Asuran – A soul wrenching chronicle of the genesis and course of a certain ‘necessitated monstrosity’ in a downtrodden yet nearly divine man.
Divinity and monstrosity- these terms when strung together carry such paradox that it gets all perplexing and absurd, how can a monstrous aspect be in line with a sense of divinity? Before we go on, let it be highlighted that the aspects of these two statures addressed here are on human levels, where we find them often muddled, one battling the other in the lands of the mind, in cases of rarity, coexisting in a hard-earned peace.
The film besides presenting questions and laments to which the answers even today remain only partially known, resolves the query of this polarity along its fathoms to a keenly balanced degree that refrains rightly from glorifying all bloodshed but at the very same time, in a stroke of brilliance, forges an understanding of the essentiality of such a deed. To err is to human, to forgive is to divine. Sivasaami has been in the two places (his forgiveness though comes from a forced, grounded space) in extension of the implications of this old adage only that he hasn’t erred, neither has his son. They are wronged as they challenge the bounds of the horrendous status quo in their villages. The only place they go utterly wrong is standing up for their rights, their land, their life, propelled by the heat within. Who knew that the fire itself will burn them all alive.
The title Asuran is suggestive of this duality- what is it referring to, the divine or the monster? Both, indeed, it stands for Sivasaami whose very name evidences it. His sons are Murugan, Chidambaram, his wife Pachai Amma and he lovingly calls out to his daughter – ‘Thaayi! (My mother). Intrigued by the attributions of the title and its rootedness in the tale, the mind wishes to engage further in this duality- of the godly and the ghastly. The term ‘Asura’ is said to have appeared first in the Vedas denoting a human or a divine leader. Here, through the representation of Sivasaami, is the plight of oppressed portrayed in a way both powerful and poignant. He gradually grows into a leader figure of a sort in the eyes of his young son- a leader from whose bloodshed and bruises, lessons are learnt.
The Vadakooran family, the one from the northern town who wield power in the village enjoy and exploit their lordly privileges. They are the ones who take the control of conducting the temple festivals there, we hear from a man as he expresses his concern over them having to sit with the family of Sivasaami to resolve a conflict. People like Sivasaami aren’t considered to be these vain ruthless men’s equals, hence his dismay. They are taken to be slaves who become the nemesis as they erupt in the face of brutality they are being subjected to. Sivasaami is clearly an opponent to these men of power.
Vetrimaaran’s sturdy oeuvre teems with his inclination to explore how the larger level of violence dictated by the terms of politics and dimensions of the society interferes with and infects the lives of the innocent. In his first, provoked by Ravi, Prabhu turns Polladhavan. This is Vetrimaaran’s second film with a title referencing a quality of the protagonist rather than the setting as in Aadukalam, VadaChennai and Visaaranai where the setting affects the people, pushing them to the extremes. In Asuran, like in Polladhavan, it is largely about the world pulling out something from within the people of the tale, something right out of their gut. The tension of the push and pull adds more downright grit to the film which is built on the broader themes of casteism and its many horrific holds over the society.
Asuran is based on Poomani’s raw and rustic novel, Vekkai. Deriving its skeleton from the novel, Asuran fleshes out a meaty and fierce retelling which is definitely more of a thrill than a disappointment unlike the estimation of Vetrimaaran who says in a recent interview that people who loved the novel might not like the film.
‘Avan Avanuku Nelam Iruntha yen Paadu pattu kedapane’. Land is the basic property, a fundamental entitlement, the possession of which shall determine if one shall be his own master or another’s slave.
The root conflict of Asuran is the one over land which stands as the symbol of the people’s very being and identity. It is only befitting that the title in strong blood red spreads over the parched land, its cracks from lack of moisture running through the surface like veins. Contrary is the following reflection of the beauteous moon in the dark waters of the stream. The sly movement of Sivasaami splinters the image of the blissful moon. Perhaps on another night, Sivasaami and Chidambaram would have looked up to the sky admiring the shine of the moon. This is one of the very few images of peace in the film, one that brims with a sort of serenity sharply incongruous to all the rest which follows for in them the warmth of the colours is subdued and the inherent intense heat, the ‘vekkai’ is left to drip- the sweat of scorching heat drained of all colours.
The first blast of colour arrives in the form of Murugan dressed in a flamboyant orange tinted golden. In the dry lands devoid of many hopes, insidiously devoured by greed, he is innocent and filled with come what may daring. In this crucial role, Teejay is almost there yet an added substance and spirit could have definitely helped. The sync of the dubbing misses the point of precision in various instances disturbing the degree of immersion in the intense tale.
Moving on, past these in the way, we see that Murugan is set to get married and the melody of his mind’s happy hums is pleasantly overwhelming. The family returns to their wrecked home, strong despite half broken, merry yet not, resonating with the actual state of theirs in a perpetual danger of basic rights being harassed. Their strength of will covers them- their 3 acres is the only land not under the control of the vadakooran in the entire area. The price they are pushed to pay for retaining their rightful possession is intolerable.
