Garudan Movie Review: This hyper-violent, rooted action-drama gets better as it goes

Garudan Movie Review: This hyper-violent, rooted action-drama gets better as it goes

While not without its demerits, Garudan, with Soori and Yuvan Shankar Raja leading the way, excels in its focus on interpersonal conflicts and stands for the right ideals
Garudan(3.5 / 5)

We are animals in some ways, and not in some others. For instance, we continue to be drawn to unconditional love, unwavering loyalty. Calculations and ethical considerations might have helped us evolve as a society, but as personal beings, we don’t like love or loyalty when it’s a product of thought. That’s why when we read about Karna and Duryodhana in Mahabharata, we don’t see that Karna should have asked questions of Duryodhana—and perhaps even have left his side at some point. Instead, we dream of finding our own Karna, our friend/loyalist who will stand by us without thought. It’s this loyalty that RS Durai Senthil Kumar’s latest film, Garudan, looks to examine, warts and all.

Director: RS Durai Senthilkumar

Cast: Soori, Sasikumar, Unni Mukundan, Sshivada, Samuthirakani, Mime Gopi

For a while, the film seems to be content with belonging in the Madurai-template-cinema zone (here, the setting is Theni). It’s introducing the friends, there’s a friendship song, there’s footage of local customs, a new romance, a love song, people who are baying for blood… You get the drill. But it feels like it’s been a while since we saw such cinema, and so I quite liked that the film is clear in its focus on interpersonal drama. Its characters are people with modest aspirations. How do I preserve my temple legacy? How do I make money to make my wife happy? Even the minister isn’t trying to become a Chief Minister or aspire for total control. He’s just trying to seize some land. The characters are real, their aspirations relatable.

The grouse I had for a while is how Garudan, while it is setting up its premise and conflict, seems to be going through the motions, not necessarily the emotions. All that footage of the Sokkan (Soori), Aadhi (Sasikumar), and Karuna's (Unni Mukundan) friendship didn’t necessarily tug at heartstrings. Sokkan’s unwavering loyalty for Karuna needed to have more powerful origins. A quick flashback incident doesn’t feel enough, given the extremes of Sokkan’s loyalty. After they all become adults, the narrator (Samuthirakani) tells us that they are all close friends, but Garudan doesn’t seem to do enough to humanise these archetypes. And so, we process these people as cold descriptions: The loyalist, the righteous friend, and the corrupt man.

Garudan truly takes flight after interval. By this time, it gives up notions of what it ought to do (like some inconsistent comedy that’s sometimes not in keeping with the seriousness of the film), and turns its focus inward, into the world it has created, into the ramifications of death and betrayal. You can see the belief systems of these characters colliding to disastrous results. Durai Senthilkumar’s screenplay keeps creating zones of suspense, in which we know the what but not necessarily the how, and it’s satisfying when these spaces are brought into light.

It’s a film that is populated with characters, many it does justice to, maybe one or two (like Karuna’s brother-in-law and his wife, for instance) it isn’t able to afford enough time to. Aadhi’s wife (Sshivada is really impressive in this role) and son come into prominence. Karuna’s wife is instrumental in causing him to unravel. I also wondered if the women might not have done a bit more. For lack of it, Sokkan’s girlfriend, Aadhi’s wife, the character of Vadivvukarasi… all of them get relegated to playing victims in a film full of masculine violence, in which the men are both the perpetrators and the saviours. 

I also wondered whether Unni Mukundan, with the Malayali accent, belonged organically in the same universe as Soori and Sasikumar, who thrive in the rurality. Unni’s Karuna is supposed to move from goodness to vulnerability to corruption, but only the evil really comes out, not as much his frailty. While on characters, I particularly enjoyed what the filmmaker does with Samuthirakani’s cop. He isn’t necessarily so good that he won’t accept a bribe, but he isn’t so bad that he will kill on command. It’s the sort of balance that Sokkan (Soori) himself is being pushed towards—and how fitting then that Samuthirakani’s character should become so important towards the end.

Soori, like he did in Viduthalai Part 1, fills up the character with so much innocence, and this means that when he does fight back, when he even utters a word of protest, it feels heroic, for this isn’t a man enjoying his heroism. This is a man being honest to himself, a man who doesn’t care about his ego when he does good—and that’s the best sort of heroism. That’s why when a senior cop in Viduthalai asks, “Ennaya adippiya?”, and Soori quietly replies, “Adippengayya”, it rings like a powerful mass moment. In this film too, he gets some fantastic scenes to channel this quality. Each time he speaks the truth unhindered and without pause in the film (in obeisance to Karuna), it rings special. Who else can proclaim the truth without caring about self-preservation? In these spaces, Garudan really thrives.

Sokkan’s conflict is also rather unique in our cinema. He’s a dog existing as a man. The constant symbolism of Karuna’s dogs makes this clear. Even their flashback incident is of Sokkan saving Karuna from an aggressive dog. For a dog, unthinking loyalty is great, but what of a man? The film hits a particularly poignant note when it captures Sokkan’s loss of joy in turning into a man, a thinking, calculative man, from being a simple, thoughtless loyalist.

There’s much political utility to the film too. Even while it’s involved in telling the story of friendship gone awry, it’s constantly raising questions about the problems in being an unquestioning servant. For this reason, Garudan, I suppose, can exist as a companion piece to Viduthalai, which too was about a constable learning that the boss isn’t always right. We see the importance of Samuthirakani’s policeman refusing the order to stage a fake encounter (and it briefly got me thinking about Vetrimaaran’s Visaaranai). The story of Garudan itself is about a loyal man being forced by circumstances—and his own conscience—to evolve into a better man. One of my favourite portions in the film is of Sokkan’s allegiance shifting and his answer to the why. This also raises the question of whether Sokkan might have not evolved, had Karuna treated him better, but that’s a question for another day.

There’s, however, no questioning the importance of Yuvan’s work in this film. He channels percussional loudness to match the setting when needed, or at one point, even rap, as Durai Senthilkumar shows us what Sokkan is capable of once he’s freed. From time to time, you can see Yuvan pile on the suspense and the darkness, and where needed, rise to the occasion to sell the heroism of Sokkan. There’s also no questioning the importance of Soori and the selflessness he seems to bring to this character. It’s such joy that he’s disappearing into the skin of these characters and trusts that heroism exists not just in beating up the bad people, but in the rescual of one’s own conscience. The film suggests that bad deeds stink and justice will always be served. While I’m not half as much an optimist, contained films like Garudan—which may not be flawless, but which still stand for the right ideas—do give me plenty of reason for optimism.

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