Starring Dhanush and covering an important societal issue of the powerful oppressing the residents of a marginalised (lower caste) village in the Tamil Nadu of the 1990s, Karnan (2021) was the anticipated movie of the year. I saw in social media that most of the viewers were impressed with the film by Mari Selvaraj, whose debut film Pariyerum Perumal (2018) was outstanding. The pain portrayed by the Karnan is real but for a film by Mari Selvaraj I expected more, and it was underwhelming. The film is available on Amazon Prime Video and gets a mangoidiots rating of ‘Raw’.
Dhanush had impressed us with the elderly role in Asuran (2019), in this he dazzles by his twenty’s look and fitness – boy, the man was unbelievable. Lal as the friend and mentor of Dhanush has given his career best in the film. Most of the other roles had been cast with right actors, kudos to the director for the selection.
Tamil Nadu (and many parts of South India) has the tradition of portraying as village deities those who had died untimely or killed – I had listened sometime back to a lecture on this topic by Mr Trichy Parthi (நாட்டார் தெய்வங்கள்). Director has used this tradition to show the young sister of Karnan (Dhanush) who had died a few years ago on a highway without anyone coming forward to offer first-aid as a local god; showing the girl with a mask over her face to symbolise this was a good technique. Unfortunately, the director shows this often making it repetitive. There were two other symbolisms used repeatedly by the Director – the first was a famished donkey with its forelegs tied together to indicate the villagers being submissive to their oppressors; the second was to show the opposite, a horse waiting to fly across the dry lands when the hero and the villagers shed their fears and turn around to face their enemies.
While Pariyerum Perumal in every frame made you cringe and feel ashamed to be a human, Asuran made you angry and go after the bad elements in society, Karnan keeps you in between – and that for me is a reason for feeling disappointed. The other was the screenplay looks familiar and offering little that we haven’t read in books or seen in earlier films. Don’t misunderstand me, the act of denying a local bus ride (which itself is a symbol to larger oppressions) to a community is a crime against humanity, it is the film that left me unimpressed. It was also unnecessarily long, at a running time of 159 minutes, it is twenty minutes more than Asuran (2019) which as a story had a lot more to say.
Overall, you should watch this movie to understand how badly our society had behaved in the immediate past and knowing this will hopefully prevent these from happening in the future.