Tamil cinema is caught at the crass roads, and I do mean crass. On the one hand, progressive filmmakers like Vetrimaaran and Sudha Kongara are trying to pull Tamil cinema out of the regressive cesspool, a majority of directors continue to thrive in outdated themes and traditions.
Which is why Viruman is something out of the expected. Not quite revolutionary or remotely radical in thought. But joyously irreverent and iconoclastic, bringing to the theme of an estranged father and son conflict a rabblerousing power that comes from fuelling rustic themes with familial anger and familiar conflicts.
Mother worship is a recurrent theme in director M. Muthaiya’s films. Muthaiya and leading man Karthi have earlier collaborated for Komban which was also a success. Viruman, now on Amazon Prime Video, is just as rude rough rustic and rugged. It opens with a little boy chasing his father up what is like a courtyard, and I mean a judicial court, as fake lawyers in black coats look on aghast.
The father is the prolific Prakash Raj who had son issues just a few weeks ago with Dhanush in the far superior Thiruchitrambalam. Karthi who plays the father-abhorring son is not half the actor that Dhanush is. Hence Karthi makes do with a lot of boorish physical gestures of disapproval.
There is a lot of fist-shaking and loutish behaviour with both father and son pulling out all stops to resort to the worst most vicious and noisy father-son warfare I’ve seen on screen. This is not like the subtle mind battle that Amitabh Bachchan unleashed on his dad in Yash Chopra’s Trishul or the trying-to-get-daddy’s-attention tear-o-drama in Beautiful Boy.
This is something far more toxic and malevolent. The son Viruman hates his father’s guts with an intensity that is hard to describe. Viruman’s father’s enemies are his friends. When a nasty antisocial slaps Viruman’s father, Viruman presents a solid-gold ring to the slapper and slips it on the lout’s fingers in front of his disgusted father’s eyes.
A lot of the father-son skirmishes are done in a tone that is fun. Provided you think an ageing father and his grownup son fighting like cats and dogs is funny. It is when you see the situations created by the sandstormed screenplay. The fists of fury fly crazily. As long as Prakash Raj and Karthi (the former far more intense and implosive than the latter) battle out in the open, Viruman is fun.
But then, the plot goes into too many digressions. There are too many family members creating mischief between father and son. By the time I figured out who was who the mutual hatred that powers the melodrama reaches its closure and a pretty compromised closure at that.
How does one forgive a father who tortured the mother so much that she burnt herself alive rather than bear the torture? Children who are witness to domestic violence can never grow up as completely normal adults. Viruman gets that. What it doesn’t seem to know is, how to control the son’s hatred. It spreads itself out like a potent virus. But finally dies exhausted.
Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based film critic who has been writing about Bollywood for long enough to know the industry inside out. He tweets at @SubhashK_Jha.
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