Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Considering the number of gangster movies already released or in the pipeline, it looks like rowdies have all but taken over Tamil cinema. But unlike the last phase, which saw a string of movies like Dheena, Gemini, etc., the tales this time are rawer and grittier, as we saw in Pattiyal. Selvaraghavan’s Pudhuppettai carries that rawness even further as it captures life in the darker side of Chennai through the rags-to-riches-to-rags story of one of its inhabitants. It is a technically-excellent, ambitious, daring film but falls short of becoming the epic it aims to be.

We’re first introduced to ‘Kokki’ Kumar (Dhanush) when he is a student at a nearby school. Forced to run away when his father kills his mother in a fit of rage, he joins the group led by Anbu (Bala Singh) and does odd jobs for the Opposition party, with whom the group is aligned. Along the way, he befriends Krishnaveni (Sneha), a prostitute. Kumar slowly begins to rise within his group and then beyond it, but earns a number of enemies along the way.

Pudhuppettai comes off as a bold film in the characterization of its protagonist. ‘Kokki’ Kumar is probably the least sympathetic protagonist we’ve had in Tamil cinema in a long time as Selvaraghavan presents him with his warts in full view. He smokes, does drugs and sells them, visits prostitutes and kills with impunity. We watch him and are fascinated by him but we rarely feel for him. When he receives verbal whiplashes from people around him one after the other at one point, we feel no sympathy for him and simply feel he deserves the words. We are not expected to have any emotional investment in him and that is Selvaraghavan’s biggest gamble.

Nowhere is the movie’s intent to be different more evident that in the protagonist’s relationship with his women. This might well be the first Tamil film without a real romance. Dhanush’s relationships with Sneha and Sonia Agarwal are both developed along usual lines but then take turns that defy Tamil cinema conventions. On one hand we have a hero who dumps his girl because he is infatuated by another as soon as he sees her. And on the other hand we have a heroine who, with one stinging line, flushes Tamil cinema’s venerated thaali sentiment down the drain.

The first half of the film captures Dhanush’s rise to the top of one of Chennai’s rowdy gangs. There are a few nods (like his relationship to Sneha) to Naayagan here but for the most part, the movie is fresh, fast and furious. Dhanush’s character is defined in this segment as we realize that he is someone who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, whether it is money, power or the woman he likes. The film also draws some nice parallels between him and Sneha (there is a wonderfully composed shot that illustrates how similar they are).

Once Dhanush establishes himself as top gun in his gang, he turns his attention to politics. At this point, the movie turns into a treatise on the criminal-politician nexus. We’ve had enough movies chronicling this and the film offers nothing new as Dhanush works like a dog for his party only to be thrown aside when his usefulness runs out. But the bigger problem is that this takes our attention away from Dhanush. The movie introduces us to people who, even if they have less screen time, are worse than Dhanush. He is no longer the baddest of ‘em all. Our focus turns to the wily ways of the politicians and as a result, the film loses its focus.

But the movie reels us back in with a strong emotional hook. By introducing a character that Dhanush (and more importantly, we) finally care deeply about, the movie gets our attention and gets our pulses racing. One scene in particular, that stops our heart before making us smile in relief, is really intense (there is a similar scene with the same emotional arc in Crash too).

Selva unfolds the film as a series of flashbacks and as he did in 7/G Rainbow Colony, he uses the opening scenes to create a certain impression in our minds before breaking it in the end. But what was a shocking surprise there seems more like a cheat here. The open-ended climax is acceptable but the way it is brought in makes it seem like he led us on for the sake of a twist.

Dhanush gives a strong performance. But he shines in the quieter moments than when he tries to ‘act’. The wide-open eyes and loud voice seem artificial at places. On the other hand, see the frustration in his eyes when he gives up asking a girl for alms and moves on to the next car. Very realistic. Sneha is wasted in a role that has little scope. She has a couple of places to show the actress in her but it’s not much. Sonia is non-expressive as usual but makes a mark because of her character. She gets some of the bluntest lines in the film and relishes them. Most of the supporting roles are filled by unfamiliar faces but they do their job perfectly. Like the actors in Kaadhal, they fit their characters perfectly and look less like actors and more like real politicians and rowdies.

