A revolutionary is sentenced to death for his anti-national activities. And so begins a battle of wits between the prison officer and his comrades, who try to rescue him with the help of the reluctant hangman who has been selected to carry out the punishment.
Many a director would have chosen to make
Purampokku Engira Podhuvudamai
as a prison break movie that along its way touches upon debatable issues like communism, capitalism and death penalty. But SP Jhananathan has other ideas as he turns
into a call for discussion on these topics without making the film overtly preachy. That the director has managed to achieve this without making comprises for the sake of censors is quite a feat.
His protagonist is Balusamy (Arya), a young man with communist ideology, who, at the start of the film receives the death penalty for what the government considers anti-social activities. But for Balu, his crimes were a service to the society and a protest against rampant privatization and the country becoming a dumping ground for wastes from developed nations. Meanwhile, the prison officer, Macaulay (subtlety is not the film's strength), is someone who believes in the State and deems it his duty to uphold what the law and the constitution say.
And to carry of Balu's death sentence, Macaulay reaches out to Yamalingam (didn't we tell you not to expect subtlety), the State's only hangman. But Yamalingam is a haunted man. He comes from a family of hangmen and his hanging of an innocent man when he was a teenager, continues to torment him. Naturally, he doesn't want to do the task. Meanwhile, Balu's comrades, led by Kuyili (Karthika), plan to kill Yamalingam so that the hanging will be postponed. However, when they realize his intentions, they make him act as an accomplice in helping Balu escape from prison. What happens in this conflict between the State, the revolutionary and the commoner?
Jhananthan takes his own sweet time to get to the crux of the story, spending too much time on songs and establishing the grandness of the prison set, but once the plot gets moving,
is completely engaging. That the director manages to make it a solid political commentary and also an effective thriller at once is an accomplishment. From using technology like phishing and QR codes to the oldest trick in the book (a letter whose word will become visible only when shown by the fire), he uses everything to add to the thrills. The sequence in which Balu tries to escape is the film's highlight, with the tight editing keeping us on the edge of our seats.
But the film deserved a better cast. Arya is totally miscast as Balusamy (he doesn't even look like someone who might have such a name). Balu is a person who will do anything for his ideology and can inspire absolute devotion from his associates, and silently commands everything (he is constantly compared to Bhagat Singh). We needed an actor who could convey the fire that is burning inside this person, his intellect and determination, but Arya plays this like how he plays every other role — casually. We never for a moment believe that this is some person who can write on 'The Silence Of Revolution'. Similarly, Karthika seems too young and lightweight as Kuyili. And it doesn't help that every time the director goes for close-up, it is her arched eyebrows that call for our attention. Shaam is functional but given that Macaulay is shown not just as a straight arrow cop but also as someone who thinks about his actions, the film would have benefited if this had been a layered performance. Thankfully, Vijay Sethupathi redeems everything with a sensitive performance. Initially, even he seems to be redoing what he did in
Idharkudhaane Aasaipattai Balakumara
, but then does a great job in conveying the emotional turmoil of his character. Balusamy might be the film's central character, but it is Yamalingam who is its beating heart.