Tamil cinema has a long history of eulogising the brother-sister sibling bond. Starting with Sivaji Ganesan and Savithri’s ‘Pasamalar’ (who can forget that melodious lullaby ‘Malarndhum malaraatha paathi malar pola’), there have been films like ‘Kizhakku Cheemayile’, (Vijayakumar and Radhika), ‘Samudhiram’ (Sarath Kumar and Kaveri), Nammu Veetu Pillai (Sivakarthikeyan and Aishwarya Rajesh) and Mullum Malarum (Rajinikanth and Shobha), which have tapped into this relationship to get the tear ducts flowing.
It’s an all too familiar track as the loving brother is cast aside after a husband enters the picture. The husband usually develops a grouse against the brother, barring the sister from fraternising with him. There are many heart-rending scenes where the husband humiliates her loving brother who braves all the insults heaped on him just for the love of his sister.
In ‘Udanpirappe’, pitched as a family drama to suit the Dussehra season, the tortured siblings in question are Jyothika (Mathangi) and Sasikumar (Vairavan). Vairavan is a law unto himself in his village and beats up people for making casteist remarks and single-handedly thrashes baddies to pulp for running over a dog. In his court, any form of injustice is and can be set right.
Obviously, Mathangi’s husband, a mild-mannered schoolmaster (played by Samuthrakani), alternates between being bewildered and bored, abhors violence. Being a Gandhian, he believes violence begets violence and one should not take law into their own hands. It’s disappointing to see an actor like Samuthrakani turning up in roles like this. (Vinodhaya Satam, in which he plays Time or Yama has landed on Zee5)
Despite the ideological differences, the family lives together with their children. Until one day, tragedy strikes and the loving family split up and Sargunam swears never to speak to Vairavan. Mathangi is trapped but believes that one day all will be well. Viewers too know that after all the twists and turns, what could unfurl at the end. But some of the bizarre events that unfold in a jerky fashion to reach that happy climax seem like a tedious journey.
Kailarasan, who displayed his acting chops as the master boxer’s disgruntled son cast aside by his father in ‘Sarpatta Parambarai’, is completely wasted in the film. If he is not digging borewells at depths that is illegal leading to depletion of groundwater resources for farmers, he is making innocent village women unconscious in his office room by using some vapourizer drug in his mosquito repellent device. Then he takes photographs with them in compromising positions and probably blackmails them for sex. Unfortunately, for him, he tries this stunt with Mathangi as well.
But little does he know that she is made of sterner stuff. What happens next can only be called a watershed moment in the history of Tamil cinema. Without revealing too much, it is enough to say that if Indian women can fight off sex predators with that kind of weapon, our rape statistics will be a lot lower.
The Mathangi-Vairavan sibling bond leaves you cold. Separately, they do some extreme things for each other but when they are together in the frame, they just exchange blank wet-eyed stares. A lot of the problem lies in the script and the direction.
First, there’s not much of a plot that meanders with a flashback thrown in explaining why Sargunam looks anxious when Vairavan is around. Jyotika, attired in splendid saris, looks divine (to suit the festive mood) and tries hard to portray this strong, silent woman desperately trying to balance between her good husband’s sense of ethics and her brother’s penchant for delivering Robin Hood-type justice. Somehow, it is not convincing enough.
Sasikumar gamely holds on to the plot and soldiers on delivering dialogues loaded with social messages as if he might start a political party. The only light relief comes from Soori, who keeps the momentum going. Sijarose as Vairanvan ‘s wife does enough visible emoting for all of them.
The music by D Imman has one tuneful song lauding the loving brother who will go to any lengths for his sister. The film’s DOP is R Velraj, known for wielding the camera for ‘Asuran’, ‘Vada Chennai’, ‘Aadukalam’ and his work stands out. There’s some artful camera work and along with some clever editing by Ruben, this family film in sync with the festive spirit makes it watchable.
The film lacks a solid script to give depth to this Pasamalar tale. Maybe, this kind of story seems outdated as brother-sister bonds are shown in a more nuanced form like the one between Farhan Akhtar and Divya Dutta in ‘Bhaag MIlkha Bhaag’ or even Jeetu Joseph’s ‘Thambi’, which went down a different road altogether with Jyotika herself playing elder sister to real-life brother-in-law Karthi.