larger than life image. He cannot make a film run without his usual gimmicks- Punchline, clean comedy, subtle romance, sentiments and above all he needs a villain to fight him. These elements were missing in Kuselan

* The trade believes that the producers should not have gone against the industry sentiments of releasing the film during 'Aadi' month of August. Remember quite a few Rajinikanth films released in the month of August like the most famous of them Baba had bombed in the past!

* S.P Balasubramaniyam used to sing the superstar's introduction song which has a message that goes with his image. Who can forget SPB- Rajini magic songs, En Peru Padayappa… (Padayappa),Oruvan Oruvaan …(Muthu) , Bellellakka, Bellellakka… (Sivaji), Devuda, Devuda… (Chandramukhi)? In Kuselan the Cinema, Cinema… introductory number was sung by Shankar Mahadevan. Last time when he sung for Rajini Dippu, Dippu… in Baba, everybody knows what happened!

* The superstar does not require the glamour of Nayanthara and the crass and crude comedy of Vadivel to sell his films. The big mistake the director made was to include these scenes in the film.

* Finally, the industry believes that stories of cinema within cinema have never clicked in Kollywood.

The Moral of the story- Never tamper with an original script that has worked wonders in another south Indian language. And the superstar should only do one film in two years, where he is there throughout from the opening scene to the end titles!


KUSLEAN IS FLOP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
GO WATCH THE ORIGINAL VERSION NOW!!!!!!!!

 
At 3:17 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

srivatsan, i agree with anon there. kamal seems to think that he needs to do something special in each movie and that each one needs to be bigger than the last one. would luv to see him in a strong, performance-oriented role rather than a gimmicky role :)

rajesh, easily the best movie i've seen in a long time :)

rags, yep. sasi had a vision and the guts to bring that vision to screen without any compromises. so he deserves the success and accolades :)

raj, if that was what filbert was alluding to then yes, I guess I misunderstood him. what i remember from the 'mahanadhi' jail scene is the poetic touch(like kamal stepping out to be free before realizing where he is) rather than the realism. guess thats the reason for the misunderstanding :)

apala, oh yeah. any time i think of movies with the hero in jail, i can remember a song where all the inmates provide the background music with their aluminum plates! the jail was shown as such a fun place that one would want to spend some time there :)

indira, he seems to have put on some weight since chennai-28. and his constant smiling seemed ok compared to swathi's shy smiling :)

anon, yeah i got that :)

 
At 3:29 PM, Anonymous Ram said...

bb, sorry for the o.t. comment: when u have a min, have a look at the write-up (e-mail with subject "the best day of my life") that i sent u...would love for u 2 read it and maybe do a post on the same subject.

 
At 8:09 PM, Blogger Bart said...

I repeat what I said in brangan's site. A very well made movie that grew on me long even after watching. If at all, any grouse is there, it is that you do not fully sympathize with the lead characters as they spend their life as allakkais inspite of caring families. So they deserved their ends. It might've hit hard if they had evoked sympathy as well. But then maybe thats what the director wanted to convey.
Ilayaraja's "siru ponmani" was beautifully used. Movie of the year atleast until now.

 
At 9:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dasa:
It doesn't need to be a kamal movie(though ,i can't clearly say, what a kamal movie is)

-better than vettaiyadau and heyram/aalavanthaan.
-liked the first 15 minutes.
-after that, its just a chase for 3 hrs.(if you want a fast paced action movie, keep some good sequences. not like this.. i think he wanted it to be like 007/bourne series of chases.. )

-after reading blogs, i want to beleive that the characters may be linked. Unless he clearly says it in some form,i dont get it. Also i dont know 10 avatars of vishnu.
-i should list the 10 acts in descending list of irritations.I will list few i hated the most.
- tall muslim guy(i couln't stand it.)
-jap
- wannanbe american fletcher
- bush
- unnecessary singh
- paati
-poovaragavan.(could have been thirumavalavan)

kamal was generous enough to let other 100 extras to act in his movie. (he probably is thinking to just have all kamals only movie). kamal in and as everyone in *avataram

-fletcher could have been a good looking, fit b or c grade stunt man from hollywood.
- you can hire everyone else easily.
-make up pulinnu ninaichukitu, namma uyirae edukaran.
- makeup looks like a microwaved rotiland chappati in the face.

we know that 10 acts was a marketing thing. Having said that, Vadivukarasi does more than 1 type of role in a week, in TV serials. It probably is harder than doing one role for fewmiutes over a month or so.. as kamal did.

still watchable. Damn I watched kuruvi in a dungeon theatre in gobi..I can watch any kamal's movie.

 
At 12:57 AM, Blogger Gomes77 said...

Subramaniapuram is the only film i looked forward to this year apart from vishal's sathyam.

 
At 8:27 PM, Blogger Srivatsan Sridharan said...

BB,

3.5 stars slightly high :)

I saw the film no doubt was good. Prb a 3 star movie?.One thing I really liked about the movie was it's length, just when I thought it was going to drag, there came a swift end :)

 
At 4:48 PM, Anonymous Ram said...

I saw the film after reading your review. I can't believe you raved about it so much. The 80s look/feel is the only thing interesting about the movie. If the story was set in 2008, it would be a disaster (hence a mere gimmick).

Acting was terrible throughout (Somu/Jai), the dialog tho very natural was delivered flat - sans any emotion (as if reading from teleprompter).

Screenplay conviently glosses over critical points (spoiler alert)
- How can they agree to commit murder? They are hardly shown to be diehards of Somu
- How did Swati agree to be a bait?
- How the hell did they get bail for such a high profile murder?
- Leaving the 'rented' cycle on scene of crime? are they shown prev to be that stupid?
- Too many sidestories (speaker set, temple function, robbery) which doesn't add anything to main story

There is a lack of *strong* supporting scenes to justify the top2 actions. These are life altering events, and cannot be made with ordinary pep talk.

Tho it had a couple a lovely scenes - as you mentioned, the scene were uncle reveals swati that he knows. Then art direction of 80s was very cool (scooter, posters, pandian bus etc)

Strip away the 80s look and look again - you will see a really ordinary movie with ordinary acting. Maybe you meant comparitively - but its a streach to say its the BEST MOVIE in an year!

-Ram

 
At 8:20 PM, Blogger Bart said...

hmm.. ram. looks there has been a total disconnect with the movie right away. Maybe, its bcoz of the expectations. I saw with lesser expectations and got involved with the people and surroundings shown around and hence felt the movie was great. Ofcourse, not everyone is raving about the movie, so you are not alone :)

 
At 10:33 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

bart, not so sure the director was going for sympathy here. but jai definitely earned my sympathy in the all-important scene at the end :)

gomes, u looked fwd to 'subramanyapuram'? u must be one of the few. I didn't hear of it till it released :)

srivatsan, felt like a 3.5 star movie to me. felt like watching it again, esp. the 2nd half, right after it finished. havent felt that way in a looong time :)

ram, i did say that the story had nothing to tie it to the 80s. so may well have been a gimmick but it worked for me.

i guess the difference is those questions never occurred to me. the enthusiasm with which they got into fights and the fact that they owed a lot to somu made the murder seem natural. and their complete inexperience showed in the way they handled the knife. so leaving the bicycle seemed natural. those sidestories added to the atmosphere and 'feel' of the movie. overall i guess it worked for me but didn't for u. its happened before too :)

 

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