'Virumandi' is one of Kamal's serious movies that did not impress me much. Upon first viewing, it hardly seemed to be in the class of other gems such as 'Mahanadi', 'Anbae Sivam' and 'Hey Ram'. Granted, the film featured at least a couple of awesome performances (which seems to be a standing feature of most Kamal movies, which is why the standard accusation of onemanship against him is not completely justified IMO) courtesy Pasupathy and Abhirami, as well as an unusual screenplay. But the movie fell well short of my high expectations. Which is when another look at the movie presented itself, I had my eyes out for some redeeming features (I just hate hating the Kamal movies!).
First, the positives:
The relative newcomers, Pasupathy and Abhirami turn in masterly performances. Pasupathy oozes menace and deceit, and Abhirami delivers a knockout of a performance as a vivacious willage lass with a strong mind (a performance largely ignored by most of the awards, strangely). In fact, both of them out-act a strangely out-of-form Kamal, who looks really old and jaded in the flashback portions. Perhaps the onus of being the screenplay-wrier, stunt-director, director, singer and hero got to him! Though Kamal manages to showcase his method-acting skills in a couple of scenes (notice how his fingers twitch when he is nervous), he is listless for the most part - well, as listless as a Kamal perormance can be, I guess. Napolean looks dignified, and deadpans a few lines. Rohini does a neat cameo, in which her confrontation scene with Kamal was just AWESOME.
The screenplay is another laudable aspect about the movie. Opting for a two-pronged narrative adds many a layer to the movie, and each layer unravels only upon the re-telling of the tale. Masterly (though not entirely original)! The manner in which the movie unfolds - like a documentary, thru the eyes of a human activist, portrayed by Rohini - is impressive too.
The village ambience is yet another huge-plus for Virumandi. A typical TN village has been painstakingly recreated, and everything is just apt. Ilayaraja provided some outstanding BGMs as well - some of the more impressive pieces being during Pasupathy's narrative, Kamal's courtship of Abhirami etc.
First of all, the violence: now, I am not exactly squeamish about violent movies; I just loved the 'Kill Bill' series. But certain movies warrant certain kinds of stunt direction. In incorporating the same 'Kill Bill' style of action sequences for 'Virumandi' that he did for 'Aalavandhan', Kamal falters. The sub-standard graphics don't help either. It does seem to me, a keen observer of Kamal's cinema, that Kamal has a fixation for a certain kind of violence on screen - blood spraying, limbs getting chopped etc are getting to be increasingly repetetive.
The implied message - that of capital punishment not suitably deterring crime - also seems half-hearted. Virumandi is not exactly the most innocent guy around; he's just gone around murdering half a dozen people, and stabbing another dozen - not exactly the best candidate for clemency, I'd say. Putting that bit in was Kamal trying to be rather a bit too clever for his own good - attempting to elevate the film from being merely the tale of a happy-go-lucky villager to a socially relevant fable. However, it backfires, making the movie seem half-baked.
All in all, a brave attempt by Kamal to balance the sensibilites of the front-benchers and of his own niche audience - he doesn't entirely succeed, but that won't stop him from trying again, I am sure. And that is exactly what makes me admire the hell out of the man.