Visually and technically, the movie is a treat for the eyes and ears. Color tones have been chosen with care to complement the mood of the movie. A lot of camera techniques have been used to make the movie seem almost alive and full of energy. There are split screens, fade-outs, color accents(where everything is in B&W except for the bright red of the blood – a la Sin City) and even the famous tracking shot(seen first in Jaws) where the foreground zooms closer while the background moves back at the same time. Such tricks catch our eye but are not overused to make Selvaraghavan seem self-indulgent.

The song sequences are picturized with a lot of flair and are nicely choreographed. Enga Area…, with its group dance, is the pick of the lot but Vaariya… and Pul Pesum… are also fun numbers. Only one half of Neruppu Vaayinil... is heard while Oru Naalil... is completely absent. The instrumental pieces like Going Thro Emotions… provide some haunting background scores but barring the key pieces which are on the album, the rest of the background score fails to stand out.

Pudhuppettai - Well worth a visit...


At 11:10 PM, Blogger Nilu said...

I haven't watched the movie yet. But totally enjoyed your review.

At 11:20 PM, Blogger Bart said...

I think we concur on major part of the movie.. Atleast I would like to think so :) Good review as usual..
P.S.:Why nothing on dialogues - Balakumaran/Selvaraghavan? I accept I did miss out :)

At 11:50 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

nilu, thanx :)

bart, i think we do concur too.

on the dialogs... i didn't say it out loud but the comments like the verbal whiplashes and the stinging line and the blunt lines were all written with an admiring tone :)

At 11:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Balaji, I know that this is "your" review and what "you" thought. But it puzzles me a bit that almost the entire planet of critics have written off the film and the it appears the film is falling at the box office.. So, what did you see differently than what the others saw?

I hope that this is not (but after reading your review, I fear that it is) like a similar review that you wrote for "Aaru." Personally, I had a serious amount of digging I had to do to find a few positive points about Aaru, while you wrote a rather middle ground review, which really surprised me.

While every critic has bashed up the film for Selva's shoddy screenplay, I don't see any particular mention of that (at least not very clearly!). Did the technical excellence, good music, song picturizations and other positives strongly blur other aspects?

At 12:05 AM, Blogger Balaji said...

sandya, this is definitely not a middle-ground review. the film definitely gets a thumbs up from me.

the screenplay didn't strike me as particularly bad. it was pretty straightforward and hence the lack of any special mention. the positives u mention were all there. the biggest +s for me were the different characterization that provided unique hero and relationships for tamil cinema.

and i'm not sure who the critics u mention are. if its sify and indiaglitz, then i'm not surprised. i've read a couple of reviews after i posted mine and felt they liked the movie too. bharadwaj rangan, who i think is one of the most knowledgeable and best reviewers i've read, liked the movie quite a bit too :)

At 12:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

balaji, perfect timing! i just came back watching the movie & found ur review - which is really good as always:)

the sonia twist was superb! so many other reviews mentioned her role was totally unnecessary, but i thought it was a crucial one, both in showing us a facet of dhanush's character as well as she being the one who gives him major insecurities when everything else also seems to act against him.

i dont think i've seen any other protagonist shown as unforgivingly as this one - rightly mentioned by u that we dont sympathise with him at any point. the motive behind every action of his was self-centered & no excuses were made for this.

the pre-meditated killing of his father really showed kumar's use&throw mentality well.

& i thot that scene was good as well - when kumar & veni r both selling their wares.

i was a little disappointed that there were no subtitles for newspaper-clips & other stuff towards the end where they show ppl's thts abt him...

the 2nd half went out of focus like u mentioned but i'm wondering if that was to prove a point again that no matter how dirty politics (or any situation) were or how bad his experience, he wud grasp at anything if he saw a chance for survival & power - kind of backing the tagline of the movie.

sidenote - the politicians were portrayed as being really evil & that was scary!!

At 12:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

as usual, i cant help but ask abt this :p

'One scene in particular, that stops our heart before making us smile in relief, is really intense'

we are talking abt a certain 'm' word here right :) (trying to keep this spoiler-free...)

