Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Sarpatta Parambarai A Helluva Fight


I like sports flicks even if they are not game – changers in that rousing genre. The Longest Yard, Remember the Titans, Rush, Dodgeball, the entire Rocky franchise and Creed are films I have watched more times than I care to remember. Million – Dollar Baby is one of my all-time fave films and it never fails to reduce me to a miserable puddle of tears. In short, I love sports films, unless they are made in India. Here people do weird things like cast Priyanka Chopra as Mary Kom, give Farhan Akhtar a chance to log in a whole lot of gym time to play Milkha Singh unconvincingly or whoever it was he played in Toofan, etc. Even the critically acclaimed Irudhi Suttru was a disappointment because I felt it was about a lot of things but the boxing itself which it was purportedly all about wound up somewhere at the bottom. Which is why Pa. Ranjith’s Sarpatta Parambarai was a refreshing change.

After the promise Ranjith showed with the excellent Madras, he went on to make the awful Kabali and Kaala which prompted me to set the bar really low for Sarpatta Parambarai but the film, while not lacking in the ideology he cares so much about and which yields mixed results cinematically speaking, treats the material with a certain dignity and has such innate respect for the sport of boxing, you can’t help but be charmed.

Set in the 1970s, against the backdrop of the emergency, Sarpatta Parambarai tells an oft told tale of an underdog, Kabilan (Arya), who rises from the dumps only to fall so that he can rise again. None of this is groundbreaking, but Ranjith can be counted upon to freshen this stuff up. It helps that Ranjith always opts to work with a powerhouse cast. Pasupathy, who plays coach Rangan is just pure dynamite! He conveys so much with his eyes and subtle use of body language, that it is impossible to take your eyes off him. The man is a study in understatement! John Vijay who is an Anglo – Indian father figure to Kabilan is excellent. The supporting cast of boxers - Santhosh Prathap as Raman, John Kokken as Vembuli and Shabeer Kallarakkal as Dancing Rose are so good, they easily eclipse Arya who is in his element in the training montages and inside the ring where he does a decent job of conveying intensity and aggression but in all the other scenes it is obvious that he is the lightweight among an impressive array of heavyweights. He is particularly horrendous in a scene where he has an emotional meltdown and wallows in self-pity. But the good thing about his character is that he is no saint, and despite his sins, you do root for him.

Kabilan’s journey is an impressive one although I found it hard to swallow that a rookie could take out pros in successive rounds with next to no training. Why do we keep showing this in our films? It doesn’t happen that way folks. Excellence in sports takes so much more than talent, aggression or inspiration. Boring things like endless training, hard work and dedication are called for. A couple of training montages before a big match is just not going to cut it. Just once, I would like to see a protagonist who lives, eats, sleeps, breathe his chosen sport allowing for no distractions. I doubt a project like that would be green – lit but I daresay it takes just that kind of maniacal commitment to achieve sporting glory!

Be that as it may, of course we have to talk about the caste as well as class divide that is always present felt in Ranjith’s films. There are characters like Thanigan (Vettai Muthukumar) who would prefer the likes of Kabilan to beg for alms in front of their homes, shovel up cow dung or slave for them but draw the line at him going on to represent and win for their Sarpattai clan. His devilry to stop the progress of Kabilan is reprehensible, unpalatable and in the climatic stretch, somewhat unconvincing. One wishes Ranjith would temper his passionate beliefs with just a touch of balanced perspective because ironically, while he has raised his voice against those who would trod upon the rights of lower caste members and blue – collar workers, he seems to endorse those boxing clans like ‘Sarpatta parambarai’, ‘Idiyappa parambarai’ etc. though it is almost a given that it must be a struggle for aspiring boxers to gain acceptance to these clans with the inordinate pride some of them take in their identity and their reluctance to let outsiders in. Sounds familiar? I have always wondered at the bias displayed by people who raise their voice against bias.

That aside, critics always rave about the ‘powerful’ women characters in Ranjith’s films but I beg to differ. Bakkiyam (Anupama Kumar) as Kabilan’s mum, Mariamma (Dushara Vijayan) his wife and even, Sanchana Natrajan who plays another character’s wife while solid performers are given nothing to do but scream and berate the men in their lives in an endless litany. The interminable shrieking is at the shrillest pitch possible and really grates on the nerves. It is commendable that these women make the men earn their respect, but I would have appreciated them more had they gone about it in a less hysterical manner. And I really wish, that a woman who repeatedly whacks her son with a broomstick isn’t applauded as ‘feisty’. Abuse is abuse whether it is a man or woman meting it out and I wish folks would stop treating it like a perfectly acceptable thing.

