There are different types of films that stand the test of time. It could either tell us about the era it released — the themes that get made into films, the cinematic language of that period. Take Balachander’s body of work, for example. The veteran filmmaker’s films socio-economic themes reinforce how different ‘mainstream’ was back in the 1970s and 80s. Or they were made ‘ahead of their time’ when the sensibilities of the dominant audience were different. These films find acclaim much after its theatrical run. A film is also remembered for the nostalgic value it holds or by its time-encompassing relevance. And Subramaniyapuram, which released ten years ago on this day, is a rare film that scores high on all counts.
Subramaniyapuram could be released today and it would still get the rousing reception it did ten years ago. The film’s enriching honesty and attention to detail are incredible. It sells the universe of the 80s so convincingly that you are either reminded of the era or you learn how the period looked. The clothes, the appliances, the film posters and its Ilaiyaraaja — everything unfailingly belongs to the 80s. A Tamil family from Madurai sit and enjoy a Hindi song on television — it is interesting because it is true. Television was relatively a newer luxury and Doordarshan’s programme roster didn’t cater heavily to our language diversities back then. Subramaniyapuram breathes through its uneven streets and winding lanes.
There is no aspirational value to Subramaniyapuram’s flawed, jagged and ultimately real people. We don’t get heroes, we get leads. We don’t get villains but human beings at their manipulative bests. The dialogues are revealing. After arranging bail for Azhagar (Jai) and Parman (Sasikumar), Samuthirakani inquires if Azhagar’s mother has the money to pay for it. “Padhavi illa na ivanga kuda madhika matanga” says Samuthirakani at one point in the film, indicative of Azhagar and Paraman’s importance in his scheme of things. The two betrayals that define Subramaniyapuram also tells a lot about the characters involved. When she meets Azhagar, who doesn’t know that she has brought his enemies as well, she cries through the entire meeting. It’s a lament of frustration. Azhagar, on the other hand, takes the betrayal in silence. The second betrayal sees Ganja Karuppu walk away without the slightest hint of confusion as his friend Paraman gets murdered. His choice had been made and had no qualms about it. The writing in Subramaniyapuram apes normal life and that makes it incredibly effective.
Subramaniyapuram doesn’t claim to be politically correct. The film constantly places its women on a lower rung, as objects of possession and utility. But the patriarchy doesn’t surprise you as the film imbibes it from our society. The society had successfully convinced even our women to think that they were somehow ‘weaker’. Subramaniyapuram is honest. And, the creative charm of honesty is tough to resist.