Again, I am going to try to have some kind of posting schedule so my readers can know what to look for when, and I can keep on a regular varied diet of films. And so for Tuesday, a Tamil film (or Telugu, they are both alliterative)! As I continue to go through the oldest Rajnikanth films available from Netflix! This one apparently was an all time hit, and I can see way, because it is fun! Just big silly fun! Until right at the end when real emotion suddenly rears its head.
This isn’t a “Great movie”, right? I’m not missing some higher level to it? From my minimal research, it looks like this was a super super successful film, was even remade in Hindi and was successful there as well, but I’m not really seeing anything that says “and also an artistic triumph!”
Although I do think the very last third was actually kind of interesting and artistic. And I could have appreciated a movie that just dealt with that part of it. Only this isn’t that movie, this is a movie that has a magic dog AND a magic horse! Oh, and also Silk Smitha.
What was the movie where I was just talking about the critical concept of “spectacle”? Dang it, this is going to bug me! Anyway, “spectacle” means something that is put in just to make the audience go “wow! I haven’t seen that before!” It could be a woman running on top of a train, or a man taking his shirt off, anything that has no purpose beyond providing an unique visual.
This movie is full of spectacle, a dog and a horse! And most of all, Silk Smitha! I was never even sure who her character was and how she fit in to the rest of it, but by golly she was entertaining to watch!
Really, the whole thing is entertaining. When a film is described as a straight “entertainer” movie, this is exactly the kind of film they are picturing. I would highly recommend it to a bored 3 year old, or someone who wanted to be distracted while folding laundry, or any other situation in which you just wanted to sit down and turn off your brain.
However, if you are like me and your brain lights up like a switchboard as soon as a movie starts, this movie is not the best for you. There’s just not that much there-there, you know? Not a lot to think about (for instance, at a certain point I found myself wondering if Rajni had gained weight between this and Moondru Mudichi or if it was just because the black and white made him look thinner. These are not productive thoughts).
Well, until the very end, when interesting thoughtful stuff FINALLY starts happening!
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This is the kind of movie that starts with a golden sword and a buried treasure. If your ears just pricked up as you went “ooo! Buried treasure!”, then yes, this is a movie for you! The best part about this film, for me, is that it never tries or pretends to be anything “better” than what it is. It embraces the coincidence and the impractical and all those other things. Like full body leather suits. My goodness did I feel for Rajni Sir wearing those. It can’t be comfortable in the best of times, but it must be really really uncomfortable in the full south Indian sun.
Oh, but we haven’t gotten to Rajni yet. First, the prologue part of the movie. The part that you can miss while you are buying popcorn and finding your seats, because the Star hasn’t shown up yet.
Noble Rich Man has his ancestral sword stolen from a museum. Turns out, the thieves only wanted it because it has directions to the family treasure on it. Only there is another half of the sword that has the other half of the directions which is still in the family. And therefore, Evil Thief kidnaps Noble Rich Man’s son and asks for the sword as ransom. Noble Rich Man debates giving it, but finally decides he has to. Only the exchange goes wrong and the child is never seen again.
Zip zip zip zip zip, fast-forwarding SEVERAL years, and there is a comic cop with what in America would be called a “Hitler” mustache, but which in India, already only 7 years after Sholay‘s release, was no doubt thought of as a humorous “Jailor Asrani” mustache. Well, and also Charlie Chaplin from The Great Dictator.
(Asrani in Sholay)
The humorous cop is stopping a fast fancy car, only to discover it is driven by Rajni Sir! In an all white outfit with many flaps and zippers and super tight pants! And Rajni Sir is a police inspector! The humorous cop is scared and apologetic and sends Rajni Sir off, only to learn moments later that the car was stolen and he just released a car thief.
Well, this is kind of a clever play on the audience perception! We are assuming that our “hero” will be a cop, so we accepted his charade, only to learn he is actually a criminal. In a secondary perception game, we are assuming that Rajni will clearly be the lost kidnapped child all grown up. But we don’t see how, and why he is a car thief, and why (in the next scene) he seems to have a loving and supportive car thief father, instead of an evil kidnapper father.
And then a lot of stuff happened very rapidly and I got a little confused, so I think I am going to have to break it down to the component parts and then pull them all together later.
