And why, why is Sai Pallavi reduced to, bizarrely, a sniffer in this movie?
Nandha Gopalan Kumaran (NGK), an extremely committed Suriya, is drenched in rain, climbing up pipes and entering his own house sheepishly. His wife, Geetha (Sai Pallavi) looks at him admiringly, as if she knows all his tricks, and loves him especially for it. They have an intimate moment there—it’s just a fleeting glance, but the actors tell a million stories in that moment.
When his mother begins nagging him, “vandhuttaru kamarajaru” (Here comes Kamaraj), I wasn’t yet sure whether this was meant to be a reference to the ex-CM K. Kamaraj, respected for his simplicity and sincerity, or quite literally to the god of lust, I couldn’t yet tell. But by the end of the film, I had no doubts.
Kumaran is a naive idealist. He is an educated man (M.Tech, PhD) who gave up a plum job to return to Srivilliputhur to pursue organic farming. He is also the son of a retired Major General and Param Vir Chakra awardee, who spent his holidays at his father’s army camp, we are told. He is loved around the town, and has inspired a few young men (I didn’t see many women) to join him in the endeavour to return to their roots.
For all that, Kumaran is more naive than idealist, I must say. He doesn’t seem to know the first thing about politics — he expects politicians to ‘do good’ for the sake of doing good and is genuinely surprised when the ‘gold sword’ awarded to him in a grand televised ceremony is taken back when the show is over.
Soon enough, he begins to learn. “Katthukkaren thalaivare” (I will learn, dear leader) is his punchline. The more he learns, the more unhinged he gets—unsurprising in a Selvaraghavan hero, I guess.
Suriya does his best to sell the role of Kumaran to us, and scene after scene, he holds up the jagged narrative almost by himself. The naive idealist’s relationship with his wife Geetha has some subtly sensitive moments, rare for a Selvaraghavan film. The film tells us that theirs is a relationship of choice — one that Geetha made. NGK calls this choice ‘kadhal’ (love). And the romantic tension between Kumaran and Geetha is real. In one scene, Geetha smells ‘mann vasanai’ (smell of the soil) on Kumaran and says, rather intimately, “enakku unkitta pidichadhe adhu thaan“, (that is what I like about you). I could understand that.
But, in no time, bizarrely, Geetha’s role in the film gets reduced to that of a sniffer, actively sniffing out perfume on people. Not only does she recognise similar scents, she can now also tell the exact brand of perfume one is wearing. The third time she sniffs, it gets uncomfortable.
In contrast to the politically aware and active Kumaran, Geetha is the indifferent one—her political involvement ends with the ‘mass scene’ of encouragement she lends our hero. But, in NGK’s world, politics doesn’t leave the indifferent alone. As Kumaran slowly loses himself to the world of politics, Geetha gets unhinged too—both of them have scenes of loud outbursts at unexpected situations. The web of politics is to Kumaran, as love is to Geetha — it’s ruining them, but they’re neckdeep in it.
The third wheel, in this political machine and their marriage, is Vanathi, the PR powerhouse played by Rakul Preet Singh. She is a realist, she does her job and goes home to her five-star hotel suites. She carries a gun in her handbag. She is also the one least affected by the “sudukaadu” (graveyard) that is politics.
The awkward romance angle aside, NGK had great potential in exploring the intersection of these three characters. But it doesn’t. NGK is fixated on one man and his crusade. So the story of NGK ends up being one where the naive idealist of Shankar’s world — say, like Ambi of Anniyan — got hit by the dark cynicism of Selvaraghavan’s. In this filmmaker’s hands, instead of being interesting, the story becomes confusing.
Much of the confusion is because Selvaraghavan doesn’t seem to want to explore anything with the emotional detail that he’s usually known for. The relationship between Kumaran and Vanathi is devoid of any sexual tension or meaningful interaction—in fact, there is a duet between them and a stray dialogue about a man loving two people at the same time! The media is reduced to a bunch of TV reporters giving the mic to anyone who asks for it.
So what we are left with is Suriya making loud incoherent speeches at regular intervals. He waxes eloquent about IT companies being jails at one point. In another scene, he asks why a country without water to clean people’s backsides wants military weapons— remember that he’s the son of an Army man. He says Gandhi and his non-violence had to lead the country to freedom because Indians are too passive for revolution.
In the end though, NGK is certainly no Kamaraj. It is as if Selva is telling us that every present day politician was once a naive idealist, and every naive idealist of today is simply a corrupt politician of tomorrow.
Previously published in Huffington Post India.