Return of the Indian

And now, one of the most deserving films gets a sequel

The quiet, smart detective knows that his nemesis, the man who calls himself Indian, is a survivor. It’d not be beyond him to have staged a miraculous escape from the explosion that seemingly killed him and his son, a corrupt brake inspector. So the detective sits, carefully watching slow-motion videos of the explosion caused by the airborne jeep crashing into an aeroplane as it was being refuelled. Suddenly, the detective spots something… the hazy visual of a moving man. The hair on his skin stands up, as he, mouth agape in astonishment, notices what can only be the old man jumping out of the fire. Indian had escaped death… once again. The detective’s phone rings, and he jumps up in alarm. Sure enough, it’s the mass murderer, calling to remind him that if the country should return to its debase ways, he’d be back to strike fear into the hearts of its corrupt citizens.

That’s how Shankar’s Indian ended. And now, twenty-one years later, the sequel has been announced. This is the age of sequels in Tamil cinema. Any film that performs reasonably at the box office is in danger of getting distended into a sequel. Singam’s spawned three already. VIP and Chennai 28 have had underwhelming follow-ups. Shankar, who’s generally always been ahead of the curve in terms of the business of filmmaking, perhaps foretold the arrival of this trend decades ago. Perhaps that’s why he has always generally resisted the temptation of putting a full stop at the end of his stories. Gentleman’s hero was alive and well as he returned from serving a jail sentence. Mudhalvan’s hero killed his nemesis and led the state into unprecedented development. Anniyan’s hero only pretended to be cured of his Dissociative Identity Disorder and was very much at large. Endhiran’s hero (Chitti) is dismantled at the end, but is still shown to be interacting with a child. And as we know, a sequel to it, 2.0, is already in the works. And now, the most deserving of all these films, Indian, gets a sequel.

Senapathi, the protagonist, won’t ever run out of issues to take on. No country is ever truly rid of its demons, after all. And unlike your usual do-gooder protagonist whose inherent sense of righteousness is usually the motivator, Senapathi’s anger stems from having once got his hands dirty for the country. He had helped rescue it from the clutches of the British. To this same country’s corruption, he lost a daughter. To rid it of what he called its ‘disease’, he killed his only remaining child — the son he begot after many years of prayers. Indian wasn’t just about a man fighting corruption; it was the beautiful story of a flawed man being self-righteous enough to inflict great personal tragedies, if it meant doing what he thought was the right thing. Indian was not about patriotism. It was about self-sacrifice.

And now, to its sequel. Who’s his family now? Is his wife still alive? Is Aishwarya (Manisha Koirala), who was to wed the deceased son of Senapathi, living with him now? How is Senapathi facing up to killing his son, for whom he vowed to remain clean-shaven forever? Has time rendered his seeming indefatigable body weaker? Perhaps a long stretch of mourning has made him sluggish?

Senapathi may have always put country before family, but I sincerely hope that the sequel to Indian won’t. The man’s personal conflicts were what made us look past the story’s preachy bits. Also, generally, there’s a tendency for a sequel to merely follow the template of the first, VIP-2 being the latest casualty of that idea. What if Indian 2 simply ends up being a gritty character study of a patriot who’s committed filicide? It probably won’t be, but a man can dream.

This column was written for Cinema Express, the cinema division of The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to its page if you’d like to share it.

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