May 17 2011
After Vennila Kabaddi Kuzhu, which he made with mostly new faces, director Suseendran seemed to have moved to the big league as he worked with Karthi for the revenge thriller Naan Mahaan Alla. But he boldly returns to the starless, character-based filmmaking style of his first film for his latest flick Azhagarsamiyin Kudhirai. The result is a delightful, feel-good film that combines some unusual genres but is effective because it tackles all of them in a soft, low-key manner.
Mallaiyapuram hasn’t had any rains for 3 years and the fact that the annual festival for their deity Azhagarsamy hasn’t been held for a while, is accepted as the reason behind it. Having decided to hold the festival again, the organizing committee collects enough money but is shocked to find that the wooden horse, the deity’s mount, has vanished from the temple. Soon after, they find a white horse in the wild and believe that it is indeed their deity’s mount. So they refuse to part with the horse when it owner Azhagarsamy(Appukutty) shows up.
Like VKK, this film is also populated by a number of characters. More importantly, many of these characters retain their individuality and stand out without being lost in the crowd. These are characters that are usually part of any rural film(the Malayalai even says that a village like that would definitely have a Minor). But the naturally humor-tinged dialogs make characters like the womanising Minor, the affectionate woman who helps Appukutty, the atheist, the wily priest all memorable.
ASK generates a lot of humor from everyday situations and natural characters. A village which is facing a drought and whose inhabitants are poor enough to be forced to send their children to work doesn’t seem to be an environment fertile for jokes but a lot of laughs are mined from their lives. Segments like the organizing committee’s visits for collecting donations and the villagers’ visit to the police station to lodge a complaint about the missing horse are very funny. The film is also filled with offhand dialogs(like the priest’s wife’s complaint about the loss of her lemon) and moments(like Appukutty mistakenly lodging his complaint with a criminal) that keep us smiling most of the time.
The humor which is natural and funny as long it focuses on the villagers begins to feel forced as outsiders join the group. This starts with the Malayali witch-doctor and becomes worse with the policeman who becomes the witch-doctor’s assistant. The segments involving them are rarely funny since the film seems to be trying too hard to make us laugh and the jokes seem contrived. These episodes feel like a satire since they illustrate how they take advantage of the villagers using religion. But the gullibility of the villagers has already been shown in an earlier, much funnier scene involving the possessed priest and so they don’t add anything new.
The beautiful shot of the white horse bathed in moonlight against the dark hills marks the point where the film takes on a fantasy tone. As Appukutty reveals his name and things take a turn for the better in the village, the allegorical nature of the story is subtle but unmistakable. But its a lot more obvious in the exhilarating scene where the horse goes around the village punishing the wrongdoers.
While the humor keeps us engaged, the whodunit aspect drives the movie forward. Though the villagers don’t worry about it too much after the live horse shows up, the mystery keeps us intrigued since there are so many potential suspects. The identity of the thief and the motive are very good surprises. And the way the revelation is handled to provide closure to all the tracks is quite clever.
Everyone in the cast fits their role to a T. Appukutty doesn’t take long to make us look past his unkempt looks and convince us of his good heart while Saranya Mohan, the most familiar face in the film, is sweet in a very small role. The rest of the roles are filled by new or vaguely familiar faces among whom Arul Das, the cop and Thavasi, the priest, make the best impressions. Prabhakaran and Advaita make convincing couple in love. Ilaiyaraja’s background score is phenomenal as always. Whether its a playful tune(as when Prabhakaran and his friends go on a patrol) or a serious score(as in the scene where Appukutty is beaten), the bgm fits the mood perfectly. The songs don’t sound like chartbusters but suit the soft, earthy mood of the film. Poovakkelu… is a nice melodious number while Kuthikkira Kuthikkira… has Ilaiyaraja singing in a somewhat different style.
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