Director: Bali Srirangham
Actors: Uday Kiran, Radha Ravi, Vivek and Meera Jasmine
Once, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi wrote stories, scripts and dialogues that translated on the silver screen into searing messages of socio-political change. When Sivaji Ganesan delivered Karunanidhi’s power-packed words in the 1952 Parasakthi, they literally served as a wakeup call for the Dravidian political movement. Karunanidhi and others used their pen to create a social revolution of sorts in Tamil Nadu through films and actors like M.G. Ramachandran.
However, Bali Srirangham’s Penn Singam (Lioness), whose story, screenplay and dialogues were written by the 87-year-old Karunanidhi, seems to have lost the roar. Instead, what one heard was a weak growl. Based on Karunanidhi’s literary work, Surulimalai, Penn Singam traces how an upright forest officer, Surya (played by Uday Kiran), fights a losing battle with timber thieves, headed by Singaperumal (Radha Ravi), plundering the forests of it precious wealth. Implicated in the murder of his friend’s new bride, Surya soon finds himself as a fugitive from law, having escaped from prison and forced to take his war to the streets of Chennai. Helping him is his lover, Megala (Meera Jasmine), a new Indian Police Service officer, who also takes the credit for the film’s title. Though rather unfairly.
For, much of the movie traces Surya’s tryst with his own dark destiny and his unequal fight with the forest mafia, encouraged and kept alive by corrupt cops. Penn Singam errs in many other ways. The scripting and direction are so casual that the film often appears jerky, and with performances that are terribly amateurish, Penn Singam is awfully disappointing. It is shocking that a National Award winner like Jasmine could have sleepwalked through her role.
The attempt to weave into the film issues such as dowry harassment, female infanticide and the importance of education merely dilutes the plot into a tasteless, watery broth. Emotional sub-plots and the tendency to transport us to alien, but exotic locales for song-and-dance sequences are annoying road blocks on the narrative.
Finally, the movie climaxes with a huge howler. After shooting dead a criminal suspect, Megala tells Surya that had he killed him it would have been termed murder. But her action could be passed of as encounter killing! A highly irresponsible sentence in a film that purports to serve a social cause on the one hand and justify an unlawful practice on the other.