The teaser and trailers to this film made for an intriguing announcement of a new voice to Tamil cinema. Two projects bagged – virtually – on the merit of a trailer? That’s what I’d call a dream debut. Having finally caught up with the film, I can vouch for the fact that Arun Matheswaran is indeed a new voice – an aesthete with a distinct visual finesse – one who’ll surely be heard more often for times to come. But, I couldn’t feel for this first film of his.

The narrative is presented in chapters (with particularly neat typography), we get philosophical quotes, there’s stellar framing and lighting, deftly edited poetic passages, and memorable metaphors of time. But these don’t quite gel along with the emotions of the film. The lyrical quality of Arun’s aesthetic – how his film looks and sounds – doesn’t quite seep into the writing. There’s some philosophy, but they come across as fancy set dressings more than organic elements soaked in the story.

When certain moments got too indulgent, it pulled me away from the film into thinking of alternate ways in which they could’ve been directed. Take for example the scene where he meets his sister. He has the address, he arrives in a rickshaw, and all he has to do is walk to the door. But the choice of filming the walk to the door as a part of a long single shot gets borderline pretentious, because its cinematic purpose seems futile. (I was reminded of Kabali where a similar search for a character has much more gravity, with visible tension and longing.) There are better long takes within the film, like the one that follows Poo Ramu’s warning to Rocky to stay away from Manimaaran. This is also preceded by a “…nadakkanum nu thonudhu” (I feel like walking) to lend emotional weight to the forthcoming stretch of his walking. The film is inconsistent like that. We get Kaber Vasuki’s beautiful and equally gritty “Kaalam oru dhrogi” piece – Rocky narrates it with a bold spirit – and in the next sequence we have him cowering next to his sister without a meaningful line to say. Such jumps in the persona of a character are quite jarring. The endurance from his jail time and the subsequent poetic lamenting isn’t felt in his personality. His brooding face helps, but the dialogues he mouths don’t.

Bharathiraja’s baritone has a certain texture to it. He can sell menace with non-lexical fillers (hmm, er, aahn, etc) alone. When you pit someone with that kind of magnetism against Vasanth Ravi, the latter’s tenderness and lack of force is magnified. Vasanth is still an interesting actor and choice for this role, because he comes without an image, and can be exactly what the director whats him to be. But Arun’s writing doesn’t provide much to his character beyond anger. His worldview is contained in an esoteric poem rather than in accessible dialogue, and that’s a recipe for emotional disconnect. The possible argument to this is that a generic narrative of revenge doesn’t need much detailing and backstory. My counter in that case would be that the protagonist should’ve then been a one-note rage machine as opposed to someone dropping the occasional, half-hearted tease of having feelings. This emotive mismatch also makes the excessive violence feel shoehorned in, rather than arising from emotional brevity. The gore feels reduced to an aesthetic choice, and I don’t know how to feel about this.

The non-linear narration makes way for smart positioning of flashback sequences. Like Manimaaran’s minimal “konnadhu avan, kaaranam ivan” from the present, getting a visual in the flashback, is an interesting moment that’s an echo as much as new information. The final deus-ex-machina moment makes the film look a lot more generic, but the stretch is shot gloriously and designed to exhilarate, which it does. Shreyaas Krishna’s cinematography towers over the film, bringing a new flavour to Tamil noir, with drained out colours, imposing industrial landscapes, and brutality of broad daylight. Props to Arun Matheswaran for facilitating such imagery. Darbuka Siva’s understated score too, blends in very well with the film, peculiarly standing out at occasions and largely being a neat underline to the proceedings.

Visual distinction is easy to find, and even replicate, in a time when the entire history of cinema is accessible at the tap of our black mirrors. But the esoteric nature of visuals need to at least have the feeling of coming from a place emotional intelligence, which I feel is lacking in this film, owing to the kind of “aesthetic” violence it displays. All the ranting aside, I’m surely looking forward to the maturing of this voice, because the potential for a good aesthete to work alongside more rounded writing, makes for immense excitement.


Notify of
1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

[…] way Arun Matheswaran used gore in his debut feature Rocky, came across to me as a mere aesthetic choice rather than arising from emotion. His idea seems to […]

Recent Posts

You Might Also Like

Manjummel Boys
Jigarthanda DoubleX
Ponniyin Selvan: II