Paruthiyur village. In childhood, the half-caste Paruthiveeran saves his cousin, the high caste Thevar girl, Muthalagu, after she falls into the well. They become friends. As they grow up, Paruthiveeran (Karthi) and his uncle, Sevvalai (Saravanan), are small time thugs spending regular periods in jail while Muthalagu (Priyamani), a school going lass, obsessively pursues Paruthiveeran much to his irritation and especially to her father’s (Ponvannan) consternation. Her father, a caste fanatic, had broken off ties with his brother when he married a low caste woman, the daughter of the woman he worked for. The two families have been at loggerheads ever since. Sevvalai convinces Paruthiveeran of Muthalagu’s love for him and Paruthiveeran too decides to marry her. He approaches her father, who obviously is furious with him for even daring to ask for Muthalagu’s hand and that too in his house. Paruthiveeran leaves from there threatening to kill Muthalagu if she is wed elsewhere. The two elope and hide in a remote hut. But Paruthiveeran’s past catches up with him in a most unexpected way…
Paruthiveeran is easily one of the best Tamil films in the last decade. It is a harsh, violent tale that possesses a rawness and authenticity that is at once both hard-hitting and captivating and stuns you into silence by the time it finishes its running time. With this, his third film, Ameer Sultan goes way beyond his earlier two films, Mounam Pesiyadhe (2002) and Raam (2005), and establishes himself as a director of much merit. It is after a while that one has seen a mainstream Indian film with such sure-handed directorial control and apt use of cinematic craft. The film takes you in and grips you right from the beginning with the temple function that is amazingly recreated. Immediately as you see the attention paid to detail and the brilliant way in which the local atmosphere has been captured, you know you are watching something special.
The film is set in the dry, arid land of Madurai district in Tamil Nadu in South India dominated by the Thevar community, a warrior clan propelled by fierce caste fanaticism. They may live frugally if they have to, but would still kill to maintain tradition, family honour and pride. Violence is an accepted part of their lives and we see this not just in the fights and killings, but also in the regular dialogue of the film where everyone including the women talk aggressively with everyone else and are always threatening the other person at the drop of a hat that they would break their bones or kill them should their honour be attacked!
Admittedly, the elements the film works with especially the central love story of a high caste girl with the half-caste criminal are not exactly new and Tamil cinema has broached such topics even earlier through the 1970s and 80s from the days of Balu Mahendra, K Balachandar and Bharathiraja and the Thevar community itself was the backdrop for the Kamal Haasan starrer, Thevar Magan (1992), but Paruthiveeran still scores and scores heavily with its fresh cinematic treatment and style. The screenplay is tightly knit, well-worked out with each and every character well fleshed out and moves at a rapid pace to an absolutely emotionally walloping climax that makes you feel like you’ve been hit in the solar plexus and had your guts pulled out, as the lovers have to pay heavily for the criminal’s past. Technically, the conceiving of scenes with several memorable moments, some brilliant transitions (the opening stabbing to the coconut being grated), the awesome use of actual locations and the dynamic shot taking ensure that film is miles ahead of any offering from Hindi cinema and reaffirms recent Tamil cinema’s extreme competence in terms of finding new and innovative ways to tell its stories. The film sticks to its central story faithfully without resorting to obvious commercial constraints and that is its biggest strength.
Sure, there’s the odd glitch – Paruthiveeran’s abrupt turnaround towards Muthalagu for one. We know she loves him obsessively but he always asks her to stay away from him and we are given no hint whatsoever whether he really likes her or not, even if they were childhood friends, in his private moments. But following her breakdown after she catches him dancing with the eunuchs, his uncle makes him realize that her love for him is true and viola, he decides he loves her!
The central performances enhance the film even more. Priyamani as the high caste Muthalagu is the life of the film and gives Paruthiveeran much of its strength proving that she is one of the finest actresses in the country. She makes the film her own with a stunning act of the strong willed village lass determined to do anything and ever ready to take on any obstacle that comes in her way to get Paruthiveeran. While showing great resolve, inner strength and toughness, she captures the vulnerable shades of her character as well beautifully. Whether it’s her breakdown in front of Paruthiveeran as she declares her love for him, or her asking her grandmother to serving her more food so she can become stronger and take her father’s beatings, or her elation as Paruthiveeran shows her his name tattooed alongside hers on his chest, she is matchless, thoroughly deserving the National Award she got for Best Actress. Karthi making his debut in the title role is promising enough as the unpolished thug with the soft corner for Muthalagu and it has to be said his first performance, in spite of some odd moments (his scenes as the lover are overplayed), is light years ahead of elder brother Suriya’sextremely awkward beginnings in Nerukku Ner (1997). Karthi took a calculated risk to have himself launched in a raw role like this but to his credit, it pays off and pays off handsomely. On the flip side, the role is a really heavy cross for Karthi to bear and he has been unable to get rid of the ghost of Paruthiveeran in all his subsequent performances. Saravanan is in fine form as Karthi’s uncle, who has brought him up, while Ponvannan gives a brilliant and chilling performance as the stubbornly rigid cast and honour obsessed father of Priyamani. Each of the supporting cast is correctly cast, looks real and is absolutely perfect.
The technicalities are absolutely top notch. Ramji’s evocative cinematography in both, black and white and colour portions is absolutely stunning. The rural landscape has seldom been captured better while the interiors too are lit up beautifully. The densely composed frames add so many layers to the story and lift it that much more. The flashbacks in Black and White are told with an economy of shots instead of long drawn out sequences, using just the right visuals reaffirming the primary visual nature of cinema. Ramji has now photographed all 3 of Ameer’s films and it’s a great partnership, no doubt. Yuvan Shankar Raja’s music goes spot on with the film, the usage of raw voices for the village folk working extremely well and the background score packs a solid punch as well. The picturisation of the bond forming between Muthalagu and Paruthiveeran in childhood is picturised in an extremely heart-warming manner, as is the song of the adult Paruthiveeran and Muthalagu in love. The editing beautifully maintains the tempo and narrative flow of the film while the production design has to be commended for the fine attention paid to detailing.
All, in all, Paruthiveeran is a great film and highly, highly recommended.
Tamil, Action, Drama, Romance, Black & White and Color