First, Noble Rich Family. Their daughter, Suhasini (Mrs. Mani Ratnam! And also a very good actress) is loving and supportive and trying to hold it all together. But Mr. Noble Rich Man is still sad over the loss of his son, and Mrs. Noble Rich Man has gone mad and carries around a doll, thinking it is her lost son. Sad!
Second, romance! Rajni Sir sees a dancer, Anita Raj, in a night club/restaurant/hotel, I’m not clear which. He falls in love with her and joins her dance, but she is having none of it. She, we learn, is one of those noble dancer types. She is only doing it to support her sick mother.
Rajni tries to woo Anita Raj using his brilliant dog who does tricks, and scares her into jumping into a pool, where Rajni sir is able to rescue her and feel her up. Considerably less yuchy than Pokiri Raja, but still not a great moment in sexual harassment!
Anita figures out what happened and gets mad at him, Rajni sends his father on his behalf to hire her for a party in order to see her again, and ultimately she forgives him. I think she sends the dog for help when she is in trouble or something? Anyway, Love Triumphs.
Third plot, lost and found family! One day, while Rajni and his Dad are hanging out, his father sees someone on the street and gets upset and follows him. And then explains to Rajni that the man he saw is Rajni’s father. You see, Dad was also a car thief. And he stole a car one day and drove away at great speed, only to discover later that there was a baby in the backseat, Baby Rajni. Who he loved and raised as his own. But now, he has finally found the man whose car he stole that day, Rajni’s “real” father, and he must reunite them.
Forth plot, Bad Guys versus Good Guys. Mr. Noble Rich Man, played by the actor Major Sundarrajan, is traveling in his car when it is beset by motorcyclists. They drive him off the road and try to steal his briefcase in which he has the other half of the Golden Sword. But he is rescued by Jaishankar, on a white horse that perfectly obeys all his commands. Jaishankar is a police officer, and Major Sundarrajan puts the security of his family and ancestral sword in his hands.
(this is the first movie I had seen Jaishankar in, but he is apparently kind of a big deal?)
All of this plots are happening all over the place for about the first 2/3rds of the film. And then, finally, it all starts to come together. Rajnikanth is delivered to his “father”, Thengai Srinavasan. Only we, the audience, realize that this is the kidnapper.
There’s another cool little play with audience perception here, Thengai instead of rejecting Rajni and revealing the truth immediately, plays along and says that yes he is his father, and Rajni has to help him get back their ancestral wealth, the golden sword owned by Major Sundarrajan. This seems completely logical and reasonable while you are watching the film.
But, see, it only works if Thengai immediately knows both that Rajni is a priceless person to have on your side in a fight, and that he is noble at heart and will respond to a sob story told him by his “father” much better than he would to a simple request to do this job for money.
We the audience know all this not because of the backstory we have seen for the character, but because we know that Rajni is the hero and heroes are always like that. And the filmmakers relied on us being so caught up in that ethos that we wouldn’t even question everyone else’s immediate awareness of Rajni’s superiority, both morally and in ability, to everyone else.
And then there’s a Silk Smitha item dance. I think maybe she is the dancer/prostitute on retainer to this particular mob? Like Katrina in Agneepath? Anyway, she continues to be a remarkably striking presence on screen and sensual dancer.
(This is from Spadikam of course, not this movie. But I didn’t realize it was Silk in Spadikam so I didn’t get a chance to highlight this song they way I should have. Better late than never!)
Rajnikanth makes a failed attempt to get the sword, stopped by Jaishankar at the last minute and just barely (obviously, since they are both “Heroes”, they have to be almost perfectly matched in ability and heroics). But then he comes up with a new plan and sneaks into the house to take the family hostage, dressed all in black leather and being all evil.
And, finally, we get to the real meat of the story! The part that isn’t “spectacle” at all, but is thoughtful and emotional. What is most impressive on the part of the actors and filmmakers is that this part still fits neatly into the rest of it. It’s not finding, I don’t know, a whole clove of garlic in the middle of your ice cream. More like finding a whole cardamon pod. A little surprising and different, but still goes nicely with the rest of it.
