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Dhanush’s Karnan Is Much More Than A Movie



Dhanush’s Karnan Is Much More Than A Movie 4

Karnan(Tamil,Amazon Prime)

Starring  Dhanush, Lal, Yogi Babu, Azhagam Perumal, Natarajan Subramaniam, Rajisha Vijayan, Gouri G. Kishan and Lakshmi Priya Chandramouli.

Directed by Mari Selvaraj


This is  not  just a  film. It is a movement.  A wakeup call for  all Indians who think all men are born  equal(what about the women? That, some other time). Get real.The caste system  still exists in various forms . Inequality  is  in our  DNA. Anubhav Sinha  tore through the caste system in  his masterpiece  Article 15 …or perhaps “tore” is  not exactly what  he did. The tone was far more  gentle, the approach sweetly savage.

In Karnan  the  director Mari Selvaraj’s anger  is stamped(like  a heavy  boot on  a cowering face)    on every frame. It  is safe to assume that  Dhanush plays  the  director’s alter ego. A  seething living exploding fireball of  indignation . Dhanush , in one of his  best performances  , plays  Karnan the only loud unstoppable  voice of protest  in  a tiny village  in Tamil Nadu which  probably  doesn’t  exist  on  the map.

 It’s  a village of lower caste people  forever oppressed  humiliated and  ostracized  from the mainstream.  One  of the villagers’ primary  anguish  has to do with no bus stopping at their  village.The authorities   just don’t think they are of any consequence.While the other villagers accept their fate as nobodies why  does one  young man feel so strongly about it? Why does Karnan seethe with anger  every time  a bus  refuses to  stop in his  village ? Or  a child dies on  the road  for the lack of medical attention(this is before the Covid when every  human life evidently  had the  right to healthcare)? Or when, in that moment of supreme eruption,elders of the  godforsaken  village  are  bundled  and  taken to the  thana and  thrashed  all night?

Is this socially acceptable  behaviour? Shockingly  it is. For the downtrodden underdogs,  living  at  ground level,  humiliation  subjugation and manipulation are  everyday occurrence.

   All men are born unequal, some like the villagers in Kodiyankulam  are  more unequal.   This jolting brutally violent film serves  as a  timely warning to all  of us locked away in our individual citadels. India is simmering with discontent. We are  sitting on a  hotbed of exploitation which can erupt  anytime.That small nondescript  village in Karnan becomes a microcosm  of  the Great Indian Reality. Ignore at your own risk.

 I have seen innumerable seething simmering films about social injustice. None   so tense and  implosive.  I’ve seen  any number  of  angry heroes. None as  angry as Karnan. As played by Dhanush he is the voice of a voiceless village. The hand that won’t  hold itself back. The  face  of  the  social protester who  is no posterboy. He  will act. He  will kill. He  won’t be stopped. Dhanush  is  so volatile  I  have never felt more compromised,  more  a part of  socio-economical system that allows  a handful to have all the wealth and  power.

To be  honest I have never seen film like Karnan. It  rambles and roars, dances and  writhes  as  it explores the  dynamics of exploitation with a straightforwardness that eschews any  kind of  cinematic deceit. And yet  strangely enough it is filled with  allegorical  allusions and metaphors including a  masked girl  child indicative  of  the faceless victim, and  a  donkey with its two front  legs tied which Karnan frees before the  climactic violence(get it?)

At  its heart , Karnan is  a  distinctly  violent  film. The  carnage  at  the  climax will make your stomach churn , as it is meant  to. You  cannot turn  away from  the savagery .Avoidance  is  not an  option. Karnan puts  you  right  in  the  vortex of  the  violent underbelly that  the  higher classes have willy-nilly  nurtured. It will make your  blood boil.

  This is  a  no-frills drama authentic  almost-documentary  like  drama  filmed  on an epic canvas with  mobs running towards us with sticks  rods boulders and their  wrath.It scoffs at  melodrama  and  music(the songs are  sharply  critical  folk tunes , or shall we  call them fork tunes?).

It is  a drama of heightened realism where the hero rides  into the  carnage  of his  village on  a horse.  It is a frightening fascinating unforgettable film that  you  would give anything  to forget. But it won’t go  away. It tells us   that the  underprivileged won’t be ignored any more.  And why.

   The  performances are  beyond brilliant, as is  the camerawork(Theni Eswar),  music(Santhosh  Narayanan) ….and  the razor-sharp  editing(Selva RK) which  creates an illusion  of a lazy narrative only to bludgeon us with a scathing eruption  of  violence which we  may or may  not see coming. How  does  it matter?

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