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‘Irandam Ulagaporin Kadaisi Gundu’ movie review: A clever premise, but doesn’t trouble the conscience as intended

Dinesh and Anandhi in ‘Irandam Ulagaporin Kadaisi Gundu’

Dinesh and Anandhi in ‘Irandam Ulagaporin Kadaisi Gundu’  

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The premise of nuclear waste is new to mainstream Indian cinema, but despite some fantastic performances, the impact of this film does not stick to the viewer

Let’s begin this review with an exercise.

Where does nuclear waste rank among the list of “trending topics” we discuss in our every day conversations, be it by the coffee kiosk or at the lunch table? Somewhere between the next Vijay film and the price of onions? The odds of it happening are slim to none.

Athiyan Athirai’s boldness in embedding a critical subject such as this into the fabric of a commercial film is commendable. That the conventional wisdom Athiyan relied on to think up Irandam Ulagaporin Kadaisi Gundu had been missing in mainstream Indian cinema, until this point, is a bit of a surprise.

Before one jumps to conclusions, let me make this clear — Gundu is not the type of film to wax lyrical about. For a commercial movie, it has plenty of flaws. But where it scores generously is in the treatment afforded to a complex subject, and actors Munishkanth and Dinesh are two tall reasons for infusing entertainment into the film.

 

Gundu’s plot has three parallel narratives. How these narratives converge along the axis of an unexploded ordnance (UXO) from World War II, which washes ashore the coast of Tamil Nadu one day, is the story line.

The primary narrative follows the life of Selvam (Dinesh), a lorry driver, who ferries scrap between the yard and the incineration plant. He finds himself at odds with the owner (played by Marimuthu) of the scrap shop because the latter refuses to pay what Selvam deems is a fair wage. Athiyan’s shots capture the grim work environment of these unorganised workers; the casual physical harassment meted out to them by their “owner” strikes at your core.

This is one of the defining scenes in the owner-labour narrative: Ramesh Thilak’s character, a lorry driver, is asked to help with shifting and moving scrap, though he is sleep-deprived, in order to get paid. He attempts to move the UXO mistaking it for a huge piece of brass. Unable to bear its weight, he drops it on his legs and injures himself badly. Marimuthu’s character hears the wails of his worker, and is unmoved; he is keen on finishing his lunch (a shot proceeds to show him licking his fingers clean, even as the others rush to Thilak’s help). He attempts to give ₹100 to Selvam to take care of his friend’s “treatment costs”, but not before chiding him for taking a load auto parked in the yard to rush his friend to a hospital.

Irandam Ulagaporin Kadaisi Gundu (Tamil)
  • Director: Athiyan Athirai
  • Cast: Dinesh, Anandhi, Munishkanth, Riythvika
  • Story line: A lorry driver unwittingly gets caught in the radar of corrupt forces in the Government because hidden beneath the scrap material he is transporting lies a dark but explosive secret.

At the hospital is where Selvam runs into Tanya (Riythvika), who is first introduced to us as an SFI leader, and is later revealed to be a JNU alum who is a journalist. As events unfold following the discovery of the UXO, Tanya is forced to go on the run from the police, as she seeks to expose the “massive corruption” that a defense contractor and the Government of India is involved in.

The third narrative involves Selvam and Chittu (Anandhi). Theirs is a forbidden love; she, a teacher, and he, a driver (Selvam takes offence at people calling him that because his profession is not his identity). Chittu’s family, consumed by caste, tries to keep the two apart; they make her drink water given to them by a shaman to “cure” her of such thoughts. When all else fails, they attempt to kill her. Much like the other two narratives, here too the UXO casts its long shadow.

A standout aspect in Gundu is the use of natural light for its frames. The clever writing that infuses humour in the narrative works like a charm. A note on the writing itself: when the subject of discussion is nuclear waste, the film requires establishing visuals which explain the issue to the casual viewer. But the use of narration and similar visuals in what is essentially the climax portion of the film, defeats the purpose of making a commercial movie. It would have been more interesting if the director had scripted a fictionalised version of events instead.

There are also a few loose ends. For instance, the scenes involving Selvam’s father, and the excessive drama within the Chittu household takes the focus away from the UXO’s nerve-wracking road journey between scrap dealerships. A scene involving four men attempting to steal Selvam’s lorry with it having no cause or effect on the rest of the screenplay is another example. There is also the random foreign tourist, who seems to possess great insight on such bombs being found on different coasts around the world.

Also, Athiyan’s police force has only one shade; they are evil mercenaries working to serve the interest of the corrupt. This is restrictive to the film’s overall theme of that of a dark comedy.

But Dinesh’s screen presence as Selvam is an advantage for Gundu, and one of the big reasons why the film could still be deemed enjoyable over the course of its 140 minutes runtime. Tamil cinema also needs to write more challenging roles for Munishkanth, the actor. He is brilliant, and is, on the basis of this performance, severely under-utilised in many of the other movies we have watched him in.

Despite its clever premise, Gundu’s impact upon explosion on your conscience is negligible.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2020 6:27:48 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/irandam-ulagaporin-kadaisi-gundu-movie-review-a-clever-premise-but-doesnt-trouble-the-conscience-as-intended/article30209055.ece

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