CultureFilmKarnan: A cautionary tale of the politics by the...

Karnan: A cautionary tale of the politics by the privileged


It’s difficult to revisit too many scenes in Dhanush-starrer Karnan that are not associated with shots of animals, birds, or insects. Even in scenes that depict simple, mundane, everyday life, we find a shot of a fluttering moth, squeaking pigs, or creeping worms. These ‘reaction shots’ take a little while to get used to. Either in straight conflict or in complete harmony, these non-human ‘actors’ have a way of alluring us away or thrusting us deeper into Karnan. But as you go along, you realize that this story of the fallen rising is not just about the people.

The land of these people can be distinguished in many ways. For one, Podiyankulam only exists on the map of its dwellers. It is simply, a barren wasteland that deserves no pride, nor progress, for outsiders. There are no essential services available in schools, clinics or bus stops. It’s 1995, but the village appears to be stuck in another time. There’s no room for divine interference either because the people believe in a God that has no heads. As for their hero, the village proposes a sport that involves the chosen one slicing up a flying fish using a mythical sword.

This sword isn’t the weapon he would choose and our hero Karnan knows this better than we do. When you come from such a place, being a hero isn’t really a choice. The layers in Karnan will take several viewings to uncover. It’s an in-depth study of character as witness three different attitudes among the three generations living here. A certain weakness is a part of the thinking and the body language that prevails among Karnan’s seniors. When the local bus owner agrees to finally stop at Podiyankulam, these seniors thank him by lying down before him; a reaction Karnan opposes too strongly. But even Karnan appears a little mellow compared to the courage and bravery of the next generation.

If Karnan appears to walk, they want to run an extra mile (some of them smile as Karnan attacks). This is when we realize the actual nature of this power. Built on the shoulder of thousands before them, it has taken various sacrifices for the village to finally stand straight and fight back. And when they do, it’s children, women, and finally, the men who have to lead.

With Santosh Narayanan’s raging score (‘Kanda Vara Solunga’/the ‘hero introduction’ is song one for the ages), amazing performances all around, and the earthy, rusted tones of Theni Eswar, Karnan deliberately disturbs the viewer from their little sleep. It tells us that there’s no peace or affluence, no matter how far you travel, when your house is burning. Eventually, it’s also a discovery of anger and how it’s an emotion only the privileged are allowed to express.

Text by: Sreyoshi Sil, IBTN9

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