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"Virumaandi" ... another noteworthy step forward for Kamal.

THE QUESTION that Lenin raised in his award winning "Oorukku Nooru Paer" based on Jayakanthan's story, assumes stupendous proportions in Raajkamal Films' magnum opus "Virumaandi" — the validity of capital punishment.

To those familiar with the mindset of the rustic down South and the incongruous blend of modern gadgets and traditional practices in vogue there, "Virumaandi" is a graphic depiction. To others the irrational violence and gore may seem unnatural and horrifying. Rightly it comes with an `A' certificate to warn the chicken-hearted. Swayed by avarice or anger these are people who never think twice before they take away a life. They are reckless and romantic — repercussions rarely come to their mind.

The docu-feature like beginning with V. R. Krishna Iyer expressing his views on capital punishment slowly blends with the story of Virumaandi (Kamal Haasan), whose gullibility, fearlessness and naiveté lead him to the gallows, literally. A village, where women and land are the main reasons for mindless mayhem, is the scene of action. The intelligent Annalakshmi (Abhirami) feels miserable for her brave hulk of a lover, who is cheated and exploited by her uncle Kothala Thevar (Pasupathi). She tries to help Virumaandi, in vain.

Eulogising the performance of an actor of Kamal's stature can only be redundant. Virumaandi is not your usual cinema hero — like all of us he is a normal mix of good and bad. He gets drunk, is stupid and hot-tempered but never hostile. Kamal's reaction to his grandma's death will remain etched in your memory — crude all right, but true to life. Abhirami has lived the role of Annalakshmi. The performance should fetch her accolades from every quarter. Napoleon carves a niche for himself with his splendid, subdued portrayal of Nallamma Naicker. For Rohini, (Angela Kaathamuthu), the woman who tries to bring Virumaandi's innocence to light, it is a worthy comeback. Entrusted with a solid role, Pasupathi walks through it with the ease of a veteran. Many theatre artistes, including the cruel police inspector, Peikaaman (Shanmugarajan) have been effectively utilised in "Virumaandi." As Vikram's accomplice, he made a mark in "Gemini", and now as Kondarasu, Thennavan again makes his presence felt. It is a noticeable enactment by Suguna playing the mother who turns insane after she loses her baby in the factional feud. Not one character has been wasted in "Virumaandi," except Nasser, a Kamal film constant, who shoulders the small role with dignity. Even Sorimuthu, the bull, has a significant role to play.

The meticulous eye for detail that has gone into the concept of every small and big scene of "Virumaandi" is another elevating aspect. The mischievous touch, when Virumaandi takes his hand to his lips (as if he were smoking a cigar) even as he refers to Fire, one of the five elements in Nature, makes you smile. And the temple priest feigning ignorance about the marriage between Virumaandi and Annam, as he unobtrusively hides the ring that Annam had given him on the occasion, is a poignant nuance.

Two versions of the same incidents — one as narrated by Kothala Thevar and the other as told by Virumaandi — projected one after the other, is a rarely used technique in Tamil cinema. Next at the head of the technical crew is Prabhakar's true-to-life art. Of course, Sudharshan's editing skills, Sridhar's audio additions that lend credibility, Vikram Dharma's mind-boggling action choreography, all these with Keshav Prakash's ingenious camera work at the pinnacle, enhance the overall impact.

Attacking with a sickle at the drop of a hat, does tire you after a point. Nallamma Naicker's mother who is all out to attack her son's foes, going out of the way to save Virumaandi, who is supposed to belong to the enemy camp, is rather puzzling. You wish the schoolteacher and artist, who happens to sketch most of Virumaandi's moves, had done something concrete.

Re-recording is minimal and wherever it comes into play, it's superb. Most of the banter, screams and asides seem to have been captured live. And the silence is telling in the weighty scenes. Obviously Ilaiyaraja must have felt that even a slight sound could be a hindrance. The songs have been penned by three lyricists — Muthulingam, Ilaiyaraja himself and Kamal Hassan, who's written "Unnai Vida... " so melodiously composed by the maestro and sung by Kamal and Shreya Ghosh. All the numbers have the fragrance of the native soil.

The Kamal film, "Anbae Sivam," did not get the publicity it deserved, but politicians made sure that ``Virumaandi" was associated with hype and hoopla from Day One. Such pre-release build-up could make or mar the product. In "Virumaandi"s case it should work out well because the fearless hero is backed by a strong story, astute screenplay, stirring dialogue and deft direction — all by Kamal Haasan. In fact, technical excellence in every sphere (barring the graphics at certain points) is the backbone of "Virumaandi".


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