PULIMURUGAN (2016): Review

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( CAUTION: This review contains spoilers. I advise you read this only if you have seen the movie or are not planning to see the movie at all. )

Brilliant so far as the cinematography, action, tiger scenes and sound effects go, “the complete actor” Mohanlal’s newest film is nothing new but an ode to the rote über-man movies of our cinema. The ‘perfect man,’ with brains and brawn, able to deliver punch lines while confronting adversaries, speak smoothly and tactfully to women, escape unscathed from any inextricable situation, and all of it done with a suave, mimic-able, ‘style’.

You don’t go to a commercial film expecting arthouse stuff, sensitive portrayals, emotional depth, or for that matter, even logical sense. But Pulimurugan, I admit, exceeded my poor expectations, through a number of scenes with ‘potential to greatness’, so to say. Such as the early action scene where Little Murugan and Maman ( Lal’s character) battle against the offending tiger. Such as the relationship of Murugan with his oddly naïve and trusting younger brother, who doesn’t like in so many other movies, turn against big bro once he rises to a higher status. Such as the scene where Murugan appears pathetically and endearingly out of place in the office his brother works, committing blunders and embarrassments galore. It isn’t that subtle, nevertheless it is pulled off to best effect by Mohanlal’s acting brilliance, which is spot on throughout the film. And the scene where Murugan carries the wounded body of his brother over his shoulder like a lumbering sack of sand while fighting off enemies. That was pathos. I liked the way it was veered off from being comical and ridiculous, by conjuring up similar memories of the past.

It is almost believable that people in the forest are selflessly loving, with a brotherhood and camaraderie sans sophistication, except for the fact that the camaraderie suffers a setback in the relations between men and women. Women are nearly always in grumpy mode, quarrelling, shouting, throwing down pots and pans; that is, the only two women with an ounce of screen space and dialogue, Murugan’s eternally furious wife in the role of jealous and narrow-minded typical housewife and Maman’s mother-in-law who vainly tries to avoid a liaison between him and her daughter which may result in another contribution to the already chock-full membership of the household. The many little girls in the film are primarily there to have sentimental value for the adults, play with dolls ‘indoors,’ but nevertheless get eaten up by the man-eater, while the relatively fewer boys are either making weapons or, in the case of Little Murugan, loitering outdoors when he is not battling the tiger.  Humour in the film owes most to the themes of masculinity, virility, and peeping in at women bathing. Suraj, as the chief comic actor, while cooped within a narrow range of possibilities of comic subjects, does a decent job with his irrelevant and irreverent quips at sycophantic moments.

What I despised, however, was the extent of manipulation going on in the film. The rest of the cast existed solely to worship the hero, glorify his prowess, narrate his legends, boost his heroism. The hero is actually introduced half an hour into the film, and this only in the stories told by random characters; the hero appears in person in ‘real time’ only after the interval. The Mooppan is an especially annoying suck up, laying it on thick with a trowel  about Murugan’s exploits every time he gets screen space. Even the villains exist to be converted to the congregation of Murugan’s well wishers. The ranger, the earliest villain, who appears rather paltry despite his ambition to bed Murugan’s wife–a rather forced ambition it might seem– finally turns out to be as paltry as one thought when he ‘realizes’ the worth of Murugan’s skills in hunting tigers in contrast to their own ineptness at doing the same with their rifles, training, government wages, and access to modern tech. The next villain, as the filmmakers lead us to believe, is a police officer, who it soon turns out is least concerned with Murugan hunting ‘protected’ tigers, trafficking bamboo, sandalwood and gancha from the forest, but is in fact rather tender and protective towards him. The real arch-rival so to speak–finally!–adamantly refuses to be converted to the cult of Murugan and thus is eliminated. In the final analysis, I guess even tigers approve of Murugan aka Mohanlal. If dogs can sense the alpha male, tigers should too.

CLOWNIN’ Score: 2/5

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