However, grouses notwithstanding, Sarpatta Parambarai has some beautiful moments. I loved that Dancing Rose berates his buddy’s less than honourable conduct while later bolstering the same fallen comrade by telling him that there is no shame in a loss if you have fought with honor and given the best you have got. I misted up at that. Incidentally, he is the only character who is a decent sport. Everyone else with their mulish clannishness including the hero would have done better to exalt the sport of boxing more than their petty rivalries.

Another aside worthy of a mention is when coach Rangan returns from jail and has a private moment with his wife, where they exchange a look of heart melting fondness though they are in the middle of a crowd… Ranjith does his best work when he brings out these small, intimate moments that establish the bonds shared by his characters and these triumph over the more epic stretches he stages though they are effective too. Ultimately, Sarpatta Parambarai may not quite deliver a knockout punch but it is definitely a helluva fight!


Sunday, July 25, 2021

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is Equal Parts Brilliant and Problematic


I’ll start by admitting to being a huge Quentin Tarantino fan. I have watched and rewatched his films so often, I can probably write a thesis on his work in my sleep. I’ll also confess that with The Hateful Eight and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, it seemed to me like the auteur was losing his touch. Especially since his work was never characterized by emotional range or soul – stirring substance and with these two duds, no amount of his quirkiness and trademark flamboyance seemed adequate for the task of making amends for the overriding superficiality smothered in swagger and style.

Even so, when Tarantino announced that he was making the transition from auteur to author, I was intrigued, for obvious reasons. And the man, didn’t disappoint. The book is impossible to put down and the novel format is perfectly suited to Tarantino’s love for lavish detail, verbose asides to meditate on the minutiae and making of films, tendency to digress from the main narrative for long detours into Hollywood by lanes for some shop talk and celeb worship. Unlike the movie, with its leisurely to the point of lethargic pace, he cranks it up a notch while drawing his readers by hand into the inner lives of his characters. There is Rick Dalton, the actor whose career is headed towards the rocks, Cliff Booth, the stuntman and Dalton’s sympathetic sidekick who may be a little too good at killing and Trudi Fraser, the memorable child actor who schools Dalton on method acting and expresses her aversion to being referred to as ‘Pumpkin Puss’. All of them make for intriguing companions.

Tarantino’s pen lingers on the real life figures as well – Sharon Tate, Roman Polanski, Charles Manson and his ‘lost girls’, although the attempt is less heartening. Manson, for instance he dismisses as a hack who would have sold his immortal soul, existential philosophy which was supposed to herald a new order and his adoring followers for a record deal he does not have the talent to secure. All this makes for riveting reading and turns out to be an incredibly visual experience comparable to watching and having your mind blown by the best of his films.

Tarantino has long reveled in being a provocateur, and his unapologetic audacity is his biggest strength, giving his work a raw honesty that is shorn of anything remotely resembling wokeness or political correctness. After all, he is the guy who saw fit to rewrite the history of World War II as an outrageous revenge fantasy but every once in a while, his penchant for lowbrow cinephilia and consequent creative decisions can be in surpassingly poor taste. Never has it been more apparent than in his portrayal of Bruce Lee in the film version of OUATIH which had the departed superstar’s daughter, Shannon Lee up in arms against Tarantino for the disrespect and blatant mockery of a bona fide legend who battled impossible odds to achieve his cult status but unfortunately, did not live long enough to see his efforts pay off. As always, Tarantino stuck to his guns, and has doubled down in his book to make a case for Bruce Lee suffering from an inflated ego and insisting he was disrespectful to American stuntmen, who he claims refused to work with Lee because he would purposely tag them in fight scenes (landing real blows with his fist and feet).

Tarantino claims he has plenty of evidence to support his claims regarding Lee but be that as it may, one can’t help but think this is unfair to Bruce Lee. The glam factory, like the rest of society has always been hard on those belonging to minority groups, failing to recognize their talent or giving them opportunities to shine and holding them to ridiculous standards while conversely, their white counterparts are literally allowed to get away with murder. This is exactly the sort of systemic racism, actors with the ‘wrong’ skin color have battled for eons now. And the decision to have Mike Moh portray Lee and his trademark mannerisms with exaggerated excess to achieve a certain caricaturist effect sticks in the craw especially if you are a rabid fan of the great martial artist (like me) even if it is to establish that Cliff Booth as a war veteran with medals of valor to prove his prowess as a killer can easily take the Dragon out. In light of the tragic fate that overcame Bruce Lee and later, his son, Brandon Lee, this whole arc is insensitive, to say the least.

