While Asuran is undoubtedly raw and gritty and boasts of fine performances by its cast, it seems to be a comparatively lightweight collaboration between maker Vetri Maaran and actor Dhanush. Said to be a quickie sandwiched in between the first two instalments of Maaran’s sprawling, Vada Chennai, also starring Dhanush, the film feels exactly that – a quickie. A far too simplistic cause-and-effect plot and a predictable narrative flow play spoilsport in making this film less effective than it intends to be.
Asuran is based on a novel, Vekkai, by Sahitya Akademi Award winning writer, Poomaani. Poomani belonged to a family of marginalised farmers and Dhanush plays one such middle-aged marginalised low-caste farmer, Sivasami, who is holding onto his little plot of land that is coveted by the high-caste and monied Vaddakooran Narasimhan (Aadukalam Naren). Sivasami’s family consists of his wife, Pachaiyammal (Manju Warrier), her brother, Murugesan (Pasupathy), and Sivasami’s children – a son of marriageable age, Velmurugan (Teejay Arunasalam), hot-headed and impulsive teenager Chidambaram (Ken Karunas) and a little daughter. Sivasami seems less inclined to turn to violence, which his wife and two sons take to be his weakness. As the battle with Narasimhan’s family intensifies leading to Velmurugan’s death and Chidambaram hacking Narasimhan to death in revenge, Sivasami sends his wife and daughter away and hides out in the jungle with Chidambaram to protect him from Narsimhan’s family who he knows will come after them and the boy in particular. And then we see just what Sivasami can do when he is pushed to the edge to save his family and we also hear about his past when as a hot-angered young man, who ran a brewery, he lost everything in playing the an-eye-for-an-eye game…
While no doubt, Asuran rakes up relevant issues of greed for land, caste, subversion of the have nots with education and not violence mooted as the solution, the storytelling is far too simple and predicable with an attack from one group followed by retaliation from the other and so on and so forth. The rural setting, while realistic with perfect casting and well-etched characters, plays off against a narrative that is uncomfortably fitted into the typical template of a reluctant saviour who turns into the perfect larger than life Tamil film hero when he has to and who then bashes up the baddies on his own with relative ease. Plot points like Velmurugan’s death are foreseeable right from the beginning itself which doesn’t help the film. That said, there’s still enough on display to reaffirm the control that Vetri Maaran has over his cinematic craft. The time period, choice and use of locations integrate well with the storytelling, a large part of which is told at night where to quote Raymond Chandler, “The streets were dark with something more than night.” Vetri Maaran captures brutal rawness like few others and Asuran has plenty of gut wrenching violence on display with some savage action set pieces where blood flows like water.
The performances are a big positive. Dhanush is in fine form and scores especially in his older avatar as the man who has seen it all before and wants to avoid getting involved with more bloodshed. For all the whitening of his moustache though, he still doesn’t look old enough to have a son of marriageable age but his body language and world weariness writ all over his face help him get through. We do get a hint of what his character could be capable of in the scene of hunting the wild boar where in spite of being drunk, he is careful and sharp enough to avoid any sound as he stops himself from stepping on a twig that would alert the animal. Manju Warrier makes a fine debut in Tamil and gives a strong performance playing a woman of much inner strength. Teejay Arunasalam is fine as the elder son but the film is all but stolen by Ken Karunas for his brilliant act as the impulsive, hot-headed and careless younger son, Chidambaram. He repeatedly (though inadvertently) ends up doing the wrong thing and it is his actions that get the plot moving and create the set ups for Dhanush to finally explode. Special mention must be made of Ammu Abirami as Dhanush’s fiancé in the flashback sequences. However, Prakash Raj’s cameo as a kind-hearted lawyer for the marginalised (change of image now that he’s in politics?) fails to lift the film.
Technically, the loud background score is a no-no but GV Prakash Kumar’s songs do go well with the narrative. Velraj’s camerawork captures the locates artfully and gives the film the required raw, brutal look to complement its story. R Ramar tries gamely to keep the pace and rhythm of the film going but the length of 140 odd minutes begins to tell on the film. And it’s hard to fault the production design of the film. But overall, Asuran, though having its moments, is a weaker offering from the Dhanush-Vetri Maaran combo. And yes, one does wonder how a violent film such as this one got away with a U/A certificate.
Tamil, Action, Drama, Color