Nee naayi poiruchenu varutha padra, naan naayoda pochenu aaruthal patukren says Sivasaami whose pain and rage are brilliantly shouldered by Dhanush. Sivasaami is emaciated, wilting as he bears the weight of agony, the force of which seems to pull him down to the ground. The sheer pressure of it has grown over him that when he rises amidst the dust and heat with a velkambu, it is such a moment of power as if at that instant he had been possessed by a greater force as the thunderous beats boom like passionate chants invoking the descent of an angered god over the man. He draws such incredible energy from the roots of his very rage which strikes as emerging from the place of divine intervention. The fruits of this rage and interventions had only borne agony.
‘Ippadithaan namma veetu pasanga ellarum aambalai aaganum polirukku’. Perhaps, this is how our boys are destined to become men. Sivasaami who speaks of this dismal coming-of-age has had a journey similar to that of his 16 -year old son who sets out to seek justice for his brother’s death in his own way. The same kind of horrid maturation rooted in a rebellious fit of violence has pushed Sivasaami into what he is today. While Vetrimaaran states that Asuran is the journey of the boy to the father than with the father, it emerges essentially as the journey of the father- of Sivasaami.
Sivasaami initially is unaware of what part he constitutes in his village. The learning comes hard. In the early meetings over the land dispute in the village, we see Sivasaami outside the door, he is literally an outsider in his levels of understanding of the travail of his people. In a subsequent meeting championed by the social activist- lawyer played by Prakash Raj and Sivasaami’s brother Murugan (after whom Sivasaami has named his first son), Sivasaami is seen along the side-lines exuberantly applauding as the empowering speech ends. He is no longer an outsider in any levels of awareness, he is a part of the comradeship united in the spirit to fight for their rights.
The deprivation of colours is relatively starker in this portion, of course, it is the flashback but these are also times when matters were starting to get worse, in the eyes of Sivasaami. It appears to be set in the late fifties, post-independence for the present course of the tale is set in the late 70s. The dominant forms of hues are exuded from the people themselves who retain warmth- Sivasaami and his lover in particular.
In a romantic scene that will go down the memory, Sivasaami wishes to gift her something and he wants it to be perfectly fine, suitable and comfortable for her. He annoys the vendor with all his adorable specifications.
It is something for her little feet. He wants for her not silver anklets chiming as she gracefully hovers around but a Serrupu, a slipper to ensure that her soft feet stay safe from the pricks of the thorn. If deadly electric fences and conflicts over the control of land determine the course of the present disaster, thorns and slippers suffice to emphasise the horrors of an era gone by, its barbaric ruins still left to linger. The spirit of Sivasaami is on fire. As the thick blood splashes all over his face, he is trapped in a place of demonic anger, his body heaving, eyes wide open, his entire body burning with rage. In the next instant, we see Sivasaami’s old weary face through which runs the exhaustion from this previous moment of the distressing past that hasn’t after all distanced itself from him. It has tired him, all that panting, panic and pain. Despite numerous washes, the stains of the blood won’t leave and now they are scars that run deep. He doesn’t want the same scars for his kids.
Vetrimaaran uproots us (his actors and the tremendously powerful crew come to his aid, sharing the weight) and situates us amidst the vekkai of Asuran, in the scape of its suffering, the burn of its wounds and the cries for justice. The horror of the abuse is right on the face, not for us to merely see and pass by, but feel for as we fidget in the seats, our ease challenged with the terror and tremors of torment spreading through our bodies and sinking into the skin.
With the decaying torso, its flesh turned black, all life severed and the grieving devastated family are we left for it is essential that we be a part of their grief, witnessing the unjust perpetrated on them so that when moments of monstrosity arise, we shall be aware that it is not just the glorious good winning over evil but something more , driven by a brute pursuit of self served justice than mere vengeance. In the lines of the film, it is essentially telling us, ‘Neethi ethuvenna indru neeyum kooridu, aadhi ethuvenna konjam neeyum thedi odidu.'( Tell me now of what is justice here; Go run, find for yourself what began this all!)
In the final moments of the film reminiscent of Pariyerum Perumal and Thevar Magan (provided the similitude in their themes and the way of resolution) Sivasaami tells Chidambaram that education is their only source of empowerment. The family has indeed remained steadfast in sending the kids to the school as evident in varied points yet these ultimate words would have been equipped with substantiality had Murugan been shown in the path of making something out of education, perhaps, like going to college. These words of Sivasaami nevertheless ring with sad truths and regrets over inability to channelize the will to fight into a potent and productive force. The rains pour as the family has finally and painfully arrived at the verge of closure. These showers which evoke a sense of catharsis following the scorching heat also entail a deep yearning. The mother tells her man to stay for some more time prior leaving, all of this leads the mind to the words of a novelist named Marguerite, “Stormy skies, says Ernesto. He grieved for them. Summer rain. Childhood.”
The heart hopes that after all these years post that wide warm smile underlined by an inescapable poignancy, the life of Sivasaami and his family appears to be what it is in the poster- the couple picture which forms the icon of the review. This is a portrait from a happy future, a buoyant Sivasaami in posh suit, seated majestically with his gritty gorgeous wife behind, clad in silk. Perhaps, this portrait is adorning the walls of Chidambaram’s house and his sister’s who are probably in the respected strata of the society, taken all the way there by the power of education. This is the hope of the future that shall be free from the heat of the past.