Cast: Dhanush, Manju Warrier, Ammu Abirami, Prakash Raj
Director: Vetri Maaran
As the first frames of Vetri Maaran's latest bout with blood and brutality, Asuran, flash by, I am reminded of Shakespeare's tragedies which need never have happened. The film has little romance, more rancour, and the battle between two families in a Tamil Nadu village has less to do with love, more with land grab and social inequities. It is a feud that travels through two generations, and despite one man's efforts to douse the fire, it keeps burning brighter. Asuran is a tale of death and destruction – much in the same mould as some of the director's earlier works like Aadukalam and Visaaranai.
Adapted from Poomani's popularity-chart-topping novel, Vekkai, Asuran follows the travails of a teenager, Chidambaram (Ken Karunas), after he murders the man who had killed his elder brother, Velmurugan (Teejay Arunasalam). The boy repents less for his fit of fury that took away a man's life, but a lot more for having messed up his family's peace.
The family is headed by Sivaswamy (Dhanush), a modest farmer from the lower echelons of the caste hierarchy. With a rich landlord trying to grab Sivaswamy's meagre three-acre plot to build a factory, tension begins to build. His hot-headed elder son, Velmurugan, humiliates the rich man, who has the young man murdered. One killing rolls into another, and the canvas takes on a bright-red hue.
Of course, Vetri Maaran's movie focusses on its hero, Sivaswamy – who to his abject dismay finds that his efforts to leave behind a tragic past when he brewed illicit liquor for his boss, coming to nought. His wife, essayed by Manju Warrier in her debut Tamil appearance, younger son Chidambaram and little daughter are shattered and shaken by not merely the murder of Velmurugan, but also the suffocating social practices prevalent in the village that humiliate and harass the lower castes. Early on, there is one utterly disquieting moment when Sivaswamy's fiancee is told to remove her footwear and carry it on her head. Demeaning and disgusting, with the upper castes and the administration (police included) merrily ignoring the cry of the downtrodden, nay even encouraging such atrocities.
Malice and murder, violence and vendetta walk along the deceptive greenery of the countryside that camouflages the seething anger and angst of Sivaswamy and son Chidambaram. The film illuminates all that is wrong in India's villages, and how illiteracy pushes bloodshed and gore. Life teases and taunts a reluctant revenge-seeker like Sivaswamy -- finally turning him into a monster baying for blood.Nothing can, then, stop him.
Coming at a time when graphic and lurid on-screen violence are being questioned and and even condemned (Joker now playing in Indian theatres is a case in point), Asuran would appear needlessly falling back on this concept to take a plot forward. Some of the visuals are downright disturbing, and often brutality and bloodshed seem orchestrated. Vetri Maaran seems to revel in them (much like Quentin Tarantino, who has lately faced a lot of flak) though he does round up his narrative with a sermon of sorts delivered by Sivaswamy.
Dhanush disappears into Sivaswami and gives a rousing performance as a man tossed and thrown about by an unfeeling community -- conveying fear and fury with an equal measure of credibility. But sadly, he is being invariably slotted in a similar kind of role, portraying the man on the meanest rungs of the social order. Time he snapped out of it and away!
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is author, commentator and movie critic)