Maruthu: Fists of fury

An utterly generic entertainer

The first scene of Maruthu shows a sickle being forged. This can mean only one of two things. Either we’re going to watch a motion picture about the birth of communism. Or it’s a masala movie set in Madurai. With Vishal (as Maruthu) in full action mode, it’s clearly the latter. He is introduced in a scene set in a temple, after the villain ‘Rolex’ Pandian (RK Suresh, apparently playing a beloved Rajinikanth character’s watch-amassing cousin) wonders out loud whether God is going to take on another avatar to vanquish him. And lo, we see Maruthu running towards us, in slow motion. I must add that his attire is rather unconventional for a deity described as “simma avataaram,” even a twenty-first century version. But then, this is Madurai. The lungi bunched up over knee-length underwear is practically the uniform.

Genre: Action

Director: Muthaiah

Cast: Vishal, Soori, Sri Divya, R K Suresh

Storyline: The usual hero-versus-villain showdown

Bottomline: An utterly generic entertainer

And like a devoted priest, Maruthu’s friend Kokkarakko (Soori) begins to list his qualities, so the villain – and the audience – know exactly what Maruthu is all about. He will chase bad guys down to the end of the earth aya namaha. He will not look back at lusty girls giving him the glad eye aya namaha. He loves his grandmother aya namaha. It’s like how speakers are introduced on stage – if they had a lion tattoo on the arm and tiger tattoos on the chest. “ Inathula singam, gunathula puli,” we’re told. If you need to know more about Maruthu’s background, watch him dancing in front of a picture of Subhas Chandra Bose. Director Muthaiah, who made Kutti Puli and Komban, is very clear about the kind of films he wants to make – but more importantly, he also knows who he’s making it for. It’s a wonder no one has written a book yet about the Tamil filmmaker’s masterly ability to appease a target audience without alienating others.

Muthaiah doesn’t make movies so much as ease them off a template, so before we get to the action (U/A-rated, thankfully), we have a long stretch of romance. Bhagyam (Sri Divya) wants a bus to make an unscheduled stop, and Maruthu accomplishes this. Bhagyam wants a husband who can cook, so Maruthu apprentices under a marriage caterer. These portions have no spark. They’re just there because you need duets. And dialogues like: “A woman is like stone… the one who makes her melt is a man.” It’s essentially stalking masquerading as bad poetry. But at least they’ve tried to make Bhagyam spunky, a “ poo vacha Bruce Lee.” There’s a backstory as well, showcasing her mother’s bravery – this is quite unusual for this genre of cinema, which is almost always about the man, the hero. Maruthu’s grandmother (Kulappulli Leela) has a biggish role too, though this relationship never goes beyond “cute.” We don’t feel the emotion between the two of them, and that becomes a problem in the latter portions, when we’re meant to get emotional about the two of them.

The film is very long, very talky. It tries to create some dramatic tension by revealing things slowly – for instance, why Maruthu’s grandmother wanted him to fall in love with Bhagyam, or why Bhagyam visits the hospital when Maruthu is being treated for an injury. But the effort on paper does not translate to screen.

The recent Sasikumar film Vetrivel fell into the rural action-entertainer genre too, but we felt for the characters and were invested in their fate. Here, you can hear Vishal whispering into the director’s ears: “Make it more mass.” Which unfortunately means that everything – including the conflict with the villain, a murderer who wants to become an MLA – is generic and at a surface level.

What stands out is the making. The cinematographer is Velraj, and he gives us wonderfully sunburnt images – the film looks like a series of clay paintings baked in a kiln. This isn’t your typical Tamil film where the camera just points and shoots. The frames are full and deep, and there’s always some activity happening in a corner – clothes being hung on a line, a man heaving sacks of something. And there’s extra footage that the editor keeps cutting away to, making the scenes and the place feel vibrant, lived in. None of this is path-breaking, but if more filmmakers start thinking along similar lines, then we may be able to get to the level that Hollywood operates at. In the sense that even if the film is crap, it’s at least technically polished crap.

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Printable version | Mar 25, 2020 10:48:02 AM |

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