Dilani Rabindran



That Altruistic Masala Action, Vishal, Hari


In everyday normal life, I would never disagree with anyone from the Godfather family. (That is assuming of course that my everyday normal life was lived in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1970s American crime world.) But, after seeing Poojai, I could not stop thinking about the immortal words of Michael Corleone: “It’s not personal, Sonny, it’s strictly business”. 
Clearly, Michael never saw a Hari or Vishal movie. 
Poojai’s release was perfectly timed for Diwali, a holiday that brings together families to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. In typical Hari fashion the film can be branded as classic masala anchored by an enormous star cast. In fact, after seeing the film many may question if it was really necessary to pack the frame with so many characters. But, if there’s one thing I know Hari does well it’s to strategically ensemble a cast that ultimately reels you in emotionally so that you support the need for action later. 
At first sight it may seem like there are just far too many family members in Hari’s film clans, but if you look closely you may also see that the plethora of relatives helps to build a sense of community you can’t help but be touched by. The large families in Hari’s films ensure that we as viewers are more than likely to relate to one or some of the characters, despite whether we have a large family ourselves or not. Either you see a loudmouthed uncle who reminds you of your own, or perhaps your mother can command the same presence as Raadhika Sarathkumar in all her glory. What Hari does as he draws you into a family of focus is try to make you emotionally invested before he puts ‘those you love in danger and sends in a hero and some sidekicks to save them. In fact, that, in my opinion, is Hari’s real success formula, rather than a calculated layout of song / comedy / romance / action / drama / repeat. Looking at his past films we can see that Hari’s brand most often focuses on family; heroes stand up for their own relatives (Vel, Thamirabharani, Venghai, Arul) or adopted broods (Aaru) as opposed to social welfare or community causes. Hari has perfected the art of all-round entertainers that bank on South Indian audiences’ own love and penchant for family. With the exception of a few of his films like the Singam franchise and Saamy, where his lead protagonists are motivated to strike back in the name of common justice as well as loved ones, Hari’s strong suit lies in crafting stories around big families who rely on heroes with a soft spot for their kin. 
And that’s exactly where his and Vishal’s success formulas intersect perfectly.
It’s hard for me to believe that Poojai is only Vishal & Hari’s second collaboration when they both have had very similar recipes for commercial victory. Perhaps knowingly or not, fans of both director Hari and Vishal are probably drawn to their common strength of selling family-loyalty wrapped up in action-thriller packages. I know I am. 
This doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve been doing the same thing for years. Vishal, both as an actor, and now as a savvy producer, has taken on some of the most sundry roles in commercial Tamil cinema of late; his adaptability is proven by his filmography, which includes comedy, romance & critical drama along with all the action. But a common theme running through his most successful commercial films to date is that of a hero who fights to protect or avenge his loved ones, rather than for larger societal issues. Save for Sathyam when he takes on issues of corruption, or the anomaly of a cat & mouse game in Samar, Vishal’s biggest action films have been built on the crux that audiences love the idea of ‘Vishal, the personal protector. We have become habituated with seeing Vishal as a leader of a big family or friends, instead of a community or group of gangsters. As one of Tamil cinema’s most reliable family pillars in films like Sandhai Kozhi & Thamirabharani we love seeing Vishal as the son / brother / friend / boyfriend that will put his life on the line for family. And it’s impressive to see him taking on inventive films that wrap new stories around this proven success factor. This classical valor may not have been blatantly apparent in Pandiya Nadu and Naan Sigappu Manithan, but in those we still got a hero who was motivated by personal reasons, and strictly no business. His stellar performance as an inherently meek son who turns courageous in Pandiya Nadu, and as a narcoleptic lover in Naan Sigappu Manithan worked because it was both refreshing to see him play someone who had to find his heroism for a change, and because, in the end, we saw him rise to the occasion as a traditional guardian; they were movies for those looking for something new from the action star, as well as those who enjoy their tried & true Vishal. And that’s why I can’t believe it has taken 7 years for Hari and Vishal to get together again post Thamirabharani to do what they do best: play on our primal altruistic emotions to want to protect our own before others!
And there’s absolutely nothing selfish with this brand of cinema or action; it’s the kind that tugs at your heartstrings so you don’t feel guilty wanting the bad guys to get what’s coming to them. Practically all Indian cinema is rooted in family drama of some sort, so it’s no wonder that Hari’s penchant for exploding that sentiment into jam-packed spectacles and Vishal’s flair for flexing his muscles for his nearest & dearest continue to capture our attention. Sometimes audiences just want to spend some time together, forget the everyday worries of this crazy world and be taken away with some racy action that they can personally get on board with. In fact, the take-away in all of this is that there is clearly a market for all types of action thrillers in South Indian cinema. This holiday season serves as the perfect example, when 2 very different action films, Kaththi & Poojai, are finding their own success amongst crowds by conveying unique types of heroes who save the day from very different threats and rouse the support of viewers by appealing to entirely different facets of human nature. 
So, I’m sorry, Michael. Normally I would never argue with the Corleone method of business, but this Diwali, Hari & Vishal have a hit on their hands that is totally personal.

Written by Dilani Rabindran

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