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Enemies in the State

Reforms cinema requires master craftsmen who know their medium, message and the audience. The problem is: We have too little of them here. And very few gutsy producers.

GENTLEMAN' ROBBED the rich, helped the poor and even built his own free college for the needy after raising a question that's on almost everybody's lips — Why should education be affordable only to the rich?

`Indian' said punishment is the solution to corruption. Death is the only thing mortals fear, said `Indian' thaatha only to be criticised for spreading a moral of violence as means of reforms.

`Muthalvan' came on next, to show what one man can do to bring change with political power. Though entertaining, critics again dubbed it to be too idealistic. And even the Hindi remake `Nayak' didn't do all that well.

Thanks to three huge hits from Shankar, more directors were encouraged to make mainstream commercial films with reforms as a theme. Thus born were Shravana Subbiah's `Citizen' and Majith's `Tamizhan' that's doing pretty well in the city theatres.

The much hyped `Citizen' received a lukewarm response but Ajit went home rewarded for his role as the `Citizen' who urged the court to strip law-breakers of their citizenship. But to make that point, he dons more than half a dozen disguises, takes us through a painfully long flashback packed with almost genocide, something which didn't contribute too much to what the film was trying to say for the simple reason that the crime shown wasn't an everyday one like in the case of the other movies in the genre.

That is where `Tamizhan' scores. In spite of its laughable screenplay propped with a vulgar and crass attempt at humour (or was it romance?), the director manages to salvage the movie with yet another courtroom climax that makes his point very effectively.

What `Tamizhan' tells us is that you don't have to be an `Indian' thaatha on a killing spree or a law-breaking `Gentleman' orchestrating robberies or a one-day Chief Minister like `Muthalvan' or a `Citizen' who takes erring officials hostage — to bring about change.

`Tamizhan' provides a more realistic and practical solution (though not necessarily a quick one) — to educate people of the laws of the land, to create awareness of the Constitution, it tells education authorities it is high time law education was given more preference in the syllabus than sex education in schools. No doubt the movie is idealistic but it's not impossible either. Of course it is hard to believe that 1.1 billion people in India or even half of them would clear the country's debts or even half of it (considering the number of unemployed, sick, too young to earn, too old to earn and the poor), but it is possible that a beginning can be made towards that. Every person can do what Vijay does in the movie. And that's why `Tamizhan' is an important film in today's times despite its flaws and cheap tricks that cater to the front-benchers.

Reform films in mainstream commercial cinema are a rarity these days all right. Directors haven't grown tired spinning the same old tales of boy loves girl with six fights and six songs including one item number routine. Nor have the audience. But remember, it's a cycle — the audience says it doesn't have a choice. The film-makers say the audience won't watch anything else but the regular run of the mill. There have been other genuine attempts at different cinema (especially reforms) that have failed. Vikram's a big star today known for `Sethu', `Dhil', `Kasi' and `Gemini'. He did a film called `Pudhiya Mannargal' years ago. Remember, A.R. Rahman even scored music for it. Sadly, it didn't do all that well, despite a revolutionary theme of students and politics.

Now, that was a relevant film by Vikraman who took a break from his `Pudhu Vasantham' five friends hangover and ultimately returned to it after `Pudhiya Mannargal's debacle. The problem with it: the same old cliches of commercial cinema — the film was ridden with stereotypes, predictable incidents triggered by unidimensional screen villains.

Cheran is another director who deserves kudos for his effort at meaningful cinema. The director who clearly knows his audience. Largely rural. It not only sells, it strikes a bond with the people of the soil apart from winning him awards, quite rightfully. No, we didn't forget Mani Ratnam. Mani Ratnam is a genius in his own right no doubt. He's probably the only director who gets acclaim at both the critical and commercial levels. We have seen his ability in handling macro issues, maturity in doing the tight rope walks and coming out clean, always politically correct. But, is the best yet to come?

Reforms cinema requires master craftsmen who know their medium, message and the audience. The problem is: We have too little of them here. And very few gutsy producers. We had them in the past, not that many any more. So, can we have some reforms please?

P.S: We hear that Arjun will soon be back with yet another reforms movie. We are talking about CEE (I) TV's `Arasatchi' directed by Maharajan.

By Sudhish Kamath

Photo: M. Moorthy

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