The impact of Aaranya Kaandam on me is almost on par with Hollywood’s Godfather and Bollywood’s Company. I think the film is somewhere Tamil cinema’s response to those landmark films, but it manges to be unique in its own way. That I think is a great achievement. I would say hats off to the debutant director Thiagarajan Kumararaja and his entire team. The film scores heavily in terms of its style, shot taking, acting, raw imagery, and its background score.
In the film, Singaperumal (Jackie Shroff), is an ageing Don, controlling the underworld business. He has a frustrating, violent, and impotent sexual relation with a young woman, Subbu (Yasmin Ponnappa), who lives with him. Sappai (Ravi Krishna), one of Singaperumal’s gang members known for his ‘soft’ tendencies, is entrusted the responsibility of taking care of the young girl. Singaperumal’s gang also includes Pasupathy (Sampath Raj), his right hand man. A new underworld deal is offered to Singaperumal over the phone – picking up cocaine from a handler and to be delivered to another drug mafia don Gajendran (Rambo Rajkumar). Singaperumal, thinking it to be too risky, decides not to take it up. However, Pasupathy plods him on and even suggests taking over this risky deal. This infuriates Singaperumal, who decides to handle the drug deal and sends Pasupathy with Chittu (Ajay Raj) and 2 others. Pasupati finds out that Singaperumal has instructed Chittu to kill him after the deal. Pasupathy escapes but Chittu and the other 2 gang members kidnap Pasupathy’s wife. Meanwhile, the handler of the cocaine consignment dies in a lodge and the cocaine bag falls into the hands of Kaalayan (Guru Somasundaram) and his young son Kodukkapully (Master Vasanth), who earn their living by entering cock fights. Gajendran and Singaperumal think, Pasupathy has escaped with the loot and are searching for him with the aim to kill him. Kaalayan and his son realize they too stand to gain and innocently end up in the middle of the mafia gang fight…
The casting for the film is innovative and excellent. In terms of performances, it’s a treat to watch the performances of all the actors. Bollywood star Jackie Shroff as the Don, in a rather surprising piece of casting and in probably his first Tamil film, fits the role well and he literally steals the show, with some amazing understanding of his role. Though he seemed to have a starting problem, he settles quickly into the role. He has worked heavily on his body language, gestures and mannerisms and has come out with a brilliant characterization. The artificial animated smile that he gives, when he faces difficult situations, is simply superb. Sampath Raj, who shot to fame in Saroja, has peaked with this film in terms of performance. Guru Somasundaram as Kaalayan, and making his cinematic debut, comes from a strong theatre back ground, having worked with the theatre group Koothu-p-Pattarai. He gives an excellent and innovative performance, his presence bringing a breath of fresh air to Tamil cinema. His relation with his son, performed by Master Vasanth is excellently executed. Ravi Krishna, who takes care of the girl Subbu, eventually falling in love with her, Yasmin Ponnappa, playing the role of Subbu, the dumb, scared looking girl who finally tricks them all and Ajay Raj as Chittu, the man who boasts of his relations with women are all brilliantly etched and well-handled.
The cinematography by PS Vinod is outstanding, in terms low key lighting, in the amazing use of shadows, in unusual but effective compositions, all combined with supreme confidence and a gutsy attitude. He has managed consistent stark, powerful imagery through out the film. Yuvan Shankar Raja’s background score is magical. Again, minimalist in approach, with few sounds like bells, strings, piano etc, he has created an unusual but fascinating sound-scape for the entire film. Incredibly, there are no songs. For a new comer director, to even take stances like these is amazing.
The film was stuck with the censors for a long time and only recently cleared by a tribunal with an A certificate. Strangely, the audience laughed at all the points where the sound (a particular bad word) was removed at the censor’s instruction. In fact, the audience literally mouthed the missing word! In spite of many good moments, the film does tend to go overboard in terms of violence. The violence doesn’t really add any value to the characters or to the overall impact. In fact, it distorts the characters unnecessarily. Also, the so called nude scene of Jackie, preparing to go for a bath is strange and quite unnecessary, with a censor digital screen covering his lower parts.
While much works in the film, it has to be said that the storyline falls short in many places as too much time and energy is spent on building up the style and the main characters. The pitching of the essence of the story as ‘You take what you want’ as a quotation from some 400 BC in the beginning and end title cards while referring to the current time of the film, seems over stretched. There is no clear logic, as only some characters like Kaalayan, Kudukkupuli, Sappai and Subbu fall into this concept but it has nothing to do with the main characters, Singaperumal, Pasupathy or Gajendran. The desire of Pasupaty to finally take over the mafia business from Singaperumal is not woven in well and he looks a bit lost towards the end. Also, Kaalayan’s role, though very unique and interesting, has not been properly integrated in to the plot. Both his and the young boy’s role in the story line end rather tamely. Also, giving so much importance to the character Chittu in the beginning is not really justified as he suddenly vanishes for a long stretch in the film after the rather weak kidnapping scene of Pasupathy’s wife only to come back in the end. One more area the film falls short in the narrative flow is that, it has not developed the relationship between Pasupathy and his wife properly while giving too much importance to the rival gang of Gajendran and his right hand, Gajapathy. Such things take away from the essence and the strength of the film, which otherwise could have been a landmark and a classic film in its own right.
Tamil, Thriller, Drama, Color