(An edited version of this was published in the Silverscreen)
Vetrimaran treads through a lot of issues in his latest film Visaranai. First there is this not so small, very Indian problem of language barriers. Pandi and his friends, originally from Tamil Nadu are in Andhra Pradesh for their jobs and spend their nights at a local park by bribing the watchman. They are beaten and battered by the Andhra police to make them plead guilty to a crime they did not commit. At the court to hear their plea, the judge needs a translator. When a fellow constable offers to do the job, the judge is quick to retort,“You think I’ll believe you?”. He asks to fetch a Tamil Nadu police officer who is in the court premises for a different case. The officer says he cannot translate to Telugu but can translate to English.
Four innocent men are arrested and the first half deals with the brutal treatment meted out to them in the lockups. Based on M Chandra Kumar’s novel Lock Up – about a personal experience in prison – Vetrimaran said the first half is as it is from the novel and some other real life cases inspired the second half. To think about it, it comes across as incoherent but the film is seamless. As the story rolls, we are as clueless as the four protagonists. We learn everything with them which only accentuates our reception of the beatings and torture they suffer. There is a subplot that moves mysteriously in the first half and culminates in the most chilling fashion in the end. And this thrill is not just in the end but throughout the second half when the film moves to Chennai. Vetrimaran’s filmmaking is a marvel here. The lock up in Guntur where the youth are held is marked by filth and urine. The walls are yellowed from dust and nicotine and they are asked to clean their own mess. In contrast, the police station in Chennai is swanky, white and newly painted. They are again employed to clean the whole thing up for Ayudha Poojai that is around the corner. These little details contribute to a powerful blow Vetrimaran delivers with that second half. It’s a rousing effort to follow something as almost-flawless as Aadukalam. The only problem now are the censors. Vetrimaran admits the theatrical release will be different and lot of it may need to be cut down for the censors. There may be some changes with the background score too. Visaaranai is a terrific effort not only from Vetrimaran but also Dinesh and Samuthirakani who is easily one of the best actors in the country today. Here’s hoping it has a problem free theatrical release and a good run after.
It’s not often that at a film festival in the headquarters of Bollywood you’d get to see a documentary on a southern superstar. Or should I say the superstar. It’s even rarer to see a documentary made not on him but on his fans. If Rajinikanth is a phenomenon, his fans are another imperceptible one altogether. So it is a wonder that Rinku Kalsy decided to make “For the Love of a Man” on the fans of Rajinikanth. When asked what was her first Rajini film, she said Geraftaar. That tells you how at the beginning she was an outsider to the whole idea of Rajinikanth. But she also talked of how she made trips to Chennai and managed to catch the first few shows of a couple of Rajini releases to take in what it is like to be among that throng of electrified masses. That Rajini follows from the staple of M.G Ramachandran (MGR) in Tamil cinema is common knowledge. But was it a similar sleight of hand or something different? In MSS Pandian’s The Image Trap, a very academic analysis of MGR, we learn about the calculated image makeover of the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu through his films, songs and characters. At the beginning of For the Love of a Man, we have a similar academic analysis on how Rajini broke some stereotypes of image makeovers and brought in his own. Kalsy doesn’t delve on this though. I am not particularly sure if it’d have been dull – for a documentary – if she had but there is a need for more of such analysis and it doesn’t get its own chapters. We have different chapters here – one dealing with a gangster turned sweet shop owner who manages fan clubs with his hard earned money (and here it is nice that we get to hear his family’s disapproving thoughts on this too), two brothers running a business and claiming how Rajini was the light guiding them through the tunnel after they lost their parents early in life, mimicry artiste Kamal Anand who proudly claims to be Kamal fan originally (for his dance) but over time his mannerisms and love moved towards Rajini to the point where he earns a living out of doing stage shows acting as Rajini. It’s hard to tell who the target audience of this documentary is. For those south Indians having lived through the 80s and 90s, this is mere confirmation and a peek into the lives of a few hard core fans. You keep nodding your head through it all. For others, does the very fandom make sense? I would have loved that academic analysis that comes only in fractions and probably belonged in a deeper film. But For the Love of a Man is a good start.