Rajnikanth is discovered in the house by Suhasini, his younger sister although he doesn’t know it. He terrorizes her and she snaps back at him. She finally offers him food, because it is their costume to always offer food to their guests. He distrusts it and makes her eat first, which she disgustedly does, proving to him that her intentions were pure and the food was not drugged. Just as Rajni is finally eating and maybe about to start trusting his sister (although he doesn’t know it), his insane mother comes stumbling into the room, looking for her son. Rajni, without thinking and just to resolve the situation, declares that he is her son, come back home again, and he wants her to go back to bed.
I liked the initial back and forth between Rajnikanth and Suhasini, but once the mother is added to the mix, it just gets magnificent. On the one hand, there is the dramatic irony that Rajnikanth is “lying” that he is her son, but he really really is her son. And there is the mother who completely believes he is her son, because she is mad, but also “a mother knows”.
But what I find more interesting is what Suhasini’s character is seeing and doing. While Rajnikanth may have broken into their house and tried to scare her and distrusted her and tied her up and all that, she is now seeing that he has an instinctive care for her mother, just because she is a poor old sick woman. And that he is tender and looks to Suhasini for guidance as to what he should do with his new power over the mother, if he should make her sleep or take her medicine, what would be best for her. And Suhasini responds by trusting him, indicating that he should take her mother back to bed and get her to sleep.
Rajni’s character is really interesting here too. He first claims to be the “son” without fully understanding the situation, thinking it is just a quick solution. But as he discovers that he really had to live up to that identification, that this is an ill woman, he changes from being cold and calculating to looking a little uncertain and needing guidance.
I’ve seen the idea of the “lost” child returned without being recognized before, for instance in Suhaag (great movie, by the way, of the same “entertainer” style as this one). But I can’t think of when I had seen it with the focus on the brother-sister relationship, instead of brother-brother or mother-son.
And that’s what we get here, through a whole leisurely section where Rajni stays in their house and slowly comes to trust and care for Suhasini and vice versa. I was much more caught up in the idea of Suhasini offering clothing to her captor in honor of her lost “brother’s” birthday, of Rajni observing and judging Suhasini’s meeting with a potential suitor, than with the whole horse-dog-Silk Smitha parts of the film.
It was a big disappointment when Major Sundarrajan appears and the “real” plot starts up again. It is somewhat touching to have Rajnikanth listen to Major Sundarrajan’s version of the story and discover that he actually is Suhasini’s “brother”, just as he has been pretending. But by this point I was so in love with the gentle way he and Suhasini had built their bond, I kind of would have preferred it if he wasn’t a lost-and-found son, but rather an actual criminal who had come to consider himself as a son and a brother.
Right, and then there is action-action-action, and Anita Raj shows up to help them fight, and the dog and horse are there too, and finally everyone is rounded up and arrested, including Silk Smitha (and I am still not sure what exactly her role was in the gang, but I guess it was something illegal). And then the ending has two big interesting things!
First, Rajnikanth does NOT get off scot free! It looks like that’s going to happen, and then Jaishankar steps in and is like “uh, but, you did still steal all those cars and things. We can’t just let you go.”
Going back to the concept of the “hero”, usually the audience is ready to forgive everything the hero did “wrong”, so long as he ends by realizing his mistakes and doing “right”. But in this case, even though the audience and even some of the characters are ready to forgive and forget, Jaishankar reminds us that life isn’t like that, we don’t get to choose what balances the good with the bad.
And so our “happy ending” is presumably several years later when Rajnikanth finally steps out of the gates of jail. Okay, I’ve seen this before, in Army with Sridevi and in Nuvvostanante Nenoddantana. But it feels a little different here, to have that moment when everyone just assumed the hero would walk away with no punishment, and then to have the State step forward and point out “uh, no.” And only then the cut to the jail gates.
But what is really remarkable is that our “happy ending” theme song is not one of the love songs, or at least not one of the romantic love songs, but rather the brother-sister theme Suhasina had song earlier. Heck, it was remarkable even in the earlier sequence! That her happiness over her engagement lead her to sing a song imagining her future life, with a recurring theme of her brother being there.
Ignore all the “spectacle” part of it, and this is a movie about how the bond between a brother and sister is al important. Not because he has to get her married or save her from kidnappers or any of that traditional stuff. But just because they love and support and understand each other. Remarkable!