Soodhu Kavvum

So, after a good while, I got myself to watch a film at a theatre – importantly, one I made the mind to write about. I’ll start with the nice things I have to say and then to some things that are nagging me. No, don’t jump to the nagging part and leave rude comments. Read fully now!

Soodhu Kavvum is refreshing – does not revolve around two people falling in love or a hero stealing millions of dollars or good v. evil. It does not show what film makers have been long alleging what viewers want to watch. It is a collection of ‘incidents’ that in the end (sort of) make sense.

The rather startling (almost absurdist) nature of the incidents in the film – much of it a near-real reflection of the life around us – sets the pace for the film we are waiting to watch. Das is a simpleton, lives by rules, drinks more than many people would like to see, has a heart of gold (in spite of being a kidnapper) and is largely risk averse.

The three lead actors (Pagalavan, Kesavan and Shekar) look and talk like any Tamil lad you’d know (of course you can see beyond the TamBhrams, can’t you?). Pagalavan runs away from Trichy (after having carved a Nayantara sculpture) to his friends house in Chennai – one that has TR posters all over the house. Kesavan gets fired from work (after rejecting a girl’s advances about which she complains to the authorities, his manager reprimands him and he yells back in frustration for which he is eventually fired and blacklisted). Sekhar, who used to be a valet, also loses his job in his greed for driving a luxurious car. With no means for their next meal (or say next month’s meals), they get down to drinking!

The three of them, happy-go-lucky – no worry about any distant future, little respect for the law, no love interests to pursue, no families to keep, clever with their language – definitely do not make for deep and well-rounded characters. But it doesn’t stand out as a sore thumb because everything you need to know not to hate them is there for you to see. Everything else is tactfully hidden away or submerged in more absurdity.

The TASMAC scene where the spiral of noise develops into a physical fight, ends in the three lead actors continuing their drinking at Das’s house. In a strange sense of calm (after escaping arrest or at least some treat from the Lathi), they change their location and drink away in peace.

The scene that follows is one of my favourites – the scene where Shalu really gets “introduced”. Das speaks (listens to and often gets distracted by) this young girl he calls Shalu, one the audience can see on the screen. So, after clues that are easy to miss until this point, we learn that Shalu exists only in Das’s imagination. When told he must see a doctor about his hallucination, Das rather nonchalantly says he’s done that and taken medication that made her go away but missed her when she wasn’t around; therefore stopped taking medication.

After this, we see her as Das’s imagination. She sits on his laps, talks to him and he yells back to the utter dismay of the others on the scene, runs around in merry and even dies mid way. In an interesting scene, she enters skimpily clad (what’s called swimwear by Das). We the audience don’t really flip because we know she is imaginary (wouldn’t have been much different if she came there naked either) and we reconcile with her being Das’s. But Das flips and asks her to change her clothes, leaving the other men in the room merely distracted.

For reasons I cannot fathom myself, I am reminded of the imaginary wife SPB’s character has in manadhil urudhi vendum. In a vastly different context, Das (a lonely criminal with a heart) imagines a companion for himself – the easiest way for him not to burdened by interventions but still have company when *he* chooses. If I may dare go one step ahead, the film almost reinforces that Das will perhaps never be able to find for himself a girl like Shalu (fair, modern-dress clad, no frills and supportive of his lifestyle) which is why he goes ahead and makes her up. I’ve a little bit more about her, per se, but I’ll come to that in a bit.

Oh, there is a politics angle to this, one that Das had sworn never to enter into. A wife-beating honest politician with a crook for a son, a CM who eats pizza from the carton, other politicians and secretaries of politicians who look down upon uncorrupted politics – the film rubs in your face the sorry state of political affairs we are in the middle of. These are sequences you should weep about, but you don’t because while watching the film, it doesn’t sink in yet. It’s mostly funny.

Talking of funny, what keeps the film going is it’s repeated questioning of ‘meaning’ or ‘purpose’. Nobody seems to care about anything. They lose their jobs, but drink about it. They kidnap people but walk/ drive about as free men. He imagines a woman but lives on with it. Arumai Pragaasam (the politician’s son they kidnap) goes away with the money, they deal with it. A deadly policeman comes looking for them and they surrender themselves. That chase scene where Bramma, the deadly policeman, looks to the boys for a light and they drives themselves to the dead-end is a exemplary. They knot together all things we take too seriously in our lives and make fun of it, in turn make fun of us.

It’s in the making fun of us part that I want to bring the women in. There are two and a quarter women in the story. The first is of course Shalu. She disturbs me and leaves me undecided. The girl, whose clothing is very modern and speech unaffected, could easily have been written as a property in a mass villain’s armour (a la the Billa, Mangatha ‘babes’). But he is no mass villain and she is no property. She encourages him, helps him, advises him and entertains him. She is just there for Das and of course for the audience.

