Sivappu starts off with an animation about the history of Tamil culture in Sri Lanka, which dates back to over 2000 years ago. A voiceover talks us through historical records of the Chola and Pandya dynasties ruling Sri Lanka, before the Portuguese and English arrived. Proof that Tamils actually have a historical claim on Sri Lanka as their country. We are then told that Sri Lanka attained freedom in 1948, but it was freedom only for the Sinhalese. Not the Tamils. Sivappu (Red) symbolises the red blood spilled by millions in the civil war on the island nation. The film certainly opens strongly. But then, the screenplay strays.
Konaar (Raj Kiran) is in charge of a construction site. A man with a heart of gold, he takes in Sri Lankans who escape from the refugee camp, and gives them temporary work at the site. Pandiyan (Naveen Chandra) is a brash young construction worker who falls in love with one of the refugees, Parvathi (Rupa Manjari). Sivappu is about how this love, and the politics of the country, transforms their lives.
This was supposed to be director Sathya Shiva’s second release after the impressive Kazhugu. But Sivappu lay in the cans for a while, and the fateful Savaale Samaali was released last month. The fact that Sivappu is meant to be gritty can be inferred from the film’s trailer. We would have loved it if it had stayed gritty. But, no. The director resorts to uninspired comedy in the form of Thambi Ramaiah, who has scenes that don’t gel with the screenplay and don’t evoke any laughter.
There are strong dialogues and scenes on the plight of the refugees, but the presence of some poorly written characters takes everything away from the desired impact.
For instance, as the interval draws near, there’s a build-up of curiosity and anticipation about the lead couple’s future. Then the second half opens. A drunk Thambi Ramaiah deflates the moment with supposed comedy. Comic relief in a serious film is meant to distribute and organise the tension in the narrative. And Sivappu was clearly meant to be a serious film. Yet, the comedy here simply mars the film’s mood, because it doesn’t sync with the rest of the story at all.
Sivappu‘s biggest strength is its cast. Raj Kiran’s role is tailormade for him. His screen presence and voice complement his strong dialogues. Naveen Chandra is a talent to look forward to. Masterfully expressive, he really wears the skin of the rugged construction worker. If reports are to be believed, he lived at a construction site under a false identity for two weeks, before the shoot began. Rupa Manjari delivers a neat performance as the innocent refugee. Unfortunately, her lip sync doesn’t sync. Result: despite strong dialogues, her lines sound fake. Worse, the Sri Lankan Tamil comes across as a tad too artificial. Perhaps the fault of the dubbing artist. I couldn’t help but remember Nandita Das’ lines from Kannathil Mutthamittal, which had made me an admirer of Sri Lankan Tamil.
Three-time national award winner Madhu Ambat’s cinematography realistically shows the life of construction workers. The atmosphere of claustrophobia is beautifully captured. The director probably asked the DI colourist to grey the entire footage, since this is a ‘gritty’ film. Result: some scenes make us wonder if we’re watching a black and white film.
Sivappu could have been a great film on a complex subject. It would certainly have added to an already existing outstanding list of films on the Sri Lankan issue, including the likes of Kannathil Muthamittal and Inam. But the film lacked good direction, and a few strong dialogues towards the end couldn’t make up for wayward screenplay, irrelevant scenes, and redundant characters.
The Sivappu Review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have an advertising relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.