A superlative performance by Dhanush is the crown jewel in this mesmerising Vetri Maaran film set in a bygone era, but one which rarely looks out of place in the modern context
Asuran is the fastest Vetri Maaran has ever worked on a film.
And that helps with its defining aspect — Asuran is Vetri Maaran’s simplest film yet. But the subliminal messaging also makes it the most complicated socio-political film he has shot till date.
For instance, the conflict is between the folks of Vadakkur (Northerners) and Thekkur (Southerners). There is conflict over land (a sharp dialogue suggests how even the very little owned by the have-nots are coveted by the rich and greedy) and there is conflict over caste (a second half sequence involving footwear). Right at the end comes the dialogue about how the powerful may snatch away lands and money, but not education. Perhaps, this is what Kaala could have been had it featured Dhanush and not Rajinikanth.
But Asuran’s universe is based on a Tamil novel Vekkai (written by Poomani), which Vetri Maaran and Manimaran have adapted into a feature-length screenplay. He invites us into this rustic world inhabited by Sivasamy (Dhanush, in a stellar performance) right at the start of the film. The plot is simple: several incidents unfold in the lives of Sivasamy and his family after a dispute with an upper-caste family who are landowners, and hold all the money, influencing the social hierarchy. Sivasamy is thus forced to fight to save his family.
The base emotion that threads together this plot is revenge — a recurring element in Vetri Maaran’s films. But here, his protagonist doesn’t give into this primal emotion, at least not at the beginning. He is even chided by his family members for being weak. All that changes in a beautifully-filmed sequence right before the interval, where Sivasamy reveals a side unknown to his younger son (Ken, in a strong role). Still, when presented with an opportunity to slay the henchman who murdered his eldest son, Sivasamy shies away. His unease is explained in a flashback sequence that makes up much of the second half, and which leads the viewers towards what is a predictable climax.
Watching Asuran, I could not help but think if Vetri Maaran felt restricted by the book at some point of time, considering how unreal Sivasaamy’s universe reacts to the happenings. The film is set in the late 1950s and early 1960s for the second half flashback sequence, and the portions involving the older Sivasamy is set in the 1980s. But the passage of time only seem to reflect on the actors’ physical being — nothing that happens in the plot seem out of place even today. It also made me wonder what would it take for Vetri Maaran to film a feature that explicitly discusses caste and social hierarchy.
I could also not help but think just how wonderful an actor we have amongst us in Dhanush. He puts on a subdued performance as Sivasamy, and that therein is proof of the actor’s brilliance. It is amazing to think just how far out ahead he is of his contemporaries. Manju Warrier could not have asked for a better film to debut in Tamil; her Pachiammal only lends credence to her abilities as an actor par excellence.
Teejay Arunasalam (as Velmurugan) and Ken (as Chidambaram) are just the perfect fits for the role, and it is remarkable how Vetri Maaran gets his casting right every single time. One thing he did not get right was the dubbing. Save a few portions, the slang had to be reworked quite a few times by the actors, and it shows.
P.S. — Watch out for that pre-interval scene!