Karnan (Tamil) Review & Rating
Karnan Review: Mari Selvaraj Chooses To Tell A Story And Did It Superbly
Mahabharata reimagined and why?
Mahabharata is called the Panchama Vedam or the 5th Veda. There’s nothing in the Mahabharata that’s not in the world. And there’s nothing in this world that’s not written in Mahabharata. The saying goes.
Redefining Panchama Vedam
Panchama Veda can have an alternate meaning: the Veda of the or for the Panchama, the people shunned as the class 5 or the untouchables by the 4 Varnas of people. In another way of describing, it is the Veda that’s written in a lucid manner that is accessible even to the Panchama too. The traditional and widely accepted view is, after the 4 Vedas, Mahabharata is the 5th one. Means in terms of the stature. It’s equivalent in stature to Vedas.
That’s the reason many people... artists of all sorts interpreted it in many ways. The names of the thousands of the characters in the epic Itihaasa resonate several meanings and give us a complete picture of a life. Bhishma. Karna. Drona. Kripa. Arjuna. Dhritarashtra. Duryodhana. Each and every word uttered here has a specific role and meaning and a picture forms before our minds eye. Tamil filmmaker Mari Selvaraj is Pariyerum Perumal fame has taken Karna as a metaphor for the oppressive class in an interior Tamil Nadu.
Podiyankulam bus stop
The village is: Podiyankulam. The people want a bus stop in their village. The privileged asses of the other nearby bigger village don’t want it to be granted. They want to exploit the villagers of Podiyankulam for the lack of basic transportation. It is in this village our protagonist Karnan lives with his family. A typical cinematic family where the elder sister of the hero is the sole breadwinner. Our hero aspires to become a military officer. His father is a weakling. As any youngster of these times or of course, any time, our hero has a girlfriend. And she’s named Draupadhi for this Karnan as interpreted by Mari Selvaraj. Duryodhanan is the village head and is a good man.
There are other host of characters like Draupadhi’s friend, and her brother played in a surprisingly great role by Yogi Babu. Yeman Thatha played by the noted Malayalam star character artiste, Lal. He’s both a sidekick and a mentor of sorts to Karnan. Oh, by the way, Dhanush is excellent in this role.
The narration starts in a deliberately slow burning manner after a gut wrenchingly memorable prologue scene. The hero introduction is very unlike what we have seen or expect with police brutality on the protagonist but we get the point in a thumping manner that he’s the people’s leader and is a man for whom the people are waiting for. This scene comes way late in the film. But before that we’re given an established set of characters, atmosphere, a properly built world, and finally an internal logic.
But just like in the Hollywood film Lucy starring Scarlett Johansson, the metaphoric and allegory shots in this film are quite effective initially but lose steam once they are played in a self indulgent manner by the filmmaker. After establishing the world of his characters, the director slowly used a chain reaction technique which leads one conflict after another and finally to the point when our hero goes after a bus and vandalise it. Then enters the police officer Kannapiran who thinks he’s above the villagers and it’s an insult for him to have to deal with them.
That they have brought him to this, all of them are his enemies and he treats to vanquish them. Like all Kauravas are vanquished by Srikrishna in Mahabharata. Good or bad, this is what the director chooses as his message. Or to shock you the traditionalist. Or to go against the grain. Or to make his point clear. Kannapiran considers that he needs to or made to stand amidst these 'lowly people' an insult to his stature (very against the nature of Srikrishna of Mahabharata and chooses to make them pay. The director makes us see that this isn't a heat-of-the-moment decision but a cold loaded calculated move.
Despite his anger and his actions in the heat of the moments, Karnan is a thinker. We know how the struggle of the people is oppressed (by the way, the film is set in the year 1997) by the privileged and how they rise, fall, rise, fall, and or succumb or bring change. It’s all this film is about.
Writing and direction
The writing is powerful. The visuals are scorchingly powerful. The screenplay is overdone in a few places where the director goes for — with the sister-turned-Kaattu Pechi — has mixed results. While it helps us give Karnan's personal stake in the issue, there are times when it feels overdone and breaks the narrative flow. By the nature of the character, Karnan doesn’t need a personal stake to fight for the people. After a slow burning shot, the movie picks up pace around half way mark of the first half and quickens by the time interval reaches and we get respite only after the climax.
The performances are great. Everyone is a character rather than a role played by an actor. They became the natives of the village Podiyankulam.
The music by Santhosh Narayanan is already iconic. The background score is superb. The cinematography is first rate and went hand in hand with the narration of the film. The opening scene itself is a masterpiece. The editing is neat. The art department is great in their work. The production values are top class.
Karnan is a powerful film which shows the strength of the visual medium and the power of cinema. Whether you like the film on face value is irrelevant. Mari Selvaraj chose to tell a story. And he did it. Damn well. Watching it or not is your choice based on your perspective.
Rating: 3.75 out of 5
Reviewed by: GitacharYa