It is particularly galling given how unabashedly sympathetic Tarantino is to Cliff Booth himself, who definitely murdered his wife (this scene is mined for romance and it is an outrageous flourish that is wildly entertaining and surprisingly sweet) and has killed three civilians and managed to escape the law every single time. Worse, is Tarantino’s near slavish devotion to Hollywood’s golden couple of the 60s – Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate. He clearly has nothing but respect for the former and love for the latter (who is never less than a beautiful, blonde angel), evident in his treatment of both which is disconcerting with regard to Polanski. Tarantino takes great pains to pay suitable tribute to a fellow auteur (I confess to being an admirer of Polanski’s brilliant body of work myself) and establish his undeniable genius but in a departure from his garrulous style keeps mum about the Polish director’s conviction for the rape of a minor which resulted in him absconding from the USA.

Naturally, this makes one wonder why Polanski merits such adoration while Lee was hauled over the coals for allegedly being disrespectful to American stuntmen who in all fairness are more than likely to have treated him with less than the respect that was his due, since at the time Lee was a ‘Chinaman’ working as the Green Hornet’s sidekick. It just smacks of racist and exploitative overtones, given that Tarantino famously trotted out Uma Thurman clad in the iconic yellow jumpsuit Lee wore in The Game of Death, for his smash hit, Kill Bill, which was marketed as a homage to the martial arts legend.

Even more disturbing is Tarantino’s cavalier treatment of the pedophilia rampant in Hollywood. He asserts that Charles Manson used his underage girls as ‘catnip’, pimping them out to those who may serve his ends. Naturally, since he is the villain of the piece, none of this is glorified but the entire thing becomes a shade off - putting when an underage character insists on being called ‘Pussycat’. She offers sexual favors to Booth, who in an uncharacteristic move demands that she show him proof of her age before turning her down. This character then goes on to reveal that she had a sexual relationship with Charles Manson at the age of 14 and proceeded to marry someone (at the cult leader’s suggestion) and dump him shortly after, because the move would ‘free’ her to escape her parents and join him and his hippie followers. At no point, is it suggested that she is a victim on account of her age, susceptible to the machinations of smarmy cult leaders. Instead she is portrayed as a poster girl of the degenerate hippie culture Tarantino clearly despises.

This attitude of the auteur turned author becomes even more troubling when Mirabella Lancer aka Trudi Fraser, an eight-year-old actor gets her flirt on (in the book) with the much older Dalton, her co - star. She talks to him of love and marriage while going off script in an exercise to understand their characters better and later, calls him at an unearthly hour for the ostensible purpose of reading their lines together so they can kill it on the next day’s shoot. Dalton protests very weakly about the inappropriateness of it all before indulging her request. While it is apropos that the inappropriateness of it all has been stressed, it also makes the reader wonder if Booth was not speaking for Tarantino himself when he admits to liking a fictional character, who is “unconsciously racist, consciously misogynist”. After all, at the end of the day, Tarantino can really be an INGLOURIOUS BASTERD of the highest order, even when he is at his dazzling best.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Fear Street Part Two: 1978


Was there ever a horror movie prequel/sequel that was ever worth a damn? Fear Street Part Two tries hard, it really does, but nothing really sticks. The axe-swinging murderous puppet type controlled by the witch, Sarah Fier whose curse has haunted Shadyside for centuries supplies the gruesome thrills and chills in Camp Nightwing which was alluded to in Part One. Ruby Lane (who sings a sweet little song while wielding her knife) and Billy Barker (A little boy who bashes heads in with a baseball bat) make an appearance too. This set – up harkens back to Camp Crystal Lake and the terrifying Jason of Friday the 13th fame so one mentally prepares oneself for happy little campers getting slaughtered and also wonders how parents still send their kids to these places were the counselors are either high or preoccupied with getting laid with their young charges being the last things on their minds!

There is a little more backstory about the witch and the emotional beats are supposed to be supplied via a soured relationship between two sisters who have diametrically opposing views about how best to handle being stuck in an accursed place and yet another messed up relationship between former friends. They resolve their differences while being hunted by one of the witch’s minions, watching their friends and charges hastened to horrendous ends and screaming fit to bust their lungs. None of it works though. This time around, the director Leigh Janiak, ramps up the bleakness and darkness which seeks to drive the horror quotient through the roof but since the film is nothing but a set up for a major reveal in part three, most of it is repetitive and the schtick gets old.

