In the year 1871 an act was passed by the British to help law enforcement root out the menace of thugs. Like any other act passed by establishment, this one too had profound impact on the population - both in positive and negative ways. The positive aspect was the effective removal of thug menace in North India. However this act had deep and widespread impact on the caste dynamics in Madras presidency, now Thamizh Nadu.The excerpt of the article as given in www.britishempire.co.uk
article on caste system reads thus:
... when we speak of `professional criminals', we... [mean] a tribe whose ancestors were criminals from time immemorial, who are themselves destined by the usages of caste to commit crime, and whose descendants will be offenders against the law, until the whole tribe is exterminated or accounted for in the manner of thugs
Another article from Frontline dated June 8 2002 by S.Viswanath recounts the following:
The recent arrest and harassment of a large tribal (Kurava) family in the backward Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu not only highlights the high-handed and inhuman attitude of the police towards these sections but also exposes the gaps in the criminal justice system. The Criminal Tribes Act, 1871, introduced by the British rulers labelled people belonging to 160 communities across the country as "born criminals". Four decades after its repeal, the mind-set remains.
Says P. Shanmugam, general secretary of the Tamilnadu Tribals Federation: "Kuravas, one of the communities under the purview of the Criminal Tribes Act, continue to be treated as criminals and harassed by the State police even after the repeal of the Act following prolonged struggles by leaders of the national movement. These hapless people silently suffer this humiliation and many incidents of police torture involving them often go unnoticed by the media." Interestingly, "Kurava crimes" is part of the police training syllabus, says Shanmugam.
The Criminal Tribes act of 1871 has thus been proven to have left a lasting legacy of crimes in various parts of the country. Such an easy life of crime habituation is what has been documented in the movie "Paruthi veeran" in a stark, realistic (if you leave out the songs bit and a fight scene) and uncompromising manner by Ameer, the latest hot director in Thamizh film industry.
The story is very simple - how the central character veeran meets his comeuppance for a life of crime and loose morals. The beauty of the making is in showing the life of veeran and his uncle sevvazhai in a very honest manner. Never identifying them as heroes (If someone mistakes them as heroes and find their antics detestable, clearly the director is not responsible for that), the movie recounts their past and present in an honest fashion. Veeran, inspite of his countless misdemeanours is the heart beat of Muthazhagu, his uncle's daughter, who is the perfect representation of a strong and chaste(watch out for her definition of chastity!!) +2 student. In fact Muthazhagu's numerous attempts to reform her man fail due to Veeran's addiction to the life of crime, prison and courtroom. His uncle Sevvazhai, who is a carefree individual with no attachments even to his mother (veeran's grand mother) is a negative influence on veeran. Muthazhagu's father Kazhuva Servai is a respectable man who has some skeletons in closet. His reluctance to accept his daughter's choice is not just for veeran's present state of behaviour, it has also got something to do with Veeran's father and him.This interesting suspense is revealed in a sequence of black and white flashbacks told in a rivetting style.
After a very emotional scene where Muthazhagu attempts suicide (during which Kazhuvan recounts the black and white history of Veeran's father), Sevvazhai realises the depth of love Muthazhagu has for Veeran and succeeds in making Veeran turn over a new leaf.
The flashback in B&W relate an interesting story of a Kurava tribe(a Scheduled tribe in Thamizh Nadu) woman Chellatha in illicit arrack business under whom Kazhuvan and Veeran's father are employed. Kazhuvan and Veeran's father both belong to an upper caste. After a series of murders of upper caste men by chellatha, the village upper caste men are waiting for revenge. Kazhuvan betrays chellatha and she is murdered in a gruesome fashion. Veeran's father marries Chellatha's daughter and is ostracised by village elders and leaves the village to live a life free of crime. Kazhuvan meanwhile joins the league of affluent villagers as a token of appreciation for his betrayal. In an accident Veeran's parents are killed and his uncle Sevvazhai takes the young Veeran under his wings, teaching him a life of crime. This segment is so well fleshed out that makes the viewers understand the fatalistic choices that are there for people like Veeran for making livelihood and how police system and judiciary are ineffective and in an indirect manner inspire Veeran to live a life of crime without least remorse.
Once Veeran decides to go to his uncles house to ask for Muthazhagu's hand, the movie rolls thunderously to a pulsating an dshocking climax. A Climax designed, not at sensationalism as some critics of the movie have remarked, but at conveying the theme that lines of chastity and discipline that are laid out by our culture and elders once crossed will result in a payback that is manifold in impact. It is only a pity that Muthazhagu gave weightage to her calf love and paid dearly for retaining the love for the wrong person. The climax is preceded by a series of events where Kazhuvan and his caste men who want to finish off Veeran chase him to exile giving a clue to the viewer what climax it is going to be. However when the climax comes with a gruesome , guttwrenching and one of the most realistic rape and murder scenes seen in films, it takes you by surprise and the shock value is used to deliver the message that is the theme of the whole movie. It is Veeran who is the villain in this piece and not a hero. The only character that displays any integrity it was that of Muthazhagu and it is a tremendous irony that her life is ended abruptly. In fact in the whole movie, people with the right intentions are always shown to be sufferers, be it douglas who gets conned by Veeran and Sevvazhai, every other time he tries to do a legitimate profession, or Veeran's parents who die in an accident after briefly living a life of honour or the poor muthazhagu whose only mistake was to get involved in Veeran's life as a childhood sweetheart.The director Ameer has shown tremendous vision and guts in coming out with such a story that shows the rural landscape of Madurai and Kamudhi with a never before seen honesty. He had shown his brilliance and passion for film making in his earlier venture "Raam". He has thankfully continued the trend and has not succumbed to the pressures of commercial film making. The detailing, and capturing of every aspect of the landscape has been complete and spell binding - case in point being the introduction of Kazhuvan who is shown skinning a goat in his house for a meal. The cinematography of this movie has to be seen to be believed. In scenes where proceedings drag, cinematography elevates showing the rough and parched dry lanscape in a glory that has to be seen to be believed. The music by Yuvan Shankar Raja is so aptly placed and authentically rustic. The editing by Raja Mohammad is fantastic and works magic in the flash back sequences. The cast is absolutely great with uncompromisingly honest performances from Karthee playing Veeran and Priya Mani's Muthazhagu. Priya Mani shines in a role that is undoubtedly the strongest since Abhirami's Anna Lakshmi from Kamal Hassan's Virumaandi. A Special mention is must for the veterans Ponvannan who plays Kazhuvan (I loved this character a lot as it had caste affinity, love for daughter, guilt due to past and misgiving and hate for Veeran's family all tearing him apart) and Saravanan who plays the cool and casual Sevvazhai to the T.The final rape scene is so hard hitting that it made me sleepless for two days and my wife still has to come out of the impact. I have say that this movie is many notches superior to Vasantha Balan's "Veyyil" which was screened @ Cannes. The success of the movie is also a testament to the passion and drive Ameer has for cinema. Though some might feel that the similarities between Virumaandi and this movie, the similarities are at a superficial level as Virumaandi's plot was driven to a climax by the machinations of a villain kothala thevar, while here it is Veeran's criminal past that catches up with him in a brutal way. The use of the local slang was a bit done up too much in the movie, so much so that certain phrases were puzzling to a thamizh speaking person from a different locality. The climax of the movie left me speechless and that is in many ways is a mark of director's success. Ameer had told in an interview that he made this movie 70% according to what he envisioned. I wish him all the best to make 100% "according to his vision" movie next time around. Till then we can celebrate the passion he has shown in this one.