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How do you describe a movie that doesn't quite fit into any criteria of popular movie genre, yet manages to fulfill almost every condition of what a good movie should be?
You start out with very little expectations of what Subramaniyapuram, the Tamil movie produced by Company Productions and directed by newcomer M Sasikumar, ought to be even if the promos and posters have made you a bit eager with it's stars in typically eighties get-up.
And as every scene, right from the titles passes you by, you wait for some slip up but there's none!
This tale of greed, valour, loyalty, heartbreak and betrayal hits home most of the time.
The first few scenes set the tone for what follows, even as the movie moves from a nameless stabbing of a newly released inmate in 2008 to the huge skulking scruffy hairstyles, movie-songs and garish posters that adorn every wall of Subramaniyapuram, a small township nearabouts Madurai in the 1980s.
Lounging around the Sithan Speaker Services Shop are a couple of young men of whom Paraman (M Sasikumar), Azhagar (Jai), and Kasi (Kanja Karuppu) are the important players.
In a film chock-full of newcomers, it's rather difficult to identify everyone, but in Subramanyapuram, it's easy to relate to the principle players. There's Somu, who's an ex-councillor, dissatisfied, and hungry for more political prowess. Then there's Kanagan, his brother, who is as unscrupulous as they come. And then there's shy Thulasi (Swathi) whose smiling eyes takes you right back to the days of Shanti Krishna. Perfect.
For the first hour, you spend your time watching as the characters of Paraman and Azhagar, devoted followers of Somu, lounge around the store, smoke beedis, disobey families and run to do Somu's every bidding. They get into fisticuffs practically every other moment, and have to be bailed out frequently by their steadfast friend, a cripple.
In the meantime, Azhaghar finds time to fall in love with Thulasi, Somu's daughter, who doesn't say much but sets his heart thumping just by casting glances at him.
Somu's inability to get ahead causes tempers to flare at home and a distraught Kanagan shuts himself up in a hotel room, drinking and alternatively unburdening his travails to Kasi, Paraman and Azhagan.
The last two, more loyal than the rest, quickly devise a plan to kill the opposition by setting in motion a succession of events that culminate in a climax that reminds you startlingly of a horrible train accident.
To live by the sword is to die by the sword and also to be permanently afraid of your own possible death. Paraman and Azhagar are sometimes saved by unexpected people, but their nemesis finds them at unexpected moments.
Sasikumar, Jai and Kanja Karuppu, not to mention Swathi, the crippled boy and especially Swathi's uncle, have all lived the characters. So perfect is their empathy for their roles and their dialogues that at no point do you feel that you're watching a film.
Particularly marvellous are the sets, the careful work that has gone into reproducing the 80s movie-posters, radio announcements, the costumes -- everything comes together to bring the bygone era back to life. A magnificent effort that deserves applause.
Special kudos goes to the director, who having worked with Ameer, apparently has had the foresight to inject the right conversations at the right time. He also throws in a few twists as well.
Who knew James Vasanthan was capable of such excellent music? The songs blend in well with the film and the background score is excellent.
If there are flaws, they can be attributed to one or two segments that drag on for too long. You also feel that you're watching events unfold through a telescope. It is as though the years that separate the characters have separated the viewers from them as well.
A fan fed on a steady diet of potboilers might also expect a few fireworks but this isn't that kind of movie. Subramaniyapuram ends as it begins -- naturally, at its own pace. This one is for lovers of realistic cinema.
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