Soorarai Pottru movie review: Sudha Kongara, Suriya tell a moving, poetic biopic without deifying the leading man
I rooted for Suriya's character Maaran when he took flight. But also for director Sudha Kongara as she solidified her position as a rare female filmmaker to narrate a solid mainstream Tamil film.
About eight or nine years ago, I embarked on a project to explore why very few women were making mainstream Tamil films. One of the directors I spoke to at the time, who was pitching a murder mystery to producers at the time, said that she often heard, “neenga our rom com try panlaame.” (why don’t you do a rom com instead!) Many women aspiring to make films told me similar stories at the time.
Today, when I saw Che (the 'socialist' shortening of the name Chaitanya, I bet) land a plane, in a tense yet action-packed scene within the first few minutes of Sudha Kongara’s Soorarai Pottru, I had a tear in my eye. Well, I cried several times after that, but this one was special. I was rooting for Maaran, the protagonist, to achieve his dreams, as much as I was rooting for Kongara to make Soorarai Pottru work.
Without spoiling it for you, I can say with certainty that they both pass with flying colours.
Soorarai Pottru is the story of Nedumaran Rajangam, a man from Solavandhan, a small town in Madurai, who dreams of launching a low-cost airline; and his wife Sundari, who runs a successful bakery and funds his dreams.
Suriya, who plays Maaran, brings the whole of himself to the film. From being a somewhat bitter and resigned dreamer in the very beginning, he finds renewed energy — and some vanity — when he meets Sundari. From there, we see him go through so many failures, sometimes drowning in self-pity, at others seething in self-loathing, yet others in guilt and general misanthropy. Suriya does his work just enough that we never think of his acting, as much as we feel for Maaran’s situation.
Aparna Balamurali, who plays Sundari, has much less to do than Suriya onscreen. In fact, all she does is make eyes, bake cakes, and dance like no one’s watching.
But Sundari’s character is a completely different story. Writers Shalini Ushadevi and Sudha Kongara create Sundari as a complete and complex person. She has no fancy backstory or sidekicks who hang around her all the time. Yet, from the very beginning, we know her, understand her, perhaps even relate to her. She is not one to be told what to do. She lays her conditions and holds her ground. At one of Maaran’s lowest points, he dismisses Sundari’s dreams in anger. The way she stands up for herself, without making it reflect on their relationship or become a matter of her dreams versus his, is what I imagine self-respect marriages are made of.
One of the biggest successes of Soorarai Pottru is that it is a fantastic love story. It shows us marriage equality, in ways that are intricate. More than once, we see Maaran standing at the crossroads of his dreams and family. Each time, he stops in his tracks and looks to Sundari, as if to say that he will keep his promise that family always comes first. Yet, Sundari dismisses him, with a wave of a hand, “I’ve got this,” she tells him. Of course, she has.
The film gets a lot more than its gender politics right. Like many of Suriya’s recent films, especially the museum piece that was Kaappaan, there is a farmer angle, a central government angle, a defence angle, father sentiment, an evil capitalist angle, as well as a love story with duets and everything. Except, in the hands of Shalini Ushadevi and Kongara, all these angles come together effortlessly in service of the story. It is almost unimaginable that this could be done. Yet it is, and done well too.
“Nee oru socialite, naan oru socialist,” says Maaran to one Balaiyya, a rather kind caricature of Vijay Mallya, one can assume. A lesser filmmaker might have been tempted to explain socialism with some idli. Kongara does not. She trusts the audience, and stays steadfastly focussed on Maaran’s dreams.
Yet, I cannot but wonder why a film that has paid so much attention to the hero, his story, the milieu, even the local tongue, has created the antagonists as one-note creatures. Paresh Rawal, who plays the main antagonist, is lifeless. The film wants us to believe that he too is vulnerable, suffering from anxiety, insomnia etc. But we hardly empathise. His dialogue delivery is so cardboard-like, he feels less like a real person, and more as though he is simply a metaphor of evil capitalism.
At two-and-a-half hours, Soorarai Pottru is tad long. Mid-way through the second half, we cannot wait for Maaran to succeed already. Especially watching on a laptop or a television screen at home, it is impossible not to want to get moving sooner.
The treat, however, is in the wait. Maaran’s success, even though it comes extraordinarily late, is sweeter than sweet. Maaran is not the hero who walks alone to the background of conquest and mass-hero music, he is a vulnerable man whose eyes are flooded with tears, at the sight of something he had almost come to believe was impossible.
Maaran is not the hero we will erect cut-outs for. He is the man we want to be. And Kongara is the writer and director, more of whom, we want to see.
Soorarai Pottru is streaming on Amazon Prime Video India.
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