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Siva’s Viswasam and James Mangold’s Logan: The rise of a fallen Superhero

What happens when a mythical archetype, a classic hero is bought within a realistic setting. He/she has will be forced to mend their ways, as their superhuman powers that are built to face extraordinary situations come across as unhinged and destructive. The hero finally has to face consequences for the recklessness in his heroic deeds.

The recent Tamil film that came very close to achieving this feat was Viswasam, directed by ‘Siruthai’ Siva, in which the hero Thookudurai faces adverse aftermaths as a result of his “acts” of bravery. The results include the loss of his daughter, wife, and sense of an emotionally deprived life that is forced upon him. Thookudurai has nothing new to offer in terms of characterization, had he been a part of the earlier films of the director, his presence would have been equated to old wine in an equally antiquated bottle. But it’s the situations that add more layers.

Thookudurai feels the burden of responsibility as the film progresses. He is asked to mend his ways. Thookudurai’s family had to face the after-effects of acts that can be pulled off by a traditional masala-film hero without hassles. The film subverts the formulaic hero, a trope as old as mountains and makes him come to terms with the burden of mundane life. The ordinary-ness becomes more extraordinary.

Thematically, the film echoes with James Mangold’s 2017 film ‘Logan’, the final installment of ‘Wolverine’ franchise, where the protagonist is not battling with a far-fetched and broad idea of saving the world from evil, he just has one mission, to save his father-figure (Professor X) and offspring from being wiped out. The film feels more brutal and real in its violence, a far cry from the glamour associated with the regular superhero fight sequences. The film also gives a nod to ‘Shane’, another film that grounds the mythology of Westerns, an ultraviolent genre.

Films like Viswasam and Logan tend to give a reality check to the genre they are set in. While Logan exposes the potentially ultra-violent nature of comic-book violence, Viswasam plays it really safe by making ‘Thooku’ Durai look innocent and trying to shift the blame on the female protagonist for causing the rift between him and his daughter. Viswasam’s potential as a genre-bender is reduced by just existing as a sincere melodrama (the second half didn’t milk the cutesy funny portions and the teary-eyed moments between Thookudurai and his daughter and excluding the initial portions, the overall treatment doesn’t feel tone-deaf). The film’s melodrama is also extended to the portrayal of its antagonist (whom we wish had also appeared much earlier in the film) as opposed to the unsympathetic portrayal of antagonists in the latter.

But this aspect is what makes the film unique and look less like a pale imitation of Hollywood’s way of reinventing a genre, or a cliche.  But one really wishes that the collateral damage in Viswasam was higher, with even threatening antagonists. Also, one has to agree that Logan was a result of a vision that is less watered down by the baggage of its lead actor, and unlike Viswasam, the film doesn’t try to downplay its violence in order to cater to  family audiences. Despite the makers playing in the safer  zone of mainstream cinema, Viswasam leaves us with a lot of possibilities of being a dark film.

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