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A wasted effort

Pavithra Srinivasan | September 05, 2008 11:10 IST

A still from Dhanam.

How do you make sure that a movie with not much of a script, screenplay and direction actually attempts a break into the big league? Simply follow the route of SNS Movies' Tamil flick Dhanam, directed by G Shiva -- and you have a bonafide B and C winner on your hands.

First we have an actor like Sangeetha who's been known earlier for her truly path-breaking movies like Uyir, in which she really did display talent and great screen-presence.

Then there is the movie's USP, namely the lead character Dhanam, the 'prostitute with a golden heart' storyline, the inane dialogues, mundane twists and turns and a star cast that include Girish Karnad (who probably fell for the 'courageous' role and had no idea how the movie would turn out).

Since the story has to be all about Dhanam and her golden-heartedness, make sure the movie begins with preferably a slum in Hyderabad (which consist, weirdly, almost exclusively of Tamil speakers), a gaggle of dwellers who praise Dhanam to the skies, sing songs about her greatness, and extol her many virtues to CBI Officers who are investigating her (Ashish Vidhyarthi and Manobala). This will lead to Dhanam being introduced wearing saris that are perched so precariously on her waist that you're afraid they'd fall off any moment (another USP).

She also raises her hands often and strike lewd poses in keeping with her character. Other side characters played by Ilavarasu, for example, will often act in her best interests in getting her customers, bargaining rates, and when she looks pudgy, ask her if she feels very tired. Also, have her donate random notes to everyone she sees, including drunks and perfectly normal people who are already earning their livelihood. This makes sure that she is a caring person who, to quote the movie's tagline, "sleeps with 10 men to help a 100."

Introduce a stock Brahmin family as the opposing angle to Dhanam: most orthodox, conservative and never-budging in their morals. The family must seem to be living in the 1920s, where men wear zari-turbans and panchakachams while women wear gaudy madisaars, talk endlessly about doing "bhoojai," and mutter the word "abishtu" for everything (this being the only word Brahmins apparently use). The Brahmin tongue and way of life must be mauled as much as possible. The family must also live in the agraharam in Kumbakonam, thereby establishing their sanctity and roots.

Also mandatory are a group of Brahmins (M S Bhaskar, Chinni Jayanth, Sasi Mohan and others) who have nothing better to do than sit at their front-doors and crack inane jokes.

Bring in Karunas with his faulty dialect and obviously mocking role that casts the entire family in a bad light, and the picture is complete.

There has to be some sort of a protagonist (not a hero, as Dhanam has to be the focal point), who attracted by her uber-sexiness, falls in love (!) with her. Completely soft and with no backbone to speak of, he claims, of course, that it is her character that has won him over. Multiple conversations with Dhanam must follow, where she explains how degraded she feels and how she will not suit him. Thus arrives Anantharaman (Prem), who fulfills all the above, and swears that his family will accept her.

Enter the Brahmin-family friend Vedhagiri (a wasted Kotta Srinivasa Rao) who lives entirely to visit Sastri's home, deliver startling astrological pronouncements such as "a daasi in the house will bring riches." Such lines are necessary because Dhanam, of course, has to enter the household. Even kings and temples, centuries ago, welcomed such daasis into their homes, is his argument. The family is the villain; therefore, they have to fall for this silliness and agree to Ananthu's marriage with Dhanam.

Thus we have Dhanam turn into a model housewife who instantly forgets her past life and activities. She wears madisaars the wrong way (mix and match the Iyer and Iyengar styles as and when she likes), is treated badly by the household (big surprise), draw kolams, cleans the house, cooks and swaggers all around the area. Even so, no one thinks her odd. Dhanam, as the heroine, will thus become the darling of the neighbourhood. She will sing songs in classical music, and explain, through a pathetic flashback, about how her mother raised her in a Brahmin household, and so, Dhanam knows all about the 'pure' life.

In due course, she delivers a daughter. But Vedhagiri continues to follow her around in his Qualis like a puppy -- and ultimately spells doom. Why he must allow her so much leeway when he's obviously stinking rich is a puzzle.

But all this Dhanam-glory is taking the story nowhere. Enter Vedhagiri again. Acting on his advice, the Brahmin household must perform such a horrendous act that will force Dhanam into an equally explosive counter-reaction, sounding a death-knell for all those who think ill of her. However, this will also result in an investigation on her. Sacrilege.

Accordingly, all men from Inspector to judges to CBI Officers are convinced of Dhanam's innocence, argue that she did no wrong, and close the file. Dhanam is a matchless goddess.

Last but not the least: get masters of their fields like Ilayaraja, Thottatharani, 'late' Jeeva and others to contribute towards music, cinematography and art direction � and then waste their respective talents.

Formula-for-success apart, you have to pity Sangeetha, who's really the only reason Dhanam is even marginally watchable. Here's an actress with chemistry, screen presence and talent -- doing nothing but swagger around. The scene where she breaks down is well done and you only hope she will get better roles in the future.

Surprisingly, there's little of actual flesh-revealing, considering the theme, unless you count Sangeetha's swagger which is about 90% of the movie.

Altogether a washed out product that passes itself off as a 'serious' film, but instead takes the viewer for a disappointing ride. 

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