Thevar Magan

thevarmagan

Thevar Magan isn’t my favourite Kamal Hassan film but it’s one of the most complete, I feel, in the sense that there’s very few moments that feel out of place and the story is told in a naturalistic and flowing manner.  Most films in those days were not extensively storyboarded and planned out the way films in the West are, so that feeling of cohesion is a lot less common.  The film has something of a conflicting legacy.  Here we have a film made with the good intentions of criticizing a martial culture and rural violence, yet the film seemed to become a hit partially due to people not understanding this message and instead treating it purely as a celebration of their own background.  One can see how this happened, because the film tries to avoid being heavy-handed about the critical message (I wouldn’t call it subtle though) and since some other moments show characters pride, the messaging might not be clear.  We can’t judge a film based on how it is misunderstood, but at the same time, it does leave something of a sour aftertaste.

The story is essentially as follows: the Westernized son of a village leader returns and finds himself out of place in the tense and sometimes violent culture of the village.  Although he initially wants to leave and marry his Telugu girlfriend, when his father dies, he finally accepts his role and tries to lead the village in a moral way different from his counterparts.  But gradually he finds himself sinking to the level of his opponents.

One of the things which make this film stand out from its contemporary films is the naturalism. Often, films from the 80s and 90s sometimes have a holdover feeling of “theatre drama” in the acting or direction (for a example, a scene with a stationary camera where the character looks away while making a speech), but it’s completely absent here.  Kamal seems to have a similar effect on the actors around him, even Vadivelu, who’s presence is usually as a self-conscious comedian almost breaking the third wall entirely, brings a restrained and realistic performance.  

Sivaji is brilliant in the first half – Kamal more or less lets him take the spotlight and their chemistry as father and son is excellent.  Gouthami is adequate as Kamal’s westernized girlfriend, though I felt that her use of English, especially during the dramatic scenes where she confronts Kamal, felt forced at times. Revathy, who comes in the second half as a naive village girl, won a national award for her role.  In her first few scenes, I felt her portrayal was somewhat standard, but after the interval I understood what the award was for.  In those later scenes with Kamal and Gouthami I really found myself touched by her performance and the character was quite memorable.

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