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Some Ramblings - Virumandi (Tamil)
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla

Amidst all the rubble, amidst all the cacophony, amidst all the humdrum, amidst all the chaos, lies the truth buried deep somewhere. Pragmatism, which doubles for pessimism once in while, dictates that there never is any absolute truth, but only versions of it. One usually associates with whatever suits his persuasion. There never is a right version, there never is a wrong one, either. It entirely depends on who has control over the mouthpiece. First, it was the linear way of recounting an incident - point A to point B. The events that led up to B entirely depending on whatever happened in A - the cause and effect way. Then came along the non-linear way. The sequencing of the events is played around with in this version and only at the end, can one figure out the intent by rearranging the pieces of the puzzle. The next in line was important, interesting and the powerful of three - the perspective way. Hereunder, the subjects remain the same, the sequences remain the same, but the looking glass changes hands. One man's food becomes the other's poison, one man's right becomes the other's blunder. What is interesting in this type of narration is that the lack of trust factor in the various versions put forth. Even when all the versions are put forth causing a clear picture to emerge, one cannot take a hard stance as to the real truth of the event, because it might be completely lost, or it might not even exist, under the burden of changing perspectives and shifting loyalties.

This interesting way of presenting a narration, the "He said, she said" way, has been tackled before many a time in international cinema for great effect, but has remained an untouchable entity in commercial Indian medium. The reasons are quite clear, for no real hero would emerge at the end of it all and all his actions stands to scrutiny not allowing the audience to associate with one version of the truth. In print medium, specially in telugu, Yandamuri ventured into this arena in the recent past, with his "vennellO gOdaari", in which a murder that was committed at the beginning of the story was recounted through 5 different sets of eyes, and at the end of it all, nothing was what it seemed and nothing was what was led to be believed. Kamal Hassan takes up this deglamorized way of illustration and emerges quite victorious with "Virumaandi". The interesting aspect of this sort of illustration is the detached perspective of the maker and his non-judgmental view of the material. He cannot take sides or choose sides and make one perspective better than the other or pack one version with over-powering evidence and leave the other with no logic, no reason to fall back upon. The character of Virumandi, alternating between street thug and a care-free land-owner, the background for the story, village politics rife with senseless violence, and the lack of any guilt on the part of ALL the characters involved, in regard to their actions, makes the perfect mix for Kamal to experiment with the narration.

It is quite normal that court-room proceedings offer a glimpse of what had really happened and what the witnesses think might have happened, given a context, circumstance and a perspective. B.R.Chopra's "Kanoon" played up to this point. Extending this thought even more, and lending it enough credibility with motivations, actions, words and thoughts, "Virumandi" makes an excellent case about the non-existence of the actual and absolute truth. Sympathy or understanding, which stands as the only emotion that the audience would relate to the lead character, in such movies of mindless violence and excessive gore, is completely done away with and instead replaced with a heartless alternative - reason. Kamal Hassan, the director, is not in the least bit sympathetic to Kamal Hassan (playing the title role of Virumaandi), the actor, when he strips away Virumandi of civility and culture, making him loud, boorish and sometimes plain obnoxious. That throws the audience off the scent and the judge'mentality' that it usually takes comfort in, painting the characters in black and white, judging their actions right and wrong, is thrown in a tizzy. Add to that the heroine Annalakshmi (portrayed with utmost sincerity by Abhirami), the usual pegging point of sentimentality and over-indulgence of emotions, is every bit as loud and every bit as cold as Virumandi.

When there are no characters to root for, no situations no take solace in and no one perspective to take sides with, the playing field is rightly balanced for the hero(?) as it is for the villain(?) with the only thing that is separating them - who is helming the mouthpiece.

Picture this situation - hero's grand mother is dead for reasons unknown. Hero is wailing in a corner. The reasons for her death murmured in the crowd. Now, imagine the music playing around the scene. Play the shehnaayi, the usual instrument for ritualistic dirge/obligatory death scene, and subconsciously the audience showering sympathy over the hero. Replace the shehnaayi with some violins and percussions, playing some ominous and suspenseful notes, the audience prepares itself for some foul-play. Leave the scene completely without any background score and allow the audience to make up their own minds whether to sympathize with the hero for his misfortune or to vilify him for his excess - Illayaraja, plays along with the director, refraining himself from commenting on each and every scene, thus forcing the viewer to see it from his viewpoint. Virumandi is probably the most difficult movie that Illayaraja, in his career, had to try really hard deciding between silence and music, for each musical cue would become a give-away to the viewer, something the director purposefully avoided. Keshav Prakash, handling the lens, observes the proceedings in the same dispassionate way with no extra movements to enhance hero's (?) character/image or to cut down the villain's (?). Particular mention and praise to ALL the actors, who sincerely believe their motivations in both the perspectives and remain true to emotions. "Virumandi" is an elegant piece of movie making by a director who is right in his element with the set pieces and in supreme command of the material.

More Ramblings on films
Lakshya (Hindi)
Yuva (Hindi)
Kakha Kakha
Mr & Mrs Iyer
Nuvve Nuvve

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This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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