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Gautaman Bhaskaran’s review of Aaranya Kaandam

india Updated: Jun 11, 2011 16:13 IST
Gautaman Bhaskaran
Gautaman Bhaskaran
Hindustan Times
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Aaranya Kaandam (Jungle Chapter)
Director: Thiagarajan Kumararaja
Cast: Jackie Shroff, Ravi Krishna, Sampath Raj, Somasundaram, Yasmin Ponappa, Master Vasanth
Rating: ***1/2

There are two debut features in Aaranya Kaandam (Jungle Chapter). One, Thiagarajan Kumararaja helms for the first time. Two, Bollwoodian Jackie Shroff plays for the first time in a Tamil film, and as gangster Singaperumal, he is absolutely superb in his veshti (dhoti) and shirt, bespectacled and impotent, but yet holding a young woman, Subbu (Yasmin Ponappa), as his slave. But what a slave she turns out to be, pairing with the aging don’s Man Friday, Sappai (yet another compelling performance by Ravi Krishna), to inject an exciting twist to the plot.
Gautaman Bhaskaran
Frustrated with and agonised over Singaperumal’s nauseating ways, Subbu plans an escape with the help of Sappai, while intra and inter-gang rivalries slice through the gangster’s smug existence. On the one hand, his second-in-command, Pasupathy (Sampath Raj, yet another fine performance here) is yearning for freedom and his own fiefdom that Singaperumal consistently denies. Not just this, but he also plans to have Pasupathy bumped off. On the other hand, there is Gajendran and his cronies out to take away a bag of cocaine that falls into the hands of a village bumpkin, Kalayan, essayed with wonderful wit by Somasundaram, and his son, Kodukapulli, the pint-sized Vasanth, who turns out to be a sarcastic, but intelligent counterpoint to his father’s drunkenness and waywardness. The cocaine chase by Singaperumal’s men, Gajendran’s ruffians and the father-son duo transforms the movie into a blood splattering sport: Shroff trudges along with a blood stained shirt, while Pasupathy expertly cuts men’s jugular with his knife, mouthing all along the choicest of expletives.

A nude scene of Shroff thrown in for meaningless effect, and gory violence iced with abusive language had Indian censors squirming. They wanted 52 cuts, but eventually let the film pass with fewer chops and an adult certificate that in any case is widely disregarded in India. It is certainly not a movie for children, for its highly stylised violence -- a la Quentin Tarantino – gives credence to the feeling that problems may only be solved through the gun and the sword.

However, it must be said in defence of Kumararaja’s script that its abundant wit, including a joke about two of southern India’s reigning superstars, Kamal Hassan and Rajnikanth, somewhat blurs the bloody mess that fills the screen and most of the film’s running time of 153 minutes.

Yuvan Shankar Raja’s music often sounds distracting and vaguely familiar, though Aaranya Kaandam steps out of the formulaic song-and-dance romance, choosing instead to focus on the brutal lives of gangsters. Not an original plot though, for we have seen many movies about the underworld. Kumararaja’s is not very different from these, except perhaps his attempts at pushing the narrative largely through style. Watch the way, blood squirts out of bodies, almost making patterns on the canvas. A chapter from the jungle all right, a jungle that reverberates with murderous hisses.