– Mani Prabhu
Seenu Ramasamy’s fourth feature film Dharmadurai starts breathing the rural context right from the first frame, when Dharmadurai is introduced as a brooding alcoholic, who seems to be the butt of the jokes among his family of three brothers and a sister. This part of the film, where Dharma is established as a mysterious misfit in the remote village, despite the lack of a harnessing conflict, holds well because of two reasons. First of all, everything about the staging is organic. The landscapes. The architecture. The family of five named after the Pandavas. Interesting characters in flesh and blood. All this detailing craftily draws us in. Secondly, Vijay Sethupathy playing Dharma, totally aces the wastrel act with his humour and body language. Switching to English constantly and reeling out advice regarding alcoholic liver disease, he seems to be lost in a world of his own. One look at him, you know he has a past. The suspense works. Well, almost.
Half an hour into the film, when we move to the first back-story set in the medical college, that things start getting an ‘affected’ feel. Something about this entire stretch feels artificial. I am not sure if ‘cinematic’ is the right word, but even in that sense, many of the sequences are played flat without flavour or bite. And to add to the contrivance, characters start getting into boxes of black and white, with an overdose of righteousness clouding the air. Seenu clearly doesn’t seem to be a fan of nuances here, with repeated celebrations of ‘saintliness’ literally clogging a story, which once started with much promise.
But again, something magical happens past the half point, when Seenu gets back to form in the second back-story. This one involving a lovely romance between the characters of Vijay Sethupathi and Iyshwarya Rajesh (in her natural best), is written and staged with the confidence of a film-maker who knows his milieu. Small emotions go a long way to keep the engagement factor high. And the lighter moments start clicking again, with Karuppu mouthing some hilarious one-liners. The rest of the script springs up sighs and surprises in equal measure. But the film does keep rolling out things, seldom seen in our mainstream cinemas. When was the last time, the curing spirit was given its due? Songs are deftly woven into the narrative. Female leads, despite garnering ‘far-too-convenient’ resolutions, get to have their own voices.
From what transpires on screen, it is clear that Seenu Ramasamy’s kind of film-making works best when he operates on an organic story-telling pedestal, not ‘angelising’ people or celebrating lofty idealism. But alas!