And a pet peeve is the continued tendency to portray witches in the worst possible light never mind that the infamous witch hunts which spanned centuries and claimed the lives of thousands of innocent women whose only crime was that they didn’t stand and pee was one of the darkest chapters in history. It is so tiresome that this tired old trope of the wicked witch is still being mined to create loathsome women characters. But hopefully, in the spirit of wokeness which seems to be the driving force behind art these days, part three will turn things on its head and reveal that the witch is not the real villain of the piece but a victim who has slaved across the centuries to save Shadysiders from the same malevolent creature that claimed her life and unleashed a brood of mass murderers. Now wouldn’t that be something?

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Fear Street Part One: 1994


It was only a matter of time before the back storied world – building and myth - making that powered one too many money – minting superhero franchise seeped into the horror genre. We saw glimpses of it in the Conjuring and Insidious universe which has been yielding increasingly diminished returns to begin with and now, Leigh Janiak has upped the ante with her offering of three movies based on R.L Stine’s series, “Fear Street”, spanning centuries, to be dropped in installments over the course of a month on Netflix. The film is not a faithful adaptation and is a much darker take on R.L. Stine’s work which was written for children and therefore does not feature the body count, blood and gore that are prerequisites for a slasher flick. In fact, his books were once famously described as a ‘literary training bra’ for Stephen King.

“Fear Street Part One: 1994” is set in Shadyside aka Shittyside. The town has an unfortunate history of ordinary people suddenly losing all their marbles and going on killing sprees. This is exactly the sort of thing that can give a place a bad rap and lead to plummeting property value, plunging the citizenry into poverty.  Their problems are compounded when the film opens with yet another Shittyside massacre in a mall and the people have to cope with the scale of the tragedy even as the media highlights similar gruesome incidents from the past contrasting the town with the neighboring Sunnyvale, which is picture perfect and prosperous to boot. Naturally, they tend to look down on Shadysiders, going so far as to blame them for their perpetual wretchedness.

Deena (Kiana Madeira) has just put together a bitter mixed tape for her ex, Sam (Olivia Welch) who has moved to Sunnyvale and is not inclined to buy into theories that a witch named Sarah Fier has placed a curse on the town making it a breeding ground for serial killers who go about the business of slaughter in wildly creative and surpassingly gruesome ways. Deena’s brother (Benjamin Flores Jr.) is a bit of a nerd who has made it his business to study the legend of the witch. Her friends Kate (Julia Rehwald) and Simon (Fred Hechinger) are selling pills to their school mates in a determined effort to pick themselves up by the bootstraps and better their lives. On an eventful night, Sam accidentally disturbs the grave of the witch and paints a bullseye on her back, dragging this oddball group of friends into a night of mayhem and murder.

Janiak treats these characters with respect and it is why we come to care for them though they can be abrasive and unlikeable on occasion. They make a lot of bad decisions but they are not blamed or shamed for it, because the film understands the brashness and desperation of youngsters who are heartily sick of adults, unwilling to take the time to listen to their fantastical claims, wrapped up as they are in their own worlds. Fittingly enough, the adults barring a few exceptions are mostly absent. Even the burgeoning sexuality of these characters is not treated as something to be used for purposes of titillation or as a cautionary tale. This sensitivity is not common in this particular genre and makes for a refreshing change of pace.

“Fear Street Part One: 1994” is high on nostalgia, the occasional jump scare and boasts of a rousing score but it is hardly the most frightening film out there even though parts of it are truly disturbing and make you feel a little queasy. Even so, it is interesting enough to make you want to come back for the second installment.


Authenticity Versus Perceived Authenticity


The events of the past year and a half have encouraged us to reprioritize because there is a limit to how many times one can bake, cat – cow on the yoga mat or yearn for the days when we took travelling and eating out for granted. We pay slightly more attention to societal issues and are shaken out of our customary complacence when there are back to back dowry – related deaths in Kerala which has long been considered relatively more progressive than the rest of India. We are less inclined to swallow crap about how the Covid crisis in India is nothing more than a conspiracy peddled by Western propagandists and fake news disseminated by anti – nationals than before. Some of us even take the time to figure out the difference between Rafael Nadal and the Rafale deal that the PM is going on about. Nobody really has the patience to handle celebrity shenanigans whether it is Kangana’s shrill spouting of perpetual nonsense or getting worked up because Aamir Khan divorced his wife.

