Written by  //  September 4, 2011  //  Media & Popular Culture  //  Comments Off on Aadukalam

(Guest blogger Sowmya Kumar is back with a review of Tamil film, “Aadukalam”)

Aadukalam means ‘playground’.

Here the playground is where two opposing roosters leap in the air to kill each other, or at least force each other to step out of boundaries defined or touch the beak to the ground in sheer exhaustion. Each bout or an ‘agreement’ (to fight) lasts for 15 minute, after which there’s a break where the roosters are fed water and tended to. The roosters’ performance in 3 such bouts determines the winner.inflatable bouncer

Under-performing roosters have their throats deftly slit, while considerable time, effort and money are spent on grooming the studs. Betting is big on rooster fights we are told, but what we’re also told is that earning money though rooster fights is only ancillary. What matters much more is the passion for rearing the bird, training it and essentially treating it as an inseparable part of the village ecosystem — to the extent that Karuppu (Dhanush in his National Award winning role) warns his mother that if she touched his bird, he would throttle her.

A voice-over gives us this background at the start of the movie, the characters given their initial positions and the dialect of the region established (though it takes a while getting used to it). Karuppu works for a veteran of rooster fights-Pettaikaran (Jayabalan) who is such an old hand that he can take one look at a rooster and pronounce it worthy or unworthy for a fight. Karuppu and Dorai are his trusted underlings. Karuppu is the more devoted of the two; Dorai is more worldly wise and also manages a bar, using funds from there to rear roosters. Pettaikaran is widely regarded as rearing the best roosters in the region, with no one being able to crack his special techniques.

He has a rival though, Rathnasamy (a cop, interestingly) who wants to defeat him at any cost. Initially, Pettaikaran does not agree to the ‘agreement’, given Rathnasamy’s questionable character, however, circumstances compel him to challenge Rathnasamy. The rooster fight is no longer a mere sport it becomes a symbol of honour.

In the tournament, Karuppu puts forth his rooster that Pettaikaran had earlier ordered to be killed. Against Pettaikaran’s stern disapproval, Karuppu uses his rooster and after several tense moments, much to everyone’s surprise, wins.

Oft repeated underdog–winning-against-all-odds leitmotif? Yeah, but here the victory of the underdog is but the catalyst of the tale, not the culmination. After winning the fight, Karuppu is now hailed as the new hero and Pettaikaran has to relinquish his position. This sets in motion such a turn of events that ultimately one feels that roosters will surely have a place in heaven while humans deserve to be fried in hell.

Like in Pudhupettai where Dhanush became ‘Kokki Kumar’, throwing himself into the fearful and high-on adrenaline life of an ordinary man turned gangster, in Aadukalam too, there’s no separating Karuppu from Dhanush. One would even forget that Dhanush is actually an urban ‘dowser’ (trouser) wearing young man. By no means a conventional hero (forget a caricature like his father-in-law), Dhanush makes full use of what were considered his biggest drawbacks-his slight frame and his general lack of ‘personality’ (in the way this word is used in Tamil Nadu).

Karuppu here is aspiring, daring, yet simple. No moral turbulence for him; all the greys of the human psyche have been detailed for Pettaikaran, torn as he is between satisfying his young wife, maintaining his superiority and protecting the old guard from the frivolity of the new. Karuppu on the other hand, probably treats his life as the eponymous playground, where teams, loyalities and battles are clearly defined and one must simply fight to the finish. He does not ever doubt whether the Anglo-Indian Irene (Taapsee Pannu) will reciprocate his love. When they ultimately hold hands, the next step according to him is that they must kiss.

Tell me something…

How can love across different strata of society be so taken for granted today? Especially when Aadukalam itself tells you that love can’t be eternal — that an old man and his young wife are easily separated.

This depiction of love is something I haven’t been able to fathom since the time I began watching Tamil movies; how on earth can an educated, well-to-do girl completely forsake her parents and lifestyle and marry a slum dweller, a mechanic or a milkman? Even if that mechanic or milkman has the heart of purest platinum and can flip a cigarette [Warning: Video contains overacting.] or wear his sunglasses like no other?

Please answer Vetrimaaran I’m still clueless on this one.

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