Karnan, Starring Dhanush, Is The Rare “Hero Story” That Resists Easy Highs While Redefining The Mahabharata


One of the best of screenwriters can not think about writing one thing just like the Mahabharata as a result of there are such a lot of plots, subplots, and characters. And one of the crucial fascinating characters is Karna, who’s born a demi-god. He’s the son of a queen (Kunti) and a god (Surya). However he’s deserted by his mom and raised by folks from oppressed communities. So it’s no surprise he’s typically seen as an outsider; a tragic determine who by no means will get what he desires. He doesn’t get to be along with his mom, brothers, and even the lady he beloved (Draupadi, in some variations of the epic). 

My favourite movie model of the Mahabharata is Shyam Benegal’s Kalyug. He units the story between two feuding industrial households, and Shashi Kapoor performs the Karna character. However Tamil viewers are most likely extra aware of Mani Ratnam’s unofficial “biopic” of Karna, Thalapathi. The movie has all of the acquainted characters — Karna, Draupadi, Kunti, Duryodhana — however Karna is the hero of the story, quite than the standard Arjuna. After which we’ve the precise biopic known as Karnan, starring Sivaji Ganesan and made by BR Pathulu in 1964. 

There are minor callbacks on this Karnan to these earlier movies, which can be unintentional. There’s a scene with the solar shining within the background because the mom rocks a baby in a fabric cradle. The body provides us a mom, father, little one dynamic occurring in the identical body, regardless that this specific little one isn’t Karnan. There’s additionally a scene the place characters are sporting a T-shirt with Rajinikanth from Thalapathi. 

However this retelling is very completely different. The music ‘Kanda Vara Sollunga’ says that Karnan may not have the standard markers like kavasa-kundalam, however he had a sword and he fought with it. I believed the movie is perhaps a rousing story a few “saviour” saving his oppressed  group. Seen within the broadest doable method, it is form of that story. However that is additionally a narrative of the tragedy of the group. 

Firstly of the movie, a bit lady lies on the highway, dying. Passing buses don’t cease. That’s one of many many, many metaphors within the movie. The village the place Karnan’s group lives has no bus cease of its personal. So, the folks must hitch rides on autos passing by. The subtext is that the shortage of a bus cease prevents these folks from travelling an excessive amount of. It retains them “contained” of their village. And that’s the place (and the way) the dominant caste desires them.

When talking to Movie Companion South, Mari Selvaraj stated Karnan is a life-style film. I didn’t absolutely perceive it then, however I feel I get it now. The primary half of the movie is devoted to the approach to life of the group. The way in which they dwell, the video games they play, the dying ceremonies, customs and rituals, the enjoyment the neighbouring (dominant) group derives from oppressing this group, and particularly how individuals who die remodel into native gods.

And at the same time as this “way of life film” unfolds round us, we start to get the arc of transformation of Karnan (Dhanush). At first he’s the form of man who sees an eagle taking away a rooster and says that this occurs daily and there’s no level fussing about it. It’s a metaphor about how the highly effective at all times prey on the weak. However as atrocities in opposition to his group will increase, his anger additionally begins to extend. A lady is humiliated, there’s an unfair kabaddi match, a conductor humiliates his village — all of this builds and builds till we get a spectacular intermission second.

However that is very not like the same old intermission second in a “hero” film, which leaves us with a excessive. This one leaves us with combined emotions regardless that Karnan technically “wins” and takes cost of the second and unleashes his anger to the fullest. This doesn’t really feel like a rousing second in any respect. And this second, too, includes a bus, the factor that refuses to cease at their village, the factor that restricts them to the place they’re.

In a method, Mari Selvaraj’s second movie could be very completely different from his first. Pariyerum Perumal was all about having a dialogue; Karnan is about folks being oppressed and their retaliation. And but, each movies are related in a method. They’re not celebratory movies. They aren’t about one group “successful” over the opposite, or the “hero” conquering the villain. The truth is, on the very finish, after we get a celebratory dance, Karnan is pressured into it and he’s dancing with tears in his eyes. It’s a combined form of happiness that the movie ends with.

Within the second half, Karnan’s anger has been unleashed. He actually turns into a “pariyerum perumal”, a god or a savior sitting on a horse. There could also be one other subversion right here: within the epics, it was the kshatriyas who used horses whereas the ‘decrease’ communities had been foot troopers. If Karnan was offended within the first half, he actually wakes up now. That is the place the movie differs from Thalapathy which was a closed drama with a one-on-one battle between Arjuna and Karna characters. 

Right here, even when Karnan is the one who’s actually combating, even when he is a savior, he’s inseparable from his group. So, the entire group will get concerned within the warfare — the equal of the Kurukshetra warfare — that Mari Selvaraj levels within the second half. On the one facet, we’ve members of Karnan’s village and on the opposite, we’ve the police drive, which represents authorities, politics, even society. The chief of the cops, brilliantly performed by Natarajan Subramaniam, the cinematographer, performs the Krishna character. He’s actually named Kannabiran. 

There’s an inevitable comparability when a director makes a movie as distinctive as Pariyerum Perumal. You wish to know what the second film is, whether or not it’s going to measure up. I feel I discovered Pariyerum Perumal far more highly effective as a result of it’s the story of a single man’s angst and the anger that boiled inside him like lava was the driving drive of the film. Right here, as a result of it’s the story of a group and since Karnan isn’t separated from this group, there are lots of, many characters—and the screenplay doesn’t do justice to all of them.

