'Soorarai Pottru' Review: A Biopic, Meant To Highlight A 'Deccan' Success, But Ends Up A 'Dravidianist' Apology
What Captain Gopinath did was a revolution. In fact, what he did was unenviably tougher than what most others could possibly even think of.
But 'Soorarai Pottru', far from doing justice to his story, is just another misrepresentation of Brahminical capability, and is unfit to transcend the borders of a romance-obsessed and caste-biased Kollywood.
Captain Gopinath, who pioneered the low-cost, no-frills aviation model in India by launching Air Deccan. He made flying affordable to millions of Indians.
In short span of time, Air Deccan achieved considerable success and within four years of its launch, it controlled 22% of the market, connecting over 69 cities in India with its fleet of 43 aircraft.
Air Deccan is no longer in the skies after its new owner Vijay Mallya shut down a bleeding aviation enterprise and eventually his whole business, which went bankrupt. But the innovative ideas that Gopinath, a farmer turned entrepreneur, ushered in disrupted the Indian aviation industry like never before. It inspired several other aviation ventures, most notably IndiGo and SpiceJet, to take the “low-cost” route to Indian skies
In fact, only those entrepreneurs who are ready to scale up things in a bold way, with out-of-the-box thinking, are the ones who really take a nation and its industries to the next level.
The present Jio-Revolution is one such, and even if tomorrow, Jio by a remote chance runs into trouble, Jio can surely be proud of the fact that it has taken 4G to the masses in a way profitable to the company and affordable to the masses.
What Captain Gopinath did was exactly such a revolution. In fact, in reality, what he did was unenviably tougher, and if we understand that, then we can understand his achievements in better light.
Gopinath had an irrepressible entrepreneurial streak. He forayed in to agriculture, helicopter service. He even plunged in to electoral politics contesting elections twice.
Such a storied life is definitely worth a movie. The unfortunate reality is that the Tamil film industry is not yet mature enough to handle a biopic, resulting in quite a lot of pitfalls despite a good director.
First, the positive aspects of the movie. It can be seen with the family. It does not have any trace of vulgarity.
The director has hunted for talent in all languages and picked the best of each state.
The cast is painstakingly superb — Paresh Rawal, Achyuth Kumar, Prakash Belawadi, Vivek Prasanna, Kaali Venkat and Poo Ramu. Each of these cast members almost carry the weight of the movie through their performances.
There are a few exceptions like Urvasi and Mohan Babu. Even when Mohan Babu used to think of himself as a super-hero, he could not act well.
Howsoever Suriya, the hero, tries to act, it simply is beyond him in the opinion of this reviewer.
Aparna Balamurali as Sundari outshines all the cast. The movie can be seen once more just for her.
Such an outshining performance! Whether it is acting, background music, camera, music, or songs — in every aspect of the movie, the crew has given their heart and the dedication shows.
With flowers and thorns in the background, the romance scenes — quite a few of them — show the professional dedication of the crew.
The formalities now over, let us get into the problematic aspects.
In real life, Captain Gopinath is a Brahmin by birth. But in this biopic-like adaptation, he comes from a depressed community. Why this change? Why should a biopic change such an empirical aspect of one’s life?
Taking a biopic and putting a card at the commencement of the movie that the film scenes are 'imaginary' may be a clever trick. But is that ethical?
Even as the hero becomes a member of the depressed classes, the villain becomes a Brahmin. It is quite amusing the way the imaginary components of the biopic move.
In the beginning of the movie itself, they show a Brahmin character as a caste chauvinist who hates moving with the ‘others’ in a train.
And this character is shown as living not in the 1950s, but in the 2000s. The scene is made with the sole purpose of making the following response dialogue from the non-Brahmins: ‘Our Maran (hero) will make us fly.’
But in real life, that the person who made the 'cheap' flight possible, himself, was a Brahmin does not mean anything for the filmmakers.
What is the problem in making the hero as well as the villains Brahmins here? This, then, is the inner coda of the Tamil film industry today.
The hero gets married. What kind of marriage? The so-called self-respect marriage of the Dravidian movement.
In real life, Captain Gopinath married in a ritualistic Iyengar ceremony! In fact, Capt. Gopinath himself had written about his marriage in his autobiography. But in the movie, the bridegroom sports a signature black shirt of the Dravidian movement.
So, what is the caste of the bride? Does she belong to the same caste as the hero or some other caste?
When all the villagers contribute for the industry started by the hero, to what caste did those villagers belong?
The director, who leaves all these aspects to imagination, is very careful not to depict Brahmins in positive light anywhere.
At the same time, they show Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. One does not know what evidence they have for Gopinath lamenting to Kalam in the way the movie depicts, but it does not look like Capt. Gopinath had said anything like that in his autobiography.
Of course, Dr. Kalam had written the introduction for his autobiography.
The subtle as well as major distortions in the movie are not random. They follow a pattern.
In real life, when Capt. Gopinath faced problems after getting into the aviation industry, most of the people who helped him were politicians cutting across party lines — S.M.Krishna, Chandra Babu Naidu, Venkaiah Naidu, Rajiv Pratap Rudi et cetera.
When his flights faced problems with respect to security, the Central government itself stood along with Air Deccan.
However, this movie does not care to present all these facts. Instead, the movie shows as if the entire political ecosystem moves with a vengeance to 'annihilate' the budding entrepreneur, Maran, in favour of the Brahmin Goswami.
Had the hero been shown as a Brahmin, this cheap plot could not have provided such a dramatic confrontation, reinforcing anti-Brahmin stereotypes.
What Captain Gopinath faced was corporate business competition, but the movie shows caste bias and caste-based vengeful competition instead.
A dream of Capt. Gopinath was an Udupi hotel in the sky — A remark he made in an interview which became a popular slogan when magazines highlighted it.
The movie, however, retains this. Thank goodness they have not changed it into a traditional non-vegetarian hotel name, say a 'Muniyandi Vilas!.
But the filmmakers also know what to change and what not to change.
Behind every dream there generally is a personal tragedy, and this motivation is a basic film cliché.
This movie also follows that template. For the real-life Gopinath, his father was almost a God. He dedicates his autobiography to him. But in the case of reel-life Maran, his father was a 'confused' personality who could not 'understand' his son.
Suriya could not see his father because the flight cost was forbidding. Now, that is dryness of imagination.
The filmmakers could have come up with something better. And the scenes that follow are quite testing.
The scene is so irrelevant to the plot, given the depiction of Maran as one whose life dream is becoming an aviation entrepreneur.
Real-life Capt. Gopinath also stood in the election. Initially, he contested on a BJP ticket and later in 2019 on an AAP one.
In both elections, he was defeated. He had even accompanied Atal Behari Vajpayee for electioneering. However, this dimension of Gopinath was deemed irrelevant by the movie makers.
To them, it was the romance and marriage of reel-life Maran, which became more important.
Even when the first aviation attempt fails, the focus shifts to his wife's delivery.
Our filmmakers still have not known where to draw the line between personal life and public achievements in a biopic.
The film moves slowly. A point comes when we yawn, waiting for the 'successful' flight.
The same repetitive reasons, same scenarios, same treasons, same revenges — the same template dialogues of