“Thalakeezhaa pudikkayilum thee nilam minna eriyudhadi!”
..goes a line of Vairamuthu in a song. That’s something I would co-relate with Selvaraghavan’s career. He came in like a blow. He has made stunners. He has fallen. The projects he dropped in the recent times are nearing almost the number of films he has done so far. The last offering from him – IRANDAAM ULAGAM, was nothing but a nightmare.. which I still can’t understand why someone of his stature would make something like that.
Once in a decade, there comes a filmmaker who will be celebrated for his cut-throat realism while approaching the adolescence. For his spine-chilling authenticity in building a scene.. For his ravishing sense of detailing to portray the way youngsters fall in love, what they really feel about the heart and the butterflies that flutter around, what it is for a boy to sense the touch of a girl for the first time, what it is to peek into a room of an individual of the opposite gender to steal a quick kiss.
Then, there was this man who took a storm lease for the word 'SENSATION' in 80s. Mani Ratnam.. who is still up in his throne when it comes to youthfulness. It wasn't a big deal for him to make his Tara ask out 'Apram?' 'Apram?' again and again when Aadhi is blushing away. He won't mind pulling out the parts we would like to hide in, like Tara asking 'Thugilurippiyaa?' and Aadhi funnily nodding 'Aamaamaamaa!' What to say? He is a freaking wizard! Right?
But.. With Selva.. The romance is so wonderfully blended with the mood his film is in. Be it Kadhir experiencing an adrenalin rush to touch Anitha’s inner garments or Vinod getting into Divya’s blanket as she sleeps. He comes up with a line like ‘Enakku ippave unkuda padukkanumnu thonudhu’ in Pudhupettai. The sex and violence (even perversion) plays such a vital role in the film.
As RGV says, ”Men are always about Power. And women are always about Beauty" forms the undercurrent of the film. I love the reaction of Kumar with 'Aasai oyumaa' playing at the background and him looking at the posters portraying him as future C.M. The thirst for power in Kumar is killing him so bad that he toggles between extreme ends to reach it.
Characters, chiseled to the core
A few days ago, I happened to (re)watch Pudhupettai on a local channel that used its own school of censorship to cut bits and blocks throughout the film. Even so, the intensity of each scene was so huge and tormenting. I started re-watching it later that night. Ofcourse, the film is a gargantuan feat for a film maker doing his third film..for someone who is in his early 30s. But what’s more intriguing is what has been dealt in Pudhupettai is a sort of never before and never after stuff. Pudhupettai can be called as a textbook work for character arcs. Each and every role you see in the film is so much larger than the film itself.
The core emotion of this film was survival, and like the tagline that says ‘Survival of the fittest’, each and every character is looking to do just one thing: survive. Whether it’s the young Kumar who gets pushed to face the stark realities of life and resorts to begging, or Krishnaveni who resorts to the flesh trade in order to make ends meet, Anbu who has to do anything to make sure he’s still in power, or Selvi who has to go through a different kind of survival: tolerate the filthy man she was forced into marriage with.
Like this landmark scene, the film literally announced the rise of a terrific filmmaker!
A cinematic cosmos
This film is a pinnacle of team work. There have always been some great teams that made cult classics all throughout the evolution of Tamil Cinema. There are Mani Ratnam’s extraordinary combos - with Ilayaraja & P.C.Sreeram teamed up to build Nayakan; with ARR & Santosh whose contribution to Iruvar is out of the world. But what Selva, Aravind Krishna and Yuvan bring together in Pudhupettai is so massive that you can’t pull out anything out of the film. The green and red rays of light that fall on Kumar’s face sets the tone of his character that symbolise the trauma, the rage and the violent pleasures he houses within.
Seen, unseen, scene, unscene
I love that very Selvaraghavanistic shot coming in ‘Neruppu vaaiyiniil’ song right after Kumar’s team executes the man walking while Kumar panics. The scene is cut there and then comes a craned zoom in and zoom out to the discotheque girls and the camera hurries into the gang of Kumar gambling in a table nearby.