Having ingested all the content, we possibly can on OTT platforms to the point of indigestion, we want to do better with our lives and care more about others because everybody seems dangerously close to hitting rock bottom and plummeting to further depths of despondence. But despite our best intentions we gravitate to social media because time won’t kill itself.  We tell ourselves that our attitudes have changed though – from following influencers we love we now follow those we love to hate.

Of course, the greatest success stories on Instagram or YouTube are those who insist that it is all about keeping it real. They force their brand of quasi – optimism upon us by allowing their followers to eye - ball their carefully curated lives artfully shot by professional photographers. We are told that it is perfectly okay to be imperfect even as they flaunt tousled bedheads carefully arranged by a hairstylist and au natural make – up applied by a beautician while reclining on a tasteful couch and showing off the latest goodies they have received from some high – end brand. They assure us that it is fine to be messy while looking anything but and reveal close – ups of acne scars before urging us to buy a concealer. Mumfluencers post adorable pics with their infant revealing that they stay up nights crying before recommending a breast pump.

We know that perceived ‘authenticity’ is being highly compensated and used to make us buy stuff we don’t need. And all the performative pyrotechnics has made us heartily sick of artifice, even at its most aesthetical. But the question is whether we can ever accept authenticity again without filters.

This column originally appeared in The New Indian Express.

Saturday, July 03, 2021

Time Slows to a Crawl in Chris Pratt’s Tedious Time Travel Trudge

The Tomorrow War  (Amazon Prime) is a wearisome trudge across some seriously unappealing sludge, that makes you want to examine your own lack of judgement when it comes to making decent viewing choices. Director Chris McKay has laboriously put together a film about time travel, vicious, ungainly looking killer aliens who aspire towards nothing more elevating than devouring humans for food and breeding which thoughtless approach on their part puts the future of the human race in jeopardy. This sort of thing has the potential to be entertaining but McKay does not bring anything that is remotely original, fun, or quirky to the table. The film gives the impression of material that has been regurgitated after multiple trips up and down Hollywood’s alimentary canal.

Chris Pratt’s Dan Forester is ex – military, who is presently working as a high school teacher and like every character in every movie or show nowadays, he is extremely angst – ridden with his lot in life and all set to endanger his happy family life comprising a sweet wife and adorable daughter by hurtling down a dark path he has always sought to avoid thanks to a father (JK Simmons) who left him with abandonment issues, when troops show up from the future with dire tidings. They are fighting an unequal war with the aliens and their ranks are so depleted that they have no choice but to enlist troops from the past.

Forester is drafted and finds himself plunged into violent conflict 30 years in the future with a motley crew of fellow soldiers, none of whom are remotely memorable. But the most arresting of the lot is the commanding female officer played by Yvonne Strahovski (Of Chuck and The Handmaid’s Tale fame) and thanks to the nature of the relationship they share, there is a lot of maudlin emotional fare to wade through. Strahovski acquits herself decently but Pratt is ill – suited for this kind of thing which does not allow him room for his customary swagger and roguish charm that was more gainfully employed in The Guardians of the Galaxy and The Jurassic World franchises. Here his lugubrious expressions are meme – worthy but little else. As for the brilliant JK Simmons he is given precious little to do, though he excels in every frame he is in and of all this movie’s many offenses, this lapse has to be the worst.

The Tomorrow War trundles along to a ho – hum climax and there is lot of gruesome, alien gore for those who enjoyed films like the Alien with squishy stuff, gross bodily fluids, and lots of ear – drum shattering shrieking but for the rest of us all that is left, is regret over wasted time, that could have been better spent scrolling for something better to watch.

Friday, July 02, 2021

The Females in The Family Man





Indian Productions on Netflix and Amazon barring the odd exception, have been disappointing. The Family Man, however boasts of slick, high – octane action, authentic characters and most importantly, really good writing. Srikant Tiwari, played by the always marvelous Manoj Bajpayee is an antiterrorism agent who is overworked, underpaid, and bent over with the burden of unrelenting personal and professional pressures. His best friend JD helps him cope with delightful doses of humor and wisdom doled out over vada pav. Sharib Hashmi is superb in this role. Much has already been written about The Family Man, particularly its culpability in portraying one too many Muslims as minions of unmitigated evil, oversimplifying the Eezham issue and its unwieldy portrayal of love jihad, and I will concede that these are valid concerns but The Family Man, warts and all has a lot of good things going for it. 

