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When you watch Aaranya Kaandam you feel either like a bomb went off bang in the middle of your skull or you went to watch a movie and wound up in a seedy opium den in Pattaya. So furiously and colorfully do your thoughts spin in order to keep up with debutant director Kumararaja’s insanely psychedelic cinematic vision.

The story is simple enough – we have an ageing don (Jackie Shroff) whose difficulties are slightly more complicated than say, getting up in the morning. He sees the world through the fogged lens of impotent fury and his young mistress (Yasmin Ponappa) and underlings feel the brunt of it. Young mistress needs to get off bad and since getting slapped around isn’t doing it for her she does the next best thing and decides to carry on with the simpleton of the gang, aptly named Sappai (Ravikrishna). And then we have the straight arrow underling (Sampath) who is usually mandatory in such a dysfunctional bunch and he is a man with a plan even if said plan is going to get him into a world of trouble. Throw in a ridiculously expensive designer drug like cocaine that winds up in the wrong hands and a rival gang headed by a bona fide sadistic, volatile, nut job plus sidekicks aplenty and you have your cocktail that will punch you in the gut and get you deliriously high.

The dialogue is simply brilliant in Aaranya Kaandam. The first words are uttered by young mistress, after a brutal beating and aborted forced sex which as she truthfully says is not her fault especially since she is not the one who can’t do it. Tom Cruise had Renee Zellweger with a ‘Hello’ in Jerry Maguire and Kumararaja has his audience with those opening lines. The rest of it is also spectacular and this coupled with touches of whimsy evident in the narrative style remind you of Quentin Tarantino at his most awesome.

In this vein, there are also flashes of Robert Rodriguez in his Desperado days glimpsed in the action scenes replete with blood and gore where somehow the violence manages to have a lyrical quality to it. Yasmin Ponnappa is a cheri Lady Macbeth, who is usually at the receiving end of violent behavior, but frail though she is, the lady manages to keep it all together even when the world is going to hell around her. Speaking of the bard, portions of the film remind you of Vishal Bharadwaj’s take on Shakespeare and the criminal underworld in films like Omkara and Kaminey.

Finally, we have a cockfight (Jackie Shroff is merely an onlooker but he still feels the need to perform) that is reminiscent of Aadukalam, Vetrimaran’s Othello meets ‘namma local roadside Romeo’ betrayal drama. And comparisons are odious but the cockfight in Aaranya Kaandam is bloody awesome. A drunken, pathetic, believes – himself – to – be – a – zamindar, prances around as the cocks slug it out and in him the sheer desperation of the human condition and its inexplicable coexistence with a passion for life and the joy of living is beautifully brought out, while his young son watches on half – indulgently and half – scoldingly.

Yet, despite the underlying influences from Hollywood, Bollywood, and our very own Tamil cinema, this is not a kitschy, tasteless film that offends the senses by throwing every available ingredient into the pot. It is unique and can hold its own among the best films ever made. This speaks volumes about the scarily talented Kumararaja.

The performances in AK are a treat to watch. Sampath Raj as the straight arrow who can also cut deep is as competent as ever. Jackie Shroff is simply astounding as the old fart with plenty of wind still left in him even if he could do with a truckload of Viagra. Ravikrishna as Sappai is perfectly cast and is both irritating and endearing, exactly as the character should be. The supporting characters are perfectly cast. There is a ‘Pulli Raja’ who is perfectly qualified to write a thesis on nailing aunties. His delightful monologue on the subject is one of the many guilty pleasures the movie offers.

Amongst all these terrific thespians there unfortunately lurks an imposter. Yasmin Ponnapa as young mistress disappoints and was a sore point for this writer. This size – zero former model (don’t our men have a marked preference for curvier women?) simply could not get under the skin of her wonderfully nuanced character. Her lines are sparkling with wit and she almost ruins it all when she says the words in her nails – on – the – blackboard voice. This character needed someone with oomph to play her and someone like Anushka would have been perfect for the part.

Yuvan Shankar Raja’s background score is right up there with the best among the best. And by that, it means this is on par with the best of Ilaiyaraja’s work and as everybody knows, nobody and I mean nobody can top him when it comes to background music. The music sets the tone for the events unfolding on screen and is like an enchanted companion who has the power to make you fly.

As for the censors who gave this magnificent film such a hard time, they deserve to do hard time for their almost heinous crime against great art. Yes, the film is sexually explicit but so what? The Kamasutra was written in India and we have the second highest population in the world. Both are clear indicators that we are no strangers to sex or sexual content. Perhaps it is time to stop pretending that only the animals do it? As for the ripe language in Aaranya Kaandam it is just ridiculous to expect gangsters to speak the Queen’s English or Kalaignar’s Tamil for that matter. And as for the violence, if you have a sensitive stomach that can’t stand it, you should stop watching movies and simply join an old ladies’ knitting club.

On the other hand, perhaps censors will stop coming down so hard on such films, if theatres would clamp down and only allow people above the legally permissible age to watch films with adult content. And it wouldn’t kill parents either to exercise a little responsibility and leave their kids home safe and sound in bed with a trustworthy nanny/ayah/grandmommy/neighbor/aunty etc. when they decide to treat themselves to a heady cocktail of sex, violence, and expletive – ridden filmmaking.

Getting back to Aaranya Kaandam, sometimes you go in to watch a film with the highest expectations, terrified that the director will let you down, but then you go ahead and watch it and you are filled with glorious awe, because you could not have asked for more from a film. A true movie lover will tell you there is nothing to match that feeling. Aaranya Kaandam gave me that glorious feeling and I thank Thiagarajan Kumararaja and SPB Charan for that. Gentlemen take a bow!

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