It’s not often in Tamil cinema that you get to see a film that combines genres so well and at the same time grazes the mainstream scene just long enough to have a lasting effect. A celebration of Tamil cinema, pulp and pop culture, Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s Aaranya Kaandam does all that to form an intoxicating mix that you could continuously chew on even hours after the movie watching experience without losing a tinge of the taste.
Thiagarajan Kumararajan absolutely loves cinema. And Tamil cinema even more so. It is also quite apparent that he has the utmost respect and admiration for those two interminable icons and arguably the last of the mega stars of Indian cinema – Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan. It’s not just that one joke involving them that’s bound to attain cult status over the months and years to come. There are repeated references, both veiled and obvious, to their personalities and works that moves the script or develops a character. But we’ll get to that later. Even from the early scenes you can sense how fully formed the script of this movie resides inside Kumararaja’s head. The early sequences, mostly silent, with Jackie Shroff’s Singaperumal and Yasmin Ponappa’s Subbu and the subsequent chatter amongst Singaperumal’s thugs aren’t one off. In fact nothing in this film is one off or hangs lose by itself. It’s one strong, smooth thread that’s has its i’s perfectly dotted and t’s neatly crossed. It’s not complex in the mind bending way either; when you are writing a script, you can’t get more legible than this.
Thiagarajan Kumararajan the director doesn’t disappoint either. The staging of some of the sequences speaks volumes about how deftly he’s managed to handle the various genres. Early in the first half there is a sequence where Pasupathy(Sampath) and the other members of the gang are on their way to make a deal and things between Pasupathy and Singaperumal are already strained at that point. The whole sequence happens inside a car with a hilarious bet involving speakerphones and in no time some hard truths emerge. We find ourselves laughing one instant and in the edge of our seat the very next second.It’s one of the several brilliantly executed scenes that stands testimony to the title of the film and the deceitful nature of the story.
Aaranya Kaandam is the part in Ramayanam where Raavanan abducts Sita after deceiving Rama and Lakshmana. But this Aaranya Kaandam’s central conceit is not the same. The sequence is very much there but it lies in the fringe and the major players are playing out their more important wars in front of it . But what surely didn’t escape was a suggestion of the chastity of that minor Sita character in that minor “abduction” scene when there is are throwaway glances between her and Ajay Raj’s character(I forget the name), who is built up to be the ultimate woman stealer(or just a bragger). In all ways possible. This is extremely anachronistic but I suspect it to be a deliberate choice. Another tongue in cheek deliberate choice is possibly Ravi Krishna’s casting as Sappa. It’s a masterstroke but who am I kidding, Ravi Krishna as a movie actor/star was a big joke when it happened few years ago. But as Sappa, there is some sort of harmony with respect to the character on screen and the kind of awkward, neglected actor we always saw in him. But really, no offense, this is a compliment.
The film has a strong grasp over the Tamil pulp and pop culture. Rajini and Kamal take home most of the honors with Ilaiyaraja not far behind. You hear popular Tamil songs of an era gone, constantly through radio or a music system or TV. They form a background score by themselves for a lot of key scenes. The streets and lanes of Chennai are somewhat virgin in their look and feel. And as if to prove that he sets his films in his own world, Kumararaja adds in a shot of Bigil and Son of Gun’s auto rickshaws(Kumararaja wrote the dialogs for Oram Po). There is a dialog from Subbu that goes,”Bayam pola..aana dhairiyam vandhuduchu”, which is really a very clever play on the veeram line from Kuruthipunal. It’s Subbu again who turns to Baasha for her tale’s denouement. This is not just tribute. This is actual genuflection.
It’s difficult to spot flaws in the first viewing. And this is a film that deserves at least three viewings. From the top of my head I’d explore the Subbu-Sappa angle more. Our gaze lingers only long enough to keep our interest up on a particular character’s storyline but if there is an extra bit of reel wasted, it’s probably here. Also there is more to be explored in Subbu’s story and her role as the real Sita of this Aaranya Kaandam. Until then keep chewing. But even if you’re done, the aftertaste ain’t going anywhere.