Saturday, 27 May 2017

Thondan: He serves too much for the community

When a bad cop urges for a divide and rule methodology to dilute the protest opposing violence against women, taken forward by a squad of progressive girls, his higher official calls him over phone and orders to let the girls free. The higher official, who says that the youth of recent times have started to raise against societal issues, and so it is the duty of the police to support them, has is name plate which reads 'Mayilvaganan' (1). Well, this is one sufficient sample to justify the referencing skill of director Samuthirakkani, which has reaching higher-and-higher as he comes out with a new movie every time.

Yes, if referencing-in-cinema is cooking, Samuthirakkani is really the Master-chef Australia of it. This is evident again in his recent release, 'Thondan' (volunteer or a person who serves for a 'true' cause). When I watched Thondan, I had high expectations which indeed was due to 'Appa', his last movie. While, Thondan overplayed the latter just because of the ethical values he deals with.

I initially was on a thought of writing a complete viewer's note for Thondan, but later I decided, not to. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, Thondan is not a movie that has one ideology and one mission. It has a two layered story line, both wound naturally with each other, which cannot be criticised as of the fashion of a conventional criticism. So, I have planned to do a raw criticism for this movie. So, there could be some spoilers, which I swear, will not spoil the spirit of the movie, really.

The simple story line (external) of Thondan speaks about the life of an individual, who serves so sincerely for the society, as an ambulance driver. He, every time risks his own life to save the victims who board his ambulance. So, this ambulance driver, in one of his journeys, lands in a trouble and the second half of the story speaks how he manages recover from that. While, this kind-of an ordinary Shankar movie story line is what everyone earns as a takeaway from the movie.

One would probably think why Samuthirakani has come out with a very lame story but with too many things to preach. Usually, the mercury level of preaching would always touch the peak of thermometer in every of Kani's movie. But, Thondan has let the mercury bulb burst, as the film seems to be a 138 minute-tight-pack of loads of moral values to teach. In fact, almost all characters of Thondan has some value to preach audience. Literally, a person standing in a corner of the frame, in some random scene, comes to spotlight to speak about a social value or an issue. Truly, Kani must have worked a lot of spacing up a mighty span of time to concentrate on the dialogues department alone. Respect!

Meanwhile, the internal storyline is that matters a lot in Thondan. The movie's inner layer has a deep story line of a war between the two prime and opposite shades, 'the dark and the bright' of every man. Thondan speaks about a lot of people, who are from different professions, classes and mentalities that represent the society. From all these people in the society, there are some who have a greater dark side and a smaller bright one. Every time, Thondan, the volunteer, finds a place in their life through some form, and helps them loose the darker side, which eventually makes them gain a brighter one, to turn 'being human'.

The movie starts with Kani and his team mate escaping from the muscle men of a big shot, who try to kill the victim, who is taken to the hospital in his ambulance. The victim,  who earlier an evil, and had murdered a lot of people for his benefits, turns a good guy as he learns the true value of life, which is taught by the pair of Thondans taking him to the hospital. Starting from this first victim, Thondan makes an impact on every other man with dark side.

I could sense that a lot of audience in the theatre, had been feeling that the movie has too many social lessons. This is because, the film actually is meant to touch very many issues existing in the society. Let me list all possible issues I could recall from the movie.

The first issue Thondan deals is harassment committed on women. It is about the stress and torture met by a girl who is stalked by a guy despite her hate over him. His own friend, turns out to be the guy in the dark shade this time. Thondan enters his life, changes him a man. Following this, he meets a bad cop (symbolising the bad side of police department), a couple of government officials (gesturing on problems in mechanism of the government), a pair of bad drunken friends who corrupt the mind of guy to harass his girl (effects of alcohol addiction and causes of violence against women), an auditor (How honest people are misused in the corrupt political system), and finally the antagonist (complete representation of the corrupt politicians) of the main story line, apparently is the last victim, as of the movie, who is rushed to the hospital by the Thondan.

All these characters mentioned above meet Thondan in some part of their life, and each of their darker sides is illuminated by him. But, it is not only Kani, who plays the role of Thondan in the movie. As it is about volunteering, it can be anyone who can voice, which is also well conveyed in the movie. Be it the girl who raises her voice to gather her classmates to turn against a criminal, a police constable who helps Kani to hide, or the auto driver, who yells at the public for being a sheep flock, the film shows a lot of volunteers who are with the spirit bringing up a change in the society. Above all, there is a scene, the main Thondan of the movie, Kani, himself loses temper to revenge the antagonist, during which he still has someone to take up the role of the volunteer, who cools him down with words of love and peace.

