Subramanyapuram:The Arrival of Extreme Cinema in Tamil
With the advent of Paruthiveeran (2007) and Subramanyapuram (2008), there have been renewed hopes of optimism among members of the discerning lovers of Tamil cinema that all has not been lost and departures from the mainstream narrative practices are not only a possibility, but can also be sure winners at the box office. Both Paruthiveeran (Dir.Ameer) and Subramanyapuram (Dir.Sasikumar) have also been labelled as exemplars of violent narratives.
Among the more than 100 Tamil feature films produced in 2008, Subramanyapuram, made with a shoe-string budget, grossed the highest returns and proved that a non-formula Tamil film can give run-of the-mill formula and mega-budget films a good drubbing at the box office.
Sasikumar, who directed Subramanyapuram and did one of the main characters in the film, was unknown before Subramanyapuram. The film is set in the environs of casteist and feudal locations of Southern Tamil Nadu of 1980. The film eschews the narrative conventions of mainstream Tamil cinema to a great extent. Even though it failed to mark a complete break with the mainstream Tamil cinema’s conventions and elements, the missing elements in Subramanyapuram are striking in their absence and they are the cause of the renewed optimism among Tamil film fans who are yearning to see good realistic fare in Tamil. In Subramanyapuram, The star is missing along with his unrealistic narrative accompaniment, the comedian. The high altitude aerobic fights also are absent. So also the songs and dances that are extra diegetic. The songs that exist in the film are not made to lack their narrative functions. In the place of the missing elements, what looms large in Subramanyapuram is a seemingly realistic representation of the feudal and casteist violence that befalls a group of youngsters during 1980s. It is not the violence of the filmic kind, but looks real. As it mimics strongly the violence that gets reported in gory details even today in the pages of Tamil newspapers in southern Tamil Nadu.
One scene shows a man being hacked inside a moving autorickshaw and the bone chilling sounds of the sawing of the head hit many in the audience, who were not used to such examples of extreme cinema, really hard. It looks real because it is extreme. Casteist violence in southern Tamil Nadu is nothing short of extreme violence known to man kind. A victim of caste violence is hacked, dismembered and bombed, all in one go in many of the cases reported in newspapers. Elsewhere, the victim does not suffer so much brutality once he breathes his last. Many of my friends took strong objection to the violence as well as the tone of the patriarchal male voice that denigrates and supplants the female characters in the film. But anyone who is familiar with the extreme and unbelievable casteist violence that has become a part of the social fabric in southern Tamil Nadu knows that Subramanyapuram and Parthiveeran are only attempting to deal with the social reality of southern Tamil Nadu.