It is so immensely satisfying to see the Malayalis and Tamilians on the show portrayed with accuracy and realism. And of course, Manoj Bajpayee’s Srikant, who comes across as a regular guy dealing with extraordinary situations is at once steely in his determination to do his duty, achingly vulnerable when he tries to keep things together on the home front and hilarious when he is ribbing his buddy, being confounded by his daughter’s propensity for getting into trouble and getting blackmailed by his son. He alone, is reason enough to watch The Family Man.

While the show itself has been at the receiving end of more love than criticism, the same cannot to be said about its female characters who have come in for more than a fair share of vitriol. These are regular characters who are not perfect and yet given the amount of scathing condemnation directed their way, it makes you wonder why the female of the species are always reviled for not being perfect and why it is so hard for so many to forgive women for minor errors in judgement while of course, traditionally men are allowed to get away with murder.

Wife is not Synonymous with Saint

Take Suchitra Tiwari (Priya Mani) for instance. She is the long – suffering wife who is sick of picking up the slack for her husband who is always off saving the nation and can barely make time to take his kids to school or his wife, to the hospital when her water breaks. It is a thankless task to play the petulant, dissatisfied spouse of a national hero, but Priya Mani does a good job with what she is given. Her Suchi is a complicated character who wants more out of life (surely, there is nothing wrong with that as it is a woman’s prerogative to choose satisfaction over sacrifice!) and seems to have developed feelings for a colleague (Cue loud gasp!). Naturally, the denizens of social media have taken to slut – shaming her, never mind that she is just a frustrated human being who is doing the best she can for her family as well as herself. Is that such a terrible thing? This is not an endorsement of extra – marital relationships but why are there so many out there who are so hard on feminine desire and unconventional choices made by women for their own personal reasons? It is a troubling mindset and I await the day when we are as forgiving of female foibles as we are of toxic male misconduct.

An Imperfect Daughter is not the Devil Incarnate

Dyuti Tiwari (Ashlesha Thakur) is an interesting character and not the typical sweet Daddy’s little girl. Smart as a whip, rebellious and impatient with both her parents, Dyuti is determined to do her own thing even if it is stupid and reckless (as demanded by the script which insists on making life complicated for its protagonist). The teen falls for a guy she meets over the internet and it turns out to be a stupid idea since the entire ill – advised romance has been masterminded by her father’s nefarious nemesis. Dyuti is forever sneaking off to meet this dude and making out with him. Folks have been registering their outrage over her actions which have been deemed as unworthy of our culture and traditions.

This again begs the question as to why we insist on pretending that childhood is a time of unsullied innocence which should be preserved even at the cost of knowledge and development. Teenagers are restless, hormonal creatures with a natural curiosity about their bodies and are keen to explore the adult world. Surely we need to educate them about sexuality and safety, encourage communication of their doubts and feelings, instead of judging and shaming them over the assorted foolishness of youth? I have no doubt that it is the adults who need an attitude transplant in order to ensure that children grow up with a proper understanding of all things pertaining to their bodies, become adept at expressing themselves and form healthy attachments.

Feminine Rage, Righteous or Otherwise is not always the Answer

Raji (Samantha Akkineni) is one of the most divisive characters on The Family Man. Let us talk about the brown face first. I am all for creative liberty, but it is hard to get why the makers insist on doing ridiculous things like apply dark make – up on an originally dusky actor who became suspiciously light – skinned over the years simply to adhere to existing audience perceptions of what a terrorist hailing from the Dravidian South might look like. It is impossible to get over this, despite a gutsy performance from Samantha who does an impressive job of selling her character’s prowess as a trained Commando capable of killing with her bare fists.

Leaving the brown face aside, let us talk about some of the other issues with this character. Raji has been through a lot having lost loved ones to the depredations of the Sri Lankan army and is herself a victim of gang – rape. Rescued by Bhaskaran, the leader of the rebels, she reinvents herself and emerges as a killing machine who has weaponized even her sexuality and body for a cause she fanatically believes in. Her rage is understandable but it is also a cautionary tale, for anger can be addictive and empowering but this emotion is corrosive and it burns everything within indiscriminately till there is nothing left but the destructiveness of righteous rage. Worse, it can always be manipulated by others for personal or political gain.

The script does not have anything good in store for Raji, but it is interesting to note that she appears heroic and villainous in turns, which again is such a typically problematic way of portraying women – If you are not the Madonna then it means you are a whore. And it boggles the mind, that the many faces of the feminine remain unacknowledged by most.