Brave, even if a bit burdensome
A word I kept going back to again and again as I was watching Purampokku Engira Podhuvudamai was ‘interesting’. You can argue against many of the points the film subtly makes — and indeed you should — but Purampokku isn’t a lazily made film.
Balu (Arya), a communist revolutionary who’s working for the cause of the ‘people’, gets sentenced to death under various sections, including 121 and 122. Normally, I’d immediately read up about those sections to ensure that they are rightly used, but it was clear right from the opening scene — when it starts off as a documentary about how India is being used as a garbage dumpyard by first-world countries — that this wasn’t a film that was going to make frivolous mentions.
It was refreshing to note the little details as Balu is brought into the prison by Macaulay (Shaam), an upright inspector. Balu removes his clothes, affixes his fingerprints, and shows a bullet scar above his chest and a birthmark on his back to prove his identity. He does this all so nonchalantly, like the chore it is.
Meanwhile, you have Vijay Sethupathi playing Yamalingam, the guilt-ridden hangman who is forcibly given the responsibility of performing Balu’s execution. Despite his inner demons, his is the light-hearted presence that brings relief from the preachy seriousness of it all. He gets the theatre laughing when he points out that only alcoholics like him continue to remember the Gandhis and the Mahaveers, as days commemorating them are dry days. But it is Shaam I liked the most. His Tamil doesn’t seem totally natural, but he is perfect as the steadfast cop who believes the law is above all. And then, what perhaps came as the biggest relief — the lack of a love track in the film. The little duet in the form of ‘Dhaegam Thaakkum’ thankfully tapers off into a scene quickly. What sheer audacity to have a mainstream heroine like Karthika and refuse to use her as the girlfriend of any of the three mainstream heroes in the film! That alone made me feel so much fondness for Purampokku .
Well, that and the fact that the police in the film aren’t just reactionary as we are traditionally accustomed to seeing. Macaulay is an intelligent cop, one who pre-empts moves and takes intelligent proactive steps to thwart his enemies. It’s a great game of chess between adversaries who are equally equipped. That makes the second half of the film so… interesting.
The problems I mainly had with the film concerned the lack of a proper story and to a little extent, its philosophies and how propagandist certain scenes are. None of the principal characters endure any serious transformation or find their beliefs questioned. You’re not quite sure why Yamalingam is so easily, willingly, sucked into a terrorist plot. And there’s also all the sympathising you’re encouraged to do with Balu’s situation. You’re not quite sure why a bomb-making terrorist deserves so much sympathy. Surely, there are better ways of propagating a cause than by confronting a few military men with a bomb and yelling for India not to be used as a dumping ground. My heart went out to those in the military, who’re freezing in the ice, and suddenly have a mad man with a bomb shouting what seems like total nonsense. There’s a great scene when Macaulay ridicules Balu for being a misguided communist revolutionary, and the latter retorts that it is Macaulay who behaves like a uniformed rowdy, who, in working for the government, goes against the very people whose taxes pay him. While it’s quite difficult to resist the temptation of ridiculing a public servant, I found myself siding with Macaulay. Balu says the problem with the world is that there is more emphasis on ‘ thani udamai ’ than on ‘ podhu udamai ’. But hasn’t Balu seen the repeated failure of communist countries, of the ills that have unfailing plagued societies that embraced ‘ podhu udamai ’ in all its purity?
However, despite its underdeveloped story and philosophical problems, Purampokku is a brave film in many ways, and even perhaps a necessary one.