It would have been very easy to take offence to this and rant about how women are used as imaginary entertainers – but is that the point? That the film is taking one for the team of film makers who do so? That it is indeed a satirical poke at treating women like that? Or that if you want women that way, you can only imagine them?

Then there is the woman in Kesavan’s office who gets him fired and blacklisted: pretty much a modern day soorpanaka, only she ends up cutting Kesavan’s hand in the process. Arumai Nayagam’s mother plays an important role in pushing the narrative forward – the mother who is often beaten by her husband, who cooks and feeds her son, falls for his ploy, and is easily swayed. She seems to use her brain only when she has to save her wayward son from his captors. It’s rather interesting how she is repeatedly seen as the one that can be ‘used’ to complete the task – a pawn, a vulnerability.

With that, I am convinced that Shalu characterisation is far from clever. It would be easier to believe she is eye candy, convenient glamour quotient. So are all the women who danced for Kaasu Panam Dhuddu Money Money.

Soodhu Kavvum is a very smart film. It does break ways in several ways. It takes story telling to a parallel plane and speaks a language hardly spoken before. Ten years from today, (academic) writers will look into Soodhu Kavvum (and similar films) as a movement worth writing about. Today, fans will clap and laugh in the theatre and leave content. But I will find something amiss. And you will call me names for saying that!

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24 thoughts on “Soodhu Kavvum

  1. Aptly written review… I admit whatever you’ve mentioned about the female characters in the film. Much appreciate your thoughts on how women are actually portrayed in films.

  2. I thought the idea of ‘Shalu’ being an imaginary companion to Das was a masterstroke. It added so much more color to his character.

    There was a lot of smoking in the movie; it was nice to see the return of the cigarette smoking – macho stereotype.

    “Ten years from today, (academic) writers will look into Soodhu Kavvum (and similar films) as a movement worth writing about” — I hope this turns out true.

    • Hmmm. Imaginary companion was a masterstroke all right. But to what end? That’s imagining a normal, real person, no? Like in Manadhil Urudhi Vendum, I must raise! :)

      The smoking macho stereotype – I am not so sure, you know? The way Rajni raised smoking to #godlvl. This film just makes it a chore. Like every one smokes. Like it happens while they are waiting, while they are driving, all the bloody time that you miss noticing it after a point. It perhaps nails in the omnipresence of it, but not the heroism in it.

      • I think you are yet to understand a man’s mind. We think that way & we all imagine a beautiful girl according to our desire. Here Das sees her in flesh and blood. It is his prerogative of how he sees her. Great that you identify yourself as a feminist, but failing to understand man’s feeling and his imagination is as equal as lacking the ability to understand a women. Do you find a fault with a women imagining her heartthrob coming in a horse? Eating a candy need not have any point. It is just the way it is….it is Candy!

  3. Interesting thoughts on how you approached the film :-) I found the film to be funny, stupid, entertaining – all at the same time !

    But i think devising characters on film depends on subject matter – here the major focus was those 4 crooks and how story runs around them ! The director played around with various shades.That’s the way story is written here! No character is totally smart in the movie because it is not meant to that way !

  4. Between how do you approach a movie while watching – for entertainment / time pass or to do analysis on portrayal of women ?

  5. I think it is necessary to encourage good movies made anywhere/anytime- by good- original/engrossing/layered/non-offensive is all that I mean. This film checks all of these. This extra sensitivity, this touch-me-not brand of superficial feminism is what is worrying. Never is anything good enough. If not touchy feminists, there are religious fanatics/political aggressors/caste fanatics etc who will run down movies/songs/books/theater work. Just say this was a fine film, with a pinch of offensive (in my view borderline!) female characterization in it. Making fun of every film/finding fault is not the only way to write film related content.

  6. Wow. Your perspective amazes me! I truly had no idea how it feels to watch a movie through a feminist’s eyes. Now I do.

    Shalu was an eye-candy. True. But I don’t think that is all that she was in the movie! Shalu said volumes about the kind of person that Das is. Shalu was used as a reflection of Das & Shalu fits properly into Das’ character.

    I am not sure if you took offence to the way Shalu was portrayed. But if you did, you don’t actually have a problem with Shalu’s portrayal. You have a problem with Das’ portrayal. If anyone has the right to take offence, it should be men who have hallucinations.

    The movie tells you – 1. You can kidnap and get away with it. 2. If you lose your job, you should give up. 3. Being a honest politician yields no good. 4. You can be corrupt and get away with it. And you choose to say there is something amiss about the movie because it shows women in bad light? You have the qualifications to get into mainstream feminism :)

    • Oh hi! Thanks for your comment!

