Sundaattam, written and directed by Brahma G Dev, is yet another film about the violent, aimless youth of North Madras and incorporates almost every character archetype that has come to define these films. If there is something that would never change about commercial Tamil cinema, it is the problematic construction of the loafing protagonist, who stalks the woman he likes, as a loveable dude. We find a quintessential Tamil film hero in Prabhakaran ( Kanaa Kaanum Kaalangal-fame Irfan), who manages to dislodge Kasi (Madhu), a local carrom champion working at the ‘carrom’ club run by Bakya (Aadukalam Naren), a powerful gangster. In between, he falls in love with Kalai (Arundhati), who is a friend of his sister. The story, then, can be simply narrowed down to the bloody clash between a wastrel and a drug addict over a game of roadside carrom.
The writer has floundered a glorious opportunity to showcase the concealed subcultures of North Madras. We only get a glimpse, and never an articulation, of the popular games in the area, of using fan clubs as a front for something else, of people seeking jobs overseas, of the politics of gang culture and so on. Instead, Dev gives us a very watered down, and a supposedly ‘stylised’ version of gang violence, which we have seen time and again in movies.
He can’t seem to make up his mind whether Sundaattam, set in the early 1990s, is a gangster film or a sports movie. He had ignored the conventions of both theses genres making it a bad hybrid. Cinematographer Balagurunathan has managed to intelligently eliminate most of the symbols that define 21st Century Chennai, by carefully lighting up his frames. The writer seems to have concluded that North Madras in the 1990s can be signified by merely including appropriate vehicle number plates and movie posters, and eliminating contemporary symbols. Though the writer manages to stage certain dramatic blocks satisfactorily with the help of smart cuts from editor L.V. Thasson, we are forced to ask one basic question — has the ambitious Dev understood the specific political, social and the cultural perspectives of the place and times in which he has set his story? It is hard to say yes since he, like his peers in the industry, has not seen anything worthwhile in a strong working class area such as North Madras except drug addicts, gangsters and wastrels. The lives of others decent people, perhaps, don’t interest these filmmakers.