At 12:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

let me guess - 3 *s for this one, rite? :)

At 7:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i was thinking to see the movie. But after your review, may be i avoid the movie. At last you have said "Worth a watch",...........

Let it run for some more days

then i think of it again

At 7:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this is one of the longest reviews you have written. It was great nonetheless. I refrain from reading any other reviews but yours. You don't give the plot away and stay clear of the spoilers. You should start coaching the guys at Sun TV, Vikaten, Indiaglitz and numerous other reviewers. Excellent job.


At 7:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read Baradwaj Rangan's review here

and then read Balaji's.

Both reviews are well written and are in stark contrast to some of the superficial reviews I commonly read in sify, indiaglitz etc.

Balaji, you dont use any kind of star rating system? Not that it is necessary for a good review, but sometimes the overall verdict that you give on the film could come out more clear if you did. For this particular review I had no problem seeing the thumbs up but sometimes your review starts off on a positive note and then goes thru a few -ve points, so not sure how you rated the film overall.

also it is sad to see the fate of Pudhupettai at the hands of our theatre owners

Selva is a guy who always seems to be at the edge pushing forth, but looks like this time he may have gone a little too far. Our makkals are quite not ready for this in-your-face kind of filmmamking, yet.

At 8:54 AM, Blogger Raju said...

I have just posted my review.. As usual, urs has touched some minute points.. and well-written..

The audience in the movie hall were whimpering towards most of the second part..

At 9:28 AM, Blogger Kumari said...

Liked your review but i didn't like that movie :(
We watched it last night and I feel if the second half was more taut, maybe it would have made a better impact. Selva seems to be good in many areas but somehow when it comes to editing, i guess he just can't bring himself to cut any shots.

I have more questions but then since the review is spoiler free, I won't ask them here :)

At 10:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

bb, havent seen the movie as yet...but a very well-written review...was deeper than the usual reviews which gives me the impression that the movie had stuff- technically and storywise- that deserved analysis, which doesnt seem to be the case with a lot of movies nowadays...
will check if out if it gets released in the theatres here in So Cal. if not, will have to wait for the "kalla thoaNi" print!

At 10:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awesome review Balaji!!! Makes me want to watch it now. Your Thiruttu payale review was on the dot, despite glowing reviews from other quarters, so I guess I will take your verdict as against India Glitz and the rest which have written of PP.

At 11:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Balaji, I just forwarded you a review from Cinesouth.com. Cinesouth has its own biases, but its actually pretty reasonable about being practical in its reviews. Also, Rediff who usually bashes up good films with its reviews and writes glowing reviews for even mediocre films.. so, you can't measure their review to amount to much. I've never heard of Bharadwaj Rangan, until you mentioned his name here. Will definitely go and read his review.

But as far as superficial reviews go, I never take Indiaglitz reviews for much.. they get business from movie distributors in the U.S. and therefore, never utter a mean word in their reviews.. that's them!.. Sify, on the other hand, is very unpredictable. Sometimes their reviews are right on the money, but then other times.. god help us!..

Maybe, I didn't my relay my thoughts very clearly here, but your review was refreshing to read, as always, Balaji. I was just surprised that you enjoyed the film so much (like Behindwoods.com did!), whereas other reviewers (Sify, Rediff, Cinesouth) were not so forgiving. You see, if I take a cumulative score from all the reviews I have read (and will read!), it will only be a mixed bag which doesn't really speak well for the film.

Anyways, I saw "Over the Hedge," "X-Men3," in the theater, "King Kong" and "Crash" on DVD.. it looks like I skipped the violent fare for the long weekend.. good or bad, I don't know! :-)

At 12:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How on earth can this movie get an U/A rating.It has probably the most violent film in the history of indian cinema.There is severe beating up of women also.Danush takes a cut head on to the streets.The protagonist practises polygamy.The anti-hero protagonist is shown to go scot free without any punishment at the end.
Does this indicate curruption in the sensor board or is sex considered the only criteria for rating of films for tamilians.I felt even Gajini should have been rated A for similar reasons.

