Purampokku Engira Podhuvudamai: A story of an uncompromising communist rebel

Updated - May 16, 2015 02:50 am IST

Published - May 15, 2015 05:14 pm IST

CHENNAI : Purampokku . Photo : Special Arrangement

CHENNAI : Purampokku . Photo : Special Arrangement

Filmmaker S. P. Jhananathan's Purampokku Engira Podhuvudamai comes at a time when activists and intellectuals, even those confined to a wheel chair, are muzzled, jailed and mocked for caring too much about environment and its people.

‘Purampokku’ is a blazing critique of private property, privatisation, and state repression and is centered on a Communist revolutionary, Balusamy (Arya), sentenced to death for waging war against the Indian army, which is, according to him, working against the interests of the people of India.

The film is many things rolled into one: it raises a question on whose interests the State represents, discusses validity of death penalty and seeks to kick-start a debate on impact of pursuing an economy which privileges private property.

But at the heart of the film lies a crucial, albeit vexatious question: should the State, which is increasingly, as Balusamy declares, being subsumed by oligarchs and plutocrats in association with corrupt politicians, be given the powers to send the so-called ‘traitor’ or ‘anti-national’ to the gallows while hiding under the cloak of the Constitution?

Despite such a controversial moral core, the film has surprisingly released without a single cut, thanks to clever writing by S.P. Jhananathan, who sidesteps the urge to deliver moral fatwas on the state of Indian society and politics.

He has instead created some remarkable characters, each of whom deal with moral crises, and pits them against each other, to create a synthesis of radically different perspectives. The strongest character in the film is, obviously, Balusamy. He is well-read, politically astute, and understands the social structure of Indian state and its incestuous relationship with big businesses.

He is so sure of what he is doing that, in the opening scenes of the film, he eats peanuts as the judge reads his sentence and declines to submit a mercy petition. For, he says, he has done nothing wrong.

Director: S.P. Jhananthan Producer: Binary Pictures and UTV Motion Pictures Cast: Arya, Vijay Sethupathy, Shaam and Karthika Nair Music: Varshan Plot: A communist rebel is sent to the gallows and his comrades try to break him out of prison. Bottom Line: A superb film about shady ethics of death penalty and searing critique of private property.

The knot of the film is this: Balusamy is sentenced to death; can his comrades break him out of jail? The other three interesting characters in the film are Macaulay (played by Shaam), the young ADGP taking care of the prison in Chennai, Yemalingam (played by Vijay Sethupathy), who is the last remaining experienced hangman in the State and is politically infantile and Kuili (Played by Karthika Nair), who is also a communist rebel, working in tandem with Balusamy to realise their collective dream of creating a State that would be a model ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’.

The film takes a while to set things up for a nail biting last 45 minutes. Within the first 15 minutes, Balusamy taunts Macaulay that he would ‘definitely escape’ from the prison. To achieve this mission, Balusamy’s comrades recruit Yemalingam, who is still dealing with the trauma of his first execution many years ago. There are two nail-biting sequences in the film, both of which unfolds in the second half: first, Balusamy takes the help of other inmates to switch places while they are being transported out of the prison and second, a plan to escape through the tunnel underneath the gallows.

It is often said that the most riveting fiction is created when the author seeks to understand the problems in the society in all its complexity. While nobody can question S.P. Jhananathan’s political perspective, there are scenes in the first half – say, when Macaulay takes Balusamy to the prison, which feels that it could have been edited for effect.

The inconsistency of the first twenty minutes is made up by the last 45 minutes. What is refreshing is the fact the film is brutally honest about the reality: the message is that you can valiantly fight against the system and take the moral high ground, but the House will always win. It says this even while underlining the importance of putting up the good fight to preserve what is left.

Arya’s decision to do Balusamy’s character is perhaps be his best decision till date. Though he doesn’t have the same screen-time as Vijay Sethupathy or even Shaam, Balusamy’s presence permeates the film. And he also has the best lines in the film. For instance, he directly accuses Macaulay of serving his state, managed by corporate interests and corrupt masters, and calls him an 'uniformed' rogue.' Some of the discussions that happen within the confines of the jail are gems.

The greatness of ‘Purampokku’ lies not in the fact that it takes complex issues such as death penalty and privatisation to create a superb, entertaining film. On the contrary, ‘Purampokku’ provides a blue print – evidence, if you like – for filmmakers to show how one can deal with controversial topics without watering down the complexity of the issue or settling for a silly compromise. It is a searing critique of everything that is wrong with the political economy of India.

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