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Mamannan, the third directorial venture of Mari Selvaraj, has already created a buzz. Produced by Red Giant Movies and featuring a star casting that includes Udayanidhi Stalin, Mamannan’s shooting got over in Jarugumalai in Salem recently. Reports that actor Vadivelu’s birthday was celebrated on location and that Udayanidhi Stalin had helped tribals in Jarugu hills have only contributed to audience interest.
The expectations from the movie are not without basis. Mari Selvaraj is now an established director, having delivered two critical and commercial successes with Pariyerum Perumal and Karnan – one based on a more Ambedkarite approach to discrimination faced by Dalits and other a leftwing, materialistic take on a social situation.
That Udayanidhi Stalin was going to be backing a maker of “Dalit” movies set off a buzz in the industry. The title of the movie that translates as Great King was also a puzzling one.
Mari Selvaraj’s critical and commercial success was built around his social ideas. His films were a vehicle for his ideas. His poignant portrayals were met positively by film audiences. .
Pariyerum Perumal talked about how caste can curb, even squelch, the aspirations of an aspiring, educated youth. The portrayal was searing in the outright brutality it brought to the screen. The movie ended with the hero talking back and appealing to his antagonist’s conscience.
The expectations from the movie are not without basis. Mari Selvaraj is now an established director, having delivered two critical and commercial successes with Pariyerum Perumal and Karnan
Pariyerum Perumal was the director asking for an honest dialogue with general society. Caste discrimination could not be ended by those suffering it, according to the movie. Perpetrators too had to realize what they are doing.
If Pariyerum had a protagonist who wanted to put his view out strongly but not forcefully, Karnan was a loud and violent rebellion against oppression.
Karnan could not be a silent spectator. He exploded like a volcano against oppression. In his rising up, he almost became a folk deity – perhaps Mari Selvaraj was saying folk deities of lower caste groups were actually heroes who fought oppression. He had no use for a dialogue with a representative of general society. He took up arms instead.
Karnan’s rebellion was in the face. His rage was raw, not dignified. He was not someone who could bear humiliation. Pariyerum was more acceptable to mainstream audiences but critics asked if Mari Selvaraj was advocating futile pacifism. Karnan seemed to be a response to that criticism.
Karnan’s story and setting didn’t seem contemporary. But the movie did not date the story. It was meant to be a story that could happen now. It did, however, seem to take off from specific incidents in the past.
While caste and social justice may provide context, the success of a film depends on the story and how it is told compellingly
While Pariyerum was understated, Karnan was overstated. It remains to be seen if Mamannan will follow the middle path. In Nenjukku Needhi, Udayanidhi Stalin sought the mantle of a warrior for social justice. The coming together of Udayanidhi and Mari Selvaraj has made filmgoers curious about the politics of Mamannan.
While caste and social justice may provide context, the success of a film depends on the story and how it is told compellingly. In Karnan, the sheer anger carried the film even as in Pariyerum it was the understated dignity. In bringing to the screen a human story a film’s success lies. However laudable the intent is, the treatment is far more important. Mari Selvaraj has demonstrated that he has completely grasped this.
The cast of Mamannan is quite different. Instead of Yogi Babu, we have now Vadivelu.
Though Udayanidhi has been acting for some 10 years, only in Nenjukku Needhi has he taken up a social theme. That way Mamannan could potentially reinforce a social image that may work for his political career. Pariyerum and Karnan protagonists had a strong caste identity and were part of the Dalit film genre that has become so established in Tamil Nadu. Will Udayanidhi’s character take on any caste identity? Will he take that risk?
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