Actor-turned-director K Balakrishnan's debut venture in Tamil, Rummy, has been titled after the game of cards. But the link between the cinematic plot and the game is, at best, tenuous in a period piece, set in 1987 around the Tamil Nadu's town of Sivaganga (Union minister P Chidambaram's constituency).
Direction: K Balakrishnan
Cast: Vijay Sethupathi, Inigo Prabhakaran, Gayathri Shankar, Iyshwarya Rajesh
Rummy's first half lends itself to a campus story, some of its incidents drawn from the helmer's experiences and observations. So, it's autobiographical in a way. But was Tamil society so violent then, replete with honour killings of young couples in love?
Focussing on two couples - Shakti (played by Inigo Prabhakaran) and Meenakshi (Gayathri Shankar) as well as Vijay Sethupathi (Joseph) and Iyshwarya Rajesh (Swarnam) - Rummy runs along the oft-beaten track of stolen glances (mind you this is the 1980s, and even this was big), romantic teasing and songs sung in the vast openness of the countryside.
It is only later that the village strongman comes into focus - to get disillusioned with the affair of his niece and his daughter with boys, who clearly do not belong to his community and are viewed as outsiders. The movie has elements of what North India calls, khaap panchayat.
Rummy is often violent, with the strongman's underling slicing off the arm of a young man who dared to fall in love with a girl from his village. There is more bloodshed and gore to come, more revenge and brutality -- sometimes treated with arrogant casualness. However, the high point of Balakrishnan's script is the shock it presents at the end.
What is clear is the subtle but nuanced portrayal of male dominance played out against passionately innocent love. Yes, there is a lot of innocence out there: the couples are hardly scheming and even their escapes appear amateurish (cannot think of young men and women of today with such stupid plans to elope).
Traditional costumes (with the women wearing half-sari and men dhoti) add to the authenticity of Rummy, but performances, except for Sethupathi and Rajesh, are passé. Iyshwarya is extremely promising as the woman in love, who ultimately has to pay a terrible price.