One of the very first films to ever teach me that a film does not need picturesque locations or actors with cover model looks. All that a good film actually needs is a strong story with relatable characters and a man with a vision behind the camera.
OVERALL SCORE – 4.75/5
Aadukalam is a 2011 film directed by Vetrimaran and written by Vetrimaran and Vikram Sugumaran. It stars Dhanush, Kishore, Tapsee Pannu and V.I.S. Jayapalan. The film is centered around a tradition of rooster fighting which has been carried out in a city in the state of Tamil Nadu and the implications the success and failures of participating in that tradition has on the people adhering to it.
Aadukalam was one of my favorite films of 2011 and the emotion did not change as I rewatched it before I started writing this essay. I had no expectations from the film when I first laid my eyes on it. I genuinely thought to myself, laughing in my head “A film about cock fighting. This is going to be rich”. The film is a masterclass in how to build character and how to invite the viewer into a world they are unfamiliar with. The film does contain its fair share of narration and skimps on visual storytelling at the start but covering a few decades worth of backstory might have worked against it in the long run if it had taken the visual route. When the film does its visual storytelling, however, it drifts into a class of its own. The subtle nods to building tension between it characters and the clutch moments which define the turns the film is going to take are so immaculately directed and edited that the audience, even non film nerds, can’t help but feel the weight the scene that has just played out.
The film, however, consists of one the most riveting stories of envy, betrayal, redemption, friendship, honor and many other such universal themes ever put to film. The film takes one of the smallest and tight-knit settings one can find can converts it into an arena (Aadukalam) where humanity’s core is brought to the audience’s attention and the film never loses the audience throughout its running time. The tension the film builds is counteracted by the exceptionally well filmed moments where the tension releases, this creates a cacophony of internal emotions that the audience is subjected to and it is a joy to experience.
The film has a stellar cast aiding it. Dhanush and Kishore both give excellent performances as the two proteges of a rooster fighting veteran. Both men have extremely well-etched characters who have deep-seated human emotions driving them forward in their actions. The film cleverly plants seeds within the first 10 minutes to illustrate the nuanced approach it is willing to take in its attempt to flesh out its three primary characters. My personal favorite character of the film is Pettaikaran, who is brought to the screen with equal parts menace, gravitas and downright heinous villainy by V.I.S. Jayapalan. Every facet of his character intrigued me to no end. His complex thought process, his motivations which were filled with almost every emotion known to man, his look, his manner, his control over the proceedings of the film and lack thereof after the first act followed by his reactions to it are glorious to watch. The man and his character are burned into my retinas and will stay there for years to come. The other characters play roles which add plot elements to the film and keep the film engaging. The paths the main characters take through the course of the story are fascinating to watch as it acts as a reflection of and a question posed to the audience where one may ask themselves if those are the choices one would make.
My singular gripe in the character department would be Tapsee Pannu’s female love interest. She seems more put upon than a natural progression. Her character does propel the plot at crucial stages but I have a feeling that more could be done with her character than what was presented on screen.
A multitude of praise has to be heaped on the team behind the camera. The writing, direction, editing, cinematography, score, a few of the songs, the idio-synchronous choreography all add their own unique touch to a film which is almost flawlessly executed. The film’s only downside with its “behind the camera” work would be the not so realistic CGI rooster fights. Those few scenes stick out as sore thumbs in an otherwise masterful display of ability.
This is a film which has fascinated me since my first viewing. It has universal themes audiences can always connect to. It shows that one need only focus on creating a good film for it to be considered a good film. The film needn’t pander nor does it need excess in terms of sex appeal or hyper-violence (even though I am never one to complain about that). The lingering thoughts laced with the complexity that the film leaves the audience with once the final shot disappears from the screen is all it needs to cement itself as one the best Tamil films of the modern era. I desperately want to give this film a full score but the aforementioned gripes do factor into my scoring system and with a heavy heart, I will need to pull it score down that slight bit.
OVERALL SCORE – 4.75/5