 Some characters actually stand out. Kannabiran, for one. (I wanted he had been launched earlier.) Lakshmi Priyaa Chandramouli performs an excellent function as Karnan’s elder sister. However Karnan’s love curiosity (the Draupadi equal, with the identical identify) performed by Rajisha Vijayan could possibly be taken out of the film and you’ll by no means miss her in any respect. Azhagam Perumal who performs the dominant chief of a village, too, has little or no to do. Everyone knows what a terrific actor Lal is. This isn’t an particularly difficult efficiency for him however he’s excellent on display. He performs the most effective pal equal of Karnan regardless that he’s a lot older and I want he had been given extra shades. He’s this man who’s strong and is at all times by Karnan’s facet, however you form of don’t get a way of him as being greater than a form of BFF. 

The screenplay additionally doesn’t increase some touches it units up. There’s a chilling and interesting second within the first half the place Karnan’s father is visited by the goddess-spirit of his useless daughter. He appears to have the ability to talk together with her in a method that different folks in the home don’t appear to have the ability to. I believed that might have a giant payoff within the second half when Karnan is strolling away from the warfare in his village. I believed the daddy would ask him to return into the village, as a result of he has had a visitation from his daughter. However these payoffs don’t occur, and the set-ups stay set-ups.

There’s one other second that wasn’t used, as properly. Karnan’s mom throws his sword within the river and he finds it instantly. That might have been a very rousing legendary second, however perhaps as a result of the movie was already a bit too lengthy and needed to be reduce brief, it doesn’t fairly have the affect you need it to have. 

However there are different legendary moments that work fantastically. There’s a second when Karnan has to slice a fish into two. It’s this large “heroic” second, although (once more) it includes the group. Within the Mahabharata, throughout Draupadi’s swayamvara, Arjuna hits the attention of a fish and wins her hand. Right here, the heroic act with the fish is carried out by Karna. 

I felt probably the most overdone little bit of symbolism within the motion pictures was the presence of so many creatures. You see pigs, a horse, a snail, a canine like karuppi, a donkey which is the “spirit animal” of the hero and the group. You get the purpose that we’re all one and we share this world with all people. However the visible symbolism appears overdone, although maybe a second viewing will settle among the doubts in our thoughts. 

On the similar time, there are different touches that work splendidly, regardless that they could seem solely a few times, not like sustained motifs. Early on, we hear using the Alai Osai music ‘Porada Vaalendhada’, which is definitely about asking the oppressed group to rise. That’s precisely what Karnan does. And my favorite scene within the movie is when Karnan is in a working race for navy choice. You’d suppose he’d be glad as a result of he is among the few who’ve handed the end line. However Mari Selvaraj turns the digital camera to Karnan’s perspective and exhibits us the person behind Karnan, the person who nearly made it. He makes us see that even when we win it comes at the price of one other particular person’s loss. That is while you understand what a beautiful humanist Mari Selvaraj is.

And the massive moments work superbly. I’m not speaking nearly motion scenes or the massive confrontation scenes. I’m speaking concerning the scene the place Dhanush barges right into a police station and desires to search out some folks from his village; when he truly finds them, it’s an overhead shot and the solar is shining. I had gooseflesh the best way the entire incident was framed.

There’s a lot to speak about Karnan, not simply from a political standpoint which I’m positive lots of people will do, however from a cinematic perspective as properly. As a masala film fan, everyone knows that one of many large moments is the face-reveal. However right here, the precise hero is in custody along with his face hooded, whereas the face-reveal occurs as his picture is drawn on a wall. We get the masala trope of individuals praising the hero however we don’t see the particular person, solely the illustration of this particular person.

And simply as Karnan’s face is hooded, a Buddha statue is headless, a mural begins to be painted on the wall however its face isn’t painted till the tip. Kannabiran loses his face as a result of he’s beheaded. This must be about identification, as a result of the minute you lose your face you lose your identification. 

Like Pariyerum Perumal was carried by Kathir, Karnan is carried by Dhanush. It is a implausible efficiency which isn’t very stunning however what surprises you is what number of variations he brings in. When a pal of his dies, we get a closeup of his eyes with tears, however earlier than that we truly see a closeup of his face. His response has the look of not simply tragedy but additionally the futility of all of it. It’s so magnificent you could’t think about anybody however Dhanush pulling it off.

I really like the truth that although Dhanush does his share of hero roles, when he will get the suitable director or a director he respects, he fully lets go of his ego. In Asuran he went and fell at everybody’s toes. Right here he permits himself to be slapped by his sister and a cop. There are pure issues that occur to characters however the hero character in our movies is so built-up and unreal and godlike that when these small issues occur with out interference, you get this sense that the hero is permitting himself to be a traditional particular person. 

However the true hero of the movie is in fact Mari Selvaraj who proves that Pariyerum Perumal was no fluke. Most individuals work on their first story all their lives and as soon as they’ve put it out they battle to discover a second story. That doesn’t occur right here in any respect. He retains giving us touches and metaphors and bits of subtext that one viewing is solely inadequate. Take this: Kannabiran is the villain of the piece. However at first, he looks as if the one man who’s within the village. You suppose he would possibly truly be an excellent man. Like with the Krishna character, Mari Selvaraj names folks from Karnan’s group Abhimanyu and Duryodhanan and makes us surprise why the kids of farmers can’t bear the names of kings.

 Most mainstream administrators purpose to depart the viewers with a excessive on the finish. Mari Selvaraj prefers to depart us with combined emotions. He says film can’t resolve every thing however no less than it could make us ask questions.



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