The cuts are orgasmic! You know what I mean? I don’t remember another film in Tamil Cinema that plays this psychologically with cuts and edits. Remember the split frames when Kumar is dilemmatic about Selvi getting married! You feel like almost you are right in Kumar’s shoes and going through one hell of a dilemma as he is.
My favourite scene however would be the one when Krishnaveni comes to him post his marriage with Selvi. The score in the scene is subtle leaving the dialogues to take a front. You hear what was within Veni and then as Kumar asks ‘Panam edhaavadhu?’, the music intensifies and Veni gives him a look that says ‘what’s different about you and other men I slept with?’
The relationship between Kumar and Veni is open once and for all in this scene. It has a weird story. It started off as him begging to her as she walks for her work at night – then he is in her room several times but never for sex – then they share a bed and for this time, you hear Veni screaming.. where she is emotionally awakened for the first time – a child comes that was seeded as ‘a may be someone’s’ in Kumar’s mind by Selvi - ending up with his promise to Veni that he never had any doubts about the legitimacy of the child. The graph closes with his hands held tightly by Veni's corpse. The entire relationship is a fascinating tale.
The Mani Ratnam Syndrome
The film is highly original, yet pays tributes to several classics with dignity. The stabbing look of Selvi with the knife is definitely influenced by the shot in The Goodfellas. But what I am not sure about is the inspiration of Iruvar in Selva. I can’t stop comparing Pudhupettai and Iruvar in terms of the way the extra-marital affairs are dealt. The scenario of Kalpana entering the room to confront Anandhan for not marrying her came to my mind when Kumar’s gang leave silently as Veni enters. Both Senthaamarai and Krishnaveni questions the men about their position in his life.
There is interestingly a bath scene involving the affairs in both films.
There are scenes when the other women is informed about the marriage or affair over telephones.
Both Kalpana’s and Selvi’s ends are left tragically halfway as the films end.
Pudhupettai and the lost legacy
Pudhupettai is and will always be the deadliest benchmark set by Selva in terms of its scale, making, writing, directing, visualizing and other technicalities in the decades to come. Who would have come up with a sequence like Kumar fearing a scarecrow in a barren farm with just the moon and total darkness prevailing in the frame? The last 25 minutes of the film is sheer brilliance of Selva depicting what has pushed Kumar to come face to face to the life.
The beauty of Kumar’s arc is : he started of as a boy who sings ‘Kaasu panam sethu vachu enna pannuveenga?’ and at the end of the film, is advised by the godly woman who neglects the money and takes his baby as ‘Indha kuzhandhaikku mela enna venum?’
Will the Selva we knew ever return?
Post Pudhupettai, one may see Selva’s attitude in his films fall in this tone. I personally feel he is one of those artists poorly misguided by his fans(to tone down this statement a little bit.. at least over internet, he was projected that way). Selva and Bala share the same Bodhai(mental high), making their own films in their own weird ways. As time goes, what was once called as a revolution, turned as stereotypes and now turns square against them with only fans clinging with their recent clunkers. (Well.. I knew a guy who calls Irandam Ulagam is one of Selva’s best works)
"Yey! Yey! Yey! Naan dhaan! Naan dhaan! Naan dhaan! Apdinu oru bodhai! Visha bodhai! Bodhai yera yera apdiye saanjuda vendiyadhu dhaan! Naama ninaikradhu dhaan nyaayam. Naama dhaan kadavul!”
Having said that, what I believe is this: “Once a genius, always a genius.”
And by making Pudhupettai, the greatest Tamil gangster film of all time(keeping Nayakan aside), Selvaraghavan is definitely one. Like Mani Ratnam himself says, the high you derive out of watching a good film is tremendous. And what results with Pudhupettai is beyond a cinematic thrill.
To the the man who penned tales from the deep recesses of his mind specifically to smash ours, the man who made our teenage days sensational…Selva Sir, I wish, rather I know that you will make a stellar comeback in the days ahead. And with the things we're hearing about Nenjam Marapathillai, I'm all the more certain now!
Written by Vignesh Srikanth