Although daunsh's acting is good, one can never even in the wildest dreams imagine a person with his physique to be a gang leader.This is the biggest negative point of the film. A person like him can be killed with one punch.He is shown to escape death from hundreds of people in beginning which is ridiculous.
Secondly when the underworld in rest of the country is shown to posses the latest weapons, the people in the film fight it out with swords and nothing else.
Thirdly as in the case of pattiyal,where is the police?

At 12:53 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

deepa, yeah i didnt think any of the characters, esp. sonia, were unnecessary. she helped show how completely bereft of love dhanush's heart was. and the words accompanying her foto after the movie ends tell us very subtly that dhanush hasnt really changed :)

not sure what the 'm' word is... the scene i was talking about is the one where mani delivers a package to dhanush :)

prasanna, true. definitely not a movie for everyone. will probably be liked more by those who look for something different and also look at the technical aspects of a film...

veera, the review should give u an idea of what kind of a movie it is. dark, gritty, violent, non-masala, etc. that should help u decide :)

gayatri, wow. huge thanx for all those nice words :)

vijay, i always assign the stars when i upload the reviews to bbreviews. Just haven't developed the habit of doing it for reviews here. and a li'l suspense is good :)

and if the movie flops, i guess we'll continue to have more movies like 'thiruttu payale' where the directors insert romance, comedy, songs, etc. whether they fit the story or not.

At 1:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes balaji, i'm surprised i forgot abt that scene. that was a huge relief...

anyway the one i was referring to was about the baby as well - wat kumar does when he first comes to know abt the baby

looking back, i cant say he was completely without humanity either - i guess he did feel something for sneha early on when he tries to help her out by giving her some money

At 7:25 AM, Blogger Maverick said...

//Although daunsh's acting is good, one can never even in the wildest dreams imagine a person with his physique to be a gang leader.This is the biggest negative point of the film. //

I agree, but only to an extent. I haven't seen the film yet. But talking about a character, physique is not everything. I have seen some real life rowdies who look like someone who can't stand a punch. But their mannerisms, body language, guts would clearly speak louder than the physique and creates a sense of fear.

Aamir Khan for one was someone I thought is someone can never play a police officer role because of his height until I saw Sarfarosh. He was visibly much much shorter than everyone around him in the movie. But still he carried off that role with his body language and his expressions. One of his best ever!

At 12:38 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

raju, read urs also. concise but as usual we felt the same about the film :)

kumari, yes a tighter 2nd half would've helped. theater owners probably felt the same too since there's some news about cuts in the 2nd half.

now u've made me curious about ur questions. u r always welcome to email me. as should be obvious by now, i luv to discuss movies :)

ram, yeah i felt the film attempted a lotta new things and hence had no problem writing a long review. still could've written more :)

and the 2 main reasons to watch this on the big screen - arvind krishna and yuvan :)

shwetha, i would place this film in the category - has more to admire than to keep u entertained. so if u r a movie buff who looks for something more than just being entertained, u can definitely go for it :)

sandya, definitely give bharadwaj rangan a read. i think i became his fan after reading his review of 'oru naal oru kanavu'! lotsa insightful articles too...

karthik, my question exactly. it was way too violent for a UA. and i read somewhere that selva tried hard for a U certificate! geez!

as mav mentioned, i guess its upto the actor to make us believe his character inspite of his physique. my example of this is russell crowe in 'gladiator'. he seemed short and not strong but was totally believable in the role...

At 2:07 PM, Blogger nivas said...

I haven't watched the movie yet, but good to see reviews like this and b.rangan's after some cinema portals like sify and rediff have given bad reviews. I guess sify reviewers don't like slow moving, emotional movie, they gave Autograph a very bad review! Of course they learnt next time and gave Thavamai thavamirundha an excellent review...

At 12:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

selvaraghavan to start rollin with a vijay film from september.....


At 3:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's a great story. Waiting for more. » » »

At 6:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great review Balabhai:-)! I have seen Selva's KAADHAL KONDEIN and 7/G RAINBOW COLONY this year. Dying to see this as it belongs in my favourite genre, and I even liked PATTIYAL quiet a bit.

My review of 7/G RAINBOW COLONY below. By the way, I have been referring a number of people to your reviews site, keep up the good work.




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