      //I truly had no idea how it feels to watch a movie through a feminist’s eyes. Now I do.// You’re most welcome. Please give my gurudhakshinai to a charity of your choice.

      //Shalu was used as a reflection of Das & Shalu fits properly into Das’ character.// Oh. I think you have a severely valid point there. But what I am not so sure about is what IS Das’s character? One who uses women as a prop? Or one who thinks women are eye-candy? Or anything else you’ve deduced. Let’s talk about Das’s character please?

      //You have a problem with Das’ portrayal.// Perhaps, you are right. So, as I said, let’s talk about his portrayal.

      //If anyone has the right to take offence, it should be men who have hallucinations. // Oh no, I disagree. I believe anyone has the right to take offence to anything. And even write a blog about it. It’s a free country.

      //The movie tells you – 1. You can kidnap and get away with it. 2. If you lose your job, you should give up. 3. Being a honest politician yields no good. 4. You can be corrupt and get away with it.// And there are hungry children in Uganda. The Indian nation is going to dogs under corrupt politicians. There is no water for our children and the economy is slowing down. But you choose to spend your time on an obscure blog about a nondescript film. What does that say about your priorities?

      //you choose to say there is something amiss about the movie because it shows women in bad light?// Listen. I make no bones about knowing everything about cinema. I don’t even claim to have watched all great movies there are. I make my socio-political inclinations very clear on the header of the blog and have even written an adequately highlighted disclaimer about why I blog. We all choose causes that affect us in some way and raise our voice for it. This is my cause and I am saying things I want to say. You are very welcome to refute it, if you really have points against what my writing and not about my *qualification* to become a mainstream feminist.

      In all fairness, you do have some important points to raise about the moral lessons the film offers. I am very willing to hear them and in fact even agree with some. It’s just you who aren’t willing to hear mine and wants to prioritise for me.

      //You have the qualifications to get into mainstream feminism :)// Thanks. And of course, you know best!

      • Hey!

        * First: I should not have said “You have the qualifications to get into mainstream feminism”. I judged a little too quick. I never considered it might not be what you want to be. In my limited judgement, it felt like you had an eye for macho-nonsense and wanted to do something about it. It was a badly worded compliment that went awry. I take it back.

        * //Let’s talk about Das’s character please?// Why do you want to talk about Das? He is a thug. He would most probably objectify women. Are you looking to imply that him being a thug shows women in bad light? How? and.. why?

        * //I believe anyone has the right to take offence to anything. It is a free country// No. That would just be abuse of the concept of ‘taking offence’. Being offended is a serious thing. It is not something that you can toss around like add-ons.

        * //his is my cause and I am saying things I want to say// I admire how you chose a cause that affected you and put your voice behind it. But, please don’t overdo it. Don’t pick a magnifying glass and start burning everything that you see. Had you spoken about Chikni Chameli, I would have had nothing to refute. Soodhu kavvum has so many ‘first-time-in-tamil’ moments. It was nothing like a regular gender-challenged movie. I absolutely loved the movie. The glamour quotient in the movie was like moonlight in the morning. It was completely overshadowed. I do not understand why you chose to put that movie under the microscope. If you search hard enough, you will find what you are looking for even when it is not there.

        * My priorities? How does it matter? I am just saying, you picked the wrong movie to beat up with your feminist remarks.

        * I have no problems with the moral/immoral lessons that Soodhu kavvum preaches.

        * Please don’t ‘Oh hi!’ me. Please don’t do that to anyone after you type out a 40-line reply to their comment. Because it makes you sound like you are 13 and doesn’t go well with the respect that the rest of your post attracts.

      • Awesome vibhu358- mature and classy response.

        Superficial feminism and this tendency to make fun of every film or cry outrage just so that the blog posts are read more is a pretty immature way of handling movie review even if there is no formal context to it. Fashionable to pick bones just for the heck of it. SK is a fine film with borderline amateur characterization of the female character. After all in twitter and blogs, outrage and silly diatribe camouflaged as analysis sells the most.

      • //it felt like you had an eye for macho-nonsense and wanted to do something about it.// Yes. I believe I do have the eye for any bad treatment/ representation of women. In my limited capacity, I do want to talk about it. I don’t think mainstream feminism is anything to be ashamed of. In fact, I am as mainstream as it gets. But, it’s the tone of your writing that sorta put me off.

        //Are you looking to imply that him being a thug shows women in bad light? How? and.. why?// Uh oh. No. Of course not. I am taking off from your implying that I am taking offence to Das. See. My problem here is how we are all willing to accept ‘objectifying women’ as an okay thing to do because he is a thug or whatever. Same with the wife-beating politician. I mean, why can’t we tell stories of respect? Just why not? Now you’ll argue this is not one such story. Fair enough. Read on. I talk about this in the next point.

