How I came to know about it
Through my dear Mysskin of course! In a recent function remembering Veenai S.Balachander, Mysskin spoke about (or rather eulogized) the opening shot of the film. I was hooked and wanted to watch it, especially after Mani Ratnam revealed that it was inspired from Rashomon.
What’s the film about?
Just like Rashomon there’s a person who’s dead. And there are multiple suspects. So the film shows us the stories that each of the suspects tell the detective investigating the case. Very simple concept and neatly executed. Each character has its own unique characteristics and motivations. And each one blames the other.
I got further hooked onto the film when in the opening credits I noted that the screenplay and dialogues are written by Javar Seetharaman. (Yes, the same man who scripted and acted as the genie in the film Pattanatthil Bootham) I love this man! In this film he plays a smart, witty detective with a top hat.
His dialogues are well conceived too. For instance, when discussing the case with another inspector, he compares their situation to the popular story of many blind men groping to find out what an elephant looks like. That’s what Rashomon was about too! And I liked the way the advertisement for a play gives the detective a eureka moment where he realizes who could be the potential murderer.
Of course, this film deviates from Rashomon in the sense that there is closure. We finally get to know who the murderer is, unlike Rashomon which posits that the ultimate truth can never be known.
Sivaji Ganesan & Pandari Bai
I loved the way these two fall in love. There’s a terrific scene in which there’s a university debate to decide if students must boycott college during the independence struggle. Sivaji gives a rousing speech against it claiming that pursuit of knowledge shouldn’t be compromised in the struggle for freedom. And then Pandari Bai comes on stage and counters him. Although she’s successful, she of course falls for his personality and way of talking. And has a tinge of pity for him since she humiliated him in public. It’s acted out convincingly.
Justification for murder
I also liked the shades of grey that Sivaji’s character had. He had his personal agenda. When the country doesn’t appreciate his genius, he turns against it. It was very well justified through dialogues and acting. And that final confrontation scene between him and his wife once again is scripted and performed brilliantly.
It’s things like this that distinguishes a master from an amateur. The last scene could just have been Sivaji doing something against the country and Pandari Bai shooting him down. But, there’s a prolonged debate, in which ample time is provided for Sivaji Ganesan’s side of the argument too.
But, what keeps irking me is that in order to justify the fact that a wife murdered her husband, he has to be a “desa drogi”. An evil guy who’s scheming against the nation! Only something as colossally evil as that could provoke a wife to kill her husband. There’s still some male dominance embedded in this, but I guess it had to be present in order for the audience of 1954 to find it justified.