While, there is still a third layer of the movie, which rather than a layer, shall be noted as a documentation platform. It is in this documentation platform, the director has explored a lot of societal parameters and rights. For an instance, he has a scene to speak about Jallikattu, which is not actually connected to the original storyline. But, in terms of documentation, which is also the responsibility of a true art, Kani has done a great job. He, through his dialogues, has registered about the largest people revolution, the country has witnessed in this decade, 'Jallikattu protest'. Without stopping there, he further has also taken some space to list out names of some 'n' number of native bull varieties that were once in existence.

One more sequence of documentation, which as well was a true incident. A drunken guy walks free into a college campus with a wooden log, enters a class room where a lecture session is on, and hits a girl in the presence of the lecturer and in front of all her class mates. This was a true incident, that happened in Karur last year inside a college campus (2).

While, Kani documents a lot of such true events, he also comes out with some real time and cinematic references every where in his screenplay. As I said earlier in the prologue of this article, he refers Mayilvaganan IPS for letting an ethical protest to happen. In another scene, he refers Abdul Kalam, whose photo will be hanging on a wall behind. In that scene, Kani speaks to someone over the phone to whom he would be saying that he has finally identified a good soul to help him. Along with these visible references, the movie also has some literary references. Every time, a character goes through hard time, he has a Tirukkural, an Aathichudi verse or a Tamil idiom to convey the mood. Of all, it is Theedhum, Nandrum Pirar Thara Vaaraa (Either good or bad, you are responsible for whatever that happens for you), which appears after a car accident. Irony is that, the verse would be stickered in that car's rear glass.

The cinematic references of Samuthirakani is well known to movie buffs, which he had used frequently in his previous movies. One such reference was in the names of some characters, which will be defining their characterisation. Some of the interesting ones are, Sikkal Shanmugasundaram, Mahishasuramardhini, Adaikaathaan, Uthaman and Ramar.

These references reminded me some shades of Appa. The name 'Adaikaathan' (incubator) was used in that movie too. It was for the teacher who Samuthirakani gestured to be the chief chicken of a poultry (which he refers to private schools). While in Thondan, the name is given to a person, who is not even capable of protecting his slippers. Likewise, Appa had a lot of cinematic references similar to Thondan. The repetition of certain Tirukurals and other literary verses, representation of leaders and philosophers, and orginal score supported with songs matching the mood of the scene. Appa's interval block comes with a Tirukural verse, 'Thanthai Magarkaatrum Udhavi' (responsibility of a father). In Thondan, Samuthirakani has opted for a Puthiya Aathichudi verse to close for intermission, 'Seeruvor Seeru' (Act against all odds that affects anyone).

While, there were some major dissimilarities between the two movies too. Appa, which was a movie that talked about how a role model father should be, did not have a statutory warning message. This was because, none of the characters in that movie would involve in the acts of consumption of alcohol or smoking. Thus, the movie symbolised how a father should inspire his child. On the other hand, Thondan, as it is about all social issues, has some scenes about effects of liquor addiction too.

But despite all similarities and dissimilarities, Thondan, like all of Samuthirakani's previous movies, gives perfect definition to love, friendship, family and charity. The movie won't progress in one direction as it is meant to travel over various issues in the society caused by different people. And there is a volunteer/Thondan to address the issue and save the society. But, the movie, in its climax, also admits that, not all issues can be solved in the society in a stretch, as a new antagonist rises from every where and every time. So, a true Thondan always has a job in the society to do, thus the movie finishes in a point where it actually started.

- Santhosh Mathevan,
Chennai, May 27, 2017

P.s. If you were searching for the second reason (third paragraph) why I hesitated to write a normal viewer's note, I apologize. I was so held up with work that I couldn't find time to analyse the movie. Still I feel this raw criticism to be an incomplete one, as I had/have a lot to say about this movie.

1. Mayilvaganan IPS was Deputy Commissioner of Police, Trichy city, when the students from the city held Jallikattu protest in January 2017. When entire Tamilnadu police was against the protest in its final stages by indulging in violence, only Trichy city police was kind enough to disperse the protesters in a peaceful way. That was because of the leadership of Mayilvaganan IPS.

2. K Sonali, a 19-year-old female who had hailed from Manamadurai in Sivagangai district and a civil engineering student who was in the third year of her degree at a private engineering college in Karur district. She was brutally beaten to death, by Udayakumar, her senior(dropped out), for not accepting the love proposal. Udayakumar had hit the victim with a wooden log, when the class was going on, as shown in the movie.

This viewer's note is completely the perception of Santhosh Mathevan alone. This does not reflect the views of two or more people or a community. Queries and criticism shall be addressed to the writer only.