Sometimes, five minutes is all it takes to know that you’re in the hands of a genuine filmmaker — like Anucharan, who makes his directorial debut with Kirumi. In those five minutes, he establishes everything — tone, texture (you can feel the milieu-like fabric), and the fact that this is an anti hero film. Not an antihero film — heaven knows we get enough of those — but an anti ‘hero film’, a film that goes against the grain of the traditional heroics of Tamil cinema. For a change, there’s no hero — only a protagonist (Kathir, played by Kathir). And there’s none of the hero’s usual accoutrements. No falling-in-love business — Kathir is already married (Reshmi Menon plays the wife, Anitha). When was the last time a story about a young man resisted the temptation to showcase a series of romantic scenes (and duets)?
The joke about Kathir — someone so microscopically insignificant, he could be the kirumi of the title — is that he’s not content to be a protagonist. He wants to be a hero. The songs we hear in the bar he frequents are hilariously portentous: Manidhan enbavan dheivamaagalaam … (Man can become God...) Adho andha paravai pola vaazha vendum ... (I want to soar like that bird...) These could be Kathir’s anthems. The film is about his attempts to become a big shot. With the help of his neighbour Prabhakar (Charlie), who’s a police informer, Kathir insinuates himself into the good graces of a cop named Soundarapandian (David). At first, he’s just doing things like locking the wheels of a car while the owner chats away obliviously on his phone. Then he moves on to bigger things. He begins to soar. One night, Soundarapandian offers him a drink. A slow smile lights up Kathir’s face.
Part of Kirumi’s power lies in its unerring eye for casting — not a single actor feels wrong. Kathir is Kathir. You see him, and you see the number of young men searching for a short cut to reach the stars in their eyes. David tweaks the typical tough-guy cop we see in our films — he adds dashes of humanism. (The scene where Soundarapandian insists on attending the birthday party of Kathir’s young daughter is a beauty.) As Soundarapandian’s rival cop, Marimuthu is dependably excellent — I don’t think he’s ever given a bad performance. Just watch him in the scene where he sits across Soundarapandian, his back to us, barely glancing at Kathir who walks in. To him, Kathir is a germ-like speck, not even worth turning around for. And Charlie is supremely moving as an older brother/father figure rolled into one. It’s an out-of-the-box dramatic turn. Other directors, hopefully, are taking note.
Nothing, in fact, is hyped up. When two enemies make up, they don’t throw back their heads and laugh and clink glasses. When a cop waits for a thorn in his flesh to die, he just... waits. In silence. He doesn’t burst into you-deserve-this-you-scum dialogue. The biggest surprise of the film isn’t just that a fairly new team (even co-writer Manikandan, fresh off Kaaka Muttai’s success, isn’t really that old) has made something so organically sound, so one-of-a-piece, so free of false notes — but that underneath it all, it’s really a message movie about minding your own business. Or as the song ‘Vaan veesum vaazhkai’ puts it, Un poakkil ponaal oor seendaathey. And even here, Anucharan knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t whip out a megaphone. He understands that it’s not important that we get the message, only that Kathir does.
A version of this review can be read at >baradwajrangan.wordpress.com