Tamil Reviews

Gangs Of Madras Review: A Lot Of Show And Tell That Mars An Otherwise Interesting Film

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Director: C.V Kumar

Cast: Priyanka Ruth, Daniel Balaji, Velu Prabhakaran, Aadukalam Naren, Bhagavathy Perumal

Kill Bill, both Volume 1 and 2, is the story of a woman who seeks revenge for her dead husband and presumed dead, unborn child. Gangs of Madras is a story of a woman who seeks to avenge her dead husband and child, although the husband clearly matters more.

This is not a superb feat of deduction or an insight gleaned from hours of film viewing and analysis. Director CV Kumar more or less says that his Gangs of Madras is inspired by Kill Bill – the name comes up as end credits roll in a list of films the director likes.

The similarities stop there. And the differences are many. For one, Gangs Of Madras needs a bit more “production” – some bits feel downright unslick. There was a serious lip-sync issue and it looked like many of the actors were merely opening and closing their mouths in time to some faraway drum beat while the actual audio followed a second later. This could, of course, be an issue with the projection at the cinema screen. And there was serious noise in some scenes, noise that didn’t have the quality of film grain, and thus stood out. This could either be bad compression, or inferior lighting, or an artefact of DI and colouring and something digital cinema will need to figure out. But, in this instance, it looked amateur.

And then there were other issues that Gangs Of Madras had, in the way the story was told, and in the writing. Of course, this is not to hold Kill Bill as some classic of cinema and an aspiration art benchmark. It is not. This is merely to say, Gangs of Madras needed a little bit more – shall we say – oomph.

***

Gangs Of Madras is written and directed by CV Kumar, who has also produced the film under his Thirukumaran Arts banner. It stars Priyanka Ruth, Daniel Balaji, Adukalam Naren, Velu Prabhakaran, Bhagavathy Perumal and others. It has music by Hari Dafusia, and was shot by Karthik and edited by Dhanapal.

***

Little Jaya wants to pay back and pay back good. So she hits a young boy who, two months earlier, had pushed her down in school. And this Jaya grows up and becomes a spirited young woman (Priyanka Ruth) who does not hesitate to hit back at the police who are trying to rough up and disperse a group of college students protesting against alcohol.

And so we know Jaya is not going to back down from a fight, and will question power and authority when they are wrong. This Jaya then falls in love with her college senior Ibrahim (Ashok Kumar), becomes Razia Sultana against her family’s protests and marries and moves in with him. Ibrahim works for Mohammed Rowther (Velu Prabhakaran), who is introduced to us while setting alight a man who attempted to murder him. Rowther is a gangster and drug lord with two sons, Karim and Hussain. Karim (Lawrence) is the sharp strategist, Rowther’s right hand man. Hussain is the younger brother who has a weakness for women, which we know because while a rival gang member is attempting to kill his father, and even as his brother is exacting revenge for it, Hussain is shown to be in bed with a woman.

Mild digression – why pixelate/blur a woman’s cleavage? And only her cleavage? What does this achieve? In an universe where parents bring 2, 3, and 5 year old kids to Super Deluxe and 13-18 year old boys watch Natpe Thunai in which their hero stalks and makes fun of women, what does pixellating a sex-worker’s cleavage do?

Return from digression, and we learn that this attempt to kill Rowther is by a rival called Boxy (Daniel Balaji) from Bombay, although we don’t see him yet. Rowther, while a powerful and ruthless gangster, is also subordinate to Ashok Seth, or Lala, who is the big drug lord in Chennai, and who has powerful ministers in his control.

So far, pretty well good. And then things unravel.

Because Hussain likes women in general and Razia in particular, and because Rowther is in bed – metaphorically – with the police and occasionally allows them to “encounter” one of his gang to allow the police to sustain the delusion that they are defenders of justice and keepers of law and order, and because Karim has brutally murdered a drug dealer working for him for daring to kiss a woman above his paygrade and the police now want to bring that man to justice, and because Hussain – a powerful man and son of a powerful gangster – cuts himself to show how much he wants Razia, Rowther gets Ibrahim killed in a fake encounter. Meanwhile, Razia is pregnant. And so when Ibrahim dies and she is thrown out of the hospital by the orderlies and the police, she has a miscarriage and is now all focussed on revenge.

Except we don’t know the background machinations of Rowther and his involvement in Ibrahim’s death yet. An aide of Rowther, Abdul, tells Razia the full story using the time-tested cinema techniques of flashback and montage scenes that are colour-treated to look different.

When we come out of the flashback, Razia lands up in Bombay where Boxy lives. After convincing Boxy of her intent to kill Rowther and his two sons – something Razia does by employing the very same flashback montage we saw less than half an hour ago, they embark on a training montage that could easily have fit into any of the many sports films currently being produced. Razia in tracksuits in a suitably grungy gym punching away at bags, Razia in tracksuits running through the city of Bombay, the only severe lack is the “Eye Of The Tiger” track, Razia shooting at targets, Razia climbing stairs, Razia being coached by Boxy.

And at the end of the sports-training montage, Razia returns to Madras, and waits for an opportunity to seek her revenge.

Which soon arrives. She first kills the two policemen who killed Ibrahim, and then Karim in an elaborate “sketch” set in the many lanes of Sowcarpet and north Madras.

This is the chance Boxy has been waiting for, and he promises Lala that he will move the drugs that Karim was supposed to. Then treachery, violence, double crossing and elaborate scenes of brutal killing later, Razia gets to kill the men who ordered the death of her husband and child, and the film draws to a close.

Not before one more passing mention and flashback of why Razia began this all.

***

Why are there so many flashbacks, all showing the same scenes? This is particularly jarring because the entire film is a “narration” of past events by Jaya/Razia.

Why was there a jerk – a jump clearly the result of a bad cut – in a close up shot of Razia as she explains her philosophy and reason for revenge? What is Bhagavathy Perumal doing in this film – two fleeting appearances but can this man act! – simply to sound a moral high note and offer an escape route for us the audience, who are getting sucked into the blood and gore on screen? Was that set up – admittedly short and tight – for Razia’s conflict and “cop out” resolution – really necessary? And why did all the pre-release PR say this was a film about a woman gangster when she clearly isn’t, and even advises her henchmen to chuck drugs and gangster-ism to live a peaceful life.

These are questions I have. Perhaps a Gangs Of Madras Vol 2 may answer them.

*****

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