Gundu review: Novel premise and conviction makes Pa Ranjith production a largely effective film
Irandaam Ulagaporin Kadaisi Gundu is a reference to one of many unexploded WW2 bombs that are known to get washed ashore in the country
We all know people who, when faced with news about discriminatory abuse, talk almost defensively about how they have personally not faced such abuse. Pa Ranjith’s latest production, debutant director Athiyan Athirai’s Irandam Ulagaporin Kadaisi Gundu (IUKG), takes a rousing dig at such people with a line that got the theatre cheering: “Innoruthan valiya unaranum; enakku valicha dhaan unaruvennu solravan enna manushan?” It is by now well-known that Pa Ranjith helps make films that look to gather resistance against oppression of many types. It’s not only of caste; it’s of class, gender, heirarchy... IUKG is able to with reasonable success, bring together each of these issues and create a narrative with three hero figures, created out of its oppressed characters: Selvam (Dinesh, who’s great as a loud-mouthed scrap yard worker with a golden heart), Chitra, whose romance finds opposition in her casteist family (Anandhi), and Tanya (Riythvika), a journalist who’s taken it upon herself to do an expose about WW2 bombs.
The scrap yard Dinesh works in, is shown for the cacophonic chaos it is. If all the metallic clanking and the constant screaming that passes for conversation, feels almost irksome, it’s fair to say that director Athiyan Athirai has achieved his purpose of making us feel how discomfiting the space can be. Imagine toiling there for hours on end, at this place which assaults your senses, and then having to bear with a different sort of assault from the cruel owner (Marimuthu), who deprives them of even basic benefits. In one disturbingly hilarious scene, the owner is talking to someone over the phone with great respect, and quickly loses his temper when he realises it’s one of his workers. The film, in that sense, has a healthy contempt for its authority figures. This holds good even for policemen, even if the film doesn’t make the mistake of painting them all with the same brush. The cops are mostly corrupt, but there’s a good one with a conscience. The flipside of this is true too. In stories about subjugated women, the focus is usually on patriarchy, on the evil men alone. Here, the focus also firmly remains fixated on Chitra’s mother, and how she’s bought into the caste dogma and is among its fiercest enforcers. Caste oppression sees no gender difference—in its victims, and many times, in its oppressors too. As you can imagine, it’s a film that has communist undertones. There’s emphasis on the importance of unions, and consequently, the importance of unity in looking to snatch back rights. Tanya’s character calls everyone ‘thozhar’. There are scenes of protests. Meanwhile, the system simply wants to retain the self-serving status quo. Somewhere in the beginning, you hear this echo in a line from the Kannadasan song, ‘Paramasivan kazhuthil’: “Yaarum irukkum idathil, irundhu kondaal elaam sowkyame…”
Just when it seemed like I have had it with low-angle deifying shots in films, IUKG shows how wonderful the effect can be when the deserving are beneficiaries of such camerawork. With disdain for her casteist family, Chitra walks out of her house, and these shots are contrasted with a nearby thiruvizha where the locals are celebrating a goddess amid great fervour. This religious revelry is also contrasted with shots of the journalist, Tanya, running for her life. We worship lifeless idols, whilst condemning our living idols. The imagery is cinematic, and totally effective. Another image that will remain with me is Selvam swinging around a rope on fire, as sparks rain around him. In this fleeting moment, he is free; he is happy.
I’ve long been an admirer of filmmakers who manage to write in great humour into films that on the surface, shouldn’t lend themselves to such hilarity. Most recently, I saw this in Kaithi. And much like in that film (there’s also the lorry driver similarity), IUKG has some terrific comedy. Munishkanth, playing the Suppandi-like friend of Selvam, is a riot. I choked in laughter in the scene where he pours water on a WW2 bomb and says, “Bomb ippo namuththu pochchu.” Some day, hopefully, someone will make a film about the adventures of a simpleton, and cast him as the central character.
The film’s title is a reference to one of many unexploded WW2 bombs that are known to get washed ashore in the country. Athiyan Athirai uses the discovery of one such bomb to show us the lives of those struggling to keep afloat in an oppressive system. This is heavy enough, but he takes upon the mantle of arguing for pacifist ideals as well. Towards the end, the well-intended message gets a bit heavy, and almost steps out of the actual story. The film begins and ends with a docu-like portion. While the beginning leads us into the story, the end takes us out. A narrator talks to us about the bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, how affected its people are, how we are many countries but one world… you get the idea. What this long speech labours to do, the film achieves with its final scene between Selvam and Anandhi—which begs the question of why simplicity was traded for some sermonising.
Selvam and his friend are lugging around a heavy bomb for the duration of this film, a bomb that’s likely a metaphor for how some people’s lives feel like they are walking on land mines. Where’s the next attack going to come from? Have I effectively tip-toed around the powerful people today? Who will I end up angering next, perhaps by just being? The film mentions that while we are fighting about silly constructs, we don’t realise how fragile humanity itself is. I suppose it’s a different version of astrophysicist Carl Sagan’s famous pale blue dot quote. The film’s narrative isn’t always seamless; the proceedings aren’t always organic, but I am happy to cut IUKG slack for sheer conviction and passion in its messaging. The things the film talks about, we can’t hear enough of, these days.