        //Being offended is a serious thing. It is not something that you can toss around like add-ons.// Yes. But as long as you have the reason for being offended, I don’t see why one can’t be offended for all that he/ she wishes. Who is to set the bar for what is offence worthy? Also, I’ll have to mention one thing here. In the world, people will say all sorts of things and some of them offensive – so will movies. The point of talking about it (or writing a blog) is not to ban directors from offending. It is to initiate a conversation about it. For the filmmakers and the viewers to see if there is indeed a different perspective. I think that is absolutely valid.

        //But, please don’t overdo it. // I don’t think I am.

        //Chikni Chameli, I would have had nothing to refute// That comes from your judgement of what is objectionable. I have a different scale of judgement. Do you expect me to go by yours? Also, a good 7 months earlier, no one would have taken offence to Chikni Chameli. Most people would have passed it off as harmless entertainment.

        //I absolutely loved the movie.// I did too for most parts.

        //If you search hard enough, you will find what you are looking for even when it is not there.// What you don’t see is not the same as what is not there, no?

        //I am just saying, you picked the wrong movie to beat up with your feminist remarks.// You are welcome to say it to me. But I think you are missing the point here. I don’t pick movies that are exceptionally bad. I write all my posts from a feminist point of view (with adequate disclaimer). It is not about whether one movie is better than the other or is one movie more offensive than the other. It is merely about looking at things that may have been overlooked largely.

        //I have no problems with the moral/immoral lessons that Soodhu kavvum preaches.// Haha. You brought it up to tell me how there are so many wrong lessons and I picked the weakest one.

        // Please don’t ‘Oh hi!’ me. // Come on! Don’t tell me how I can say my his and byes. Really! If that leads you to thinking I’m 13 years old, I’ll leave you to that. :/

    • I am a feminist and I am proud to call myself a feminist. But please don’t say that you got it how it feels to watch a movie through a feminist’s eyes. No I didn’t see anything wrong with the movie’s portrayal on women. I saw nothing wrong with shalu’s character, and about that minister’s wife, c’mon even I know many moms like that who blindly support their sons even if he is living his life as though he’s born to just roam around. I would like to say that this review is neither about the movie nor about feminism. its totally out of the place and don’t come to any conclusion about feminists because of this. I don’t want the word to lose its respect and become some derogatory term. Thanks.

      • Hi Adhithi,

        Thanks again for your comment. While I totally see why you would like to dissociate me from feminism, how about you also tell me what feminism means to you? Or what conclusion I should come to about feminism at all?

      • Adhithi,

        Thanks for your comment! What amazed me was how Tharkuri was able to perceive the movie. Only a feminist would be able to look at the movie the way she did, but not necessarily all feminists look at it that way. I understand that.

        Feminism will never lose its respect. Certain feminists might.

        Vibhu

  7. I suppose its a film critic I was reading. If its a film critic, you have to see the story line and how characters fit the plot. As a feminist, I have blasted many movies/songs/ads – you name it- for portraying women badly. In this movie, of course shalu character was unnecessary, (it definitely made me laugh though), but she wasn’t even that glamorously dressed and no characters spoke a word bad about her or any other women for that matter. I believe her character was to add some color to it without affecting the story and in that way it made perfect sense. Same goes with smoking, its just that those characters smoke and thats all. There are many so called “soup” boys movies, where the male leads speak as though women are demons who have come to earth to kill them. Those kinda movies need strong criticism. I am sorry, for this one it just sounds like finding faults just for the sake of finding it.

  8. Very interesting movie. I agree with you that the female characters have defects but that appears to be the general theme of the movie, all the characters had defects. Even the extremely honest politician traps the bribing business men for a publicity stunt and like you noted, beats his wife.
    Though your points are valid when looking at them in isolation, given the theme of the movie I think the director has shown remarkable restrain in handling the few female characters present. Even the Kaasu Panam Dhuddu Money Money song would fall in the ‘cute’ category not the sleazy one.

    As Adthithi noted, given the current trend in Tamil cinema, this movie is so much better. Infact when I went to Edhir Neechal I was expecting it to be another of Dhanush’s typical loser-hero oriented movies. But was pleasantly surprised at what I saw, I even remember thinking to myself, now this is a movie Ranjini would praise, especially the female characters. All was well till Dhanush forcefully thrust in another one of his loser love failure songs, most probably to the director’s dismay. You should surely review that movie if you a chance.

    On a less serious note I think the TASMAC scene must be taken up as the ideal target for women’s safety in society. When a young attractive woman can sit in a cheap, dark and dingy bar by herself or with a companion without being harassed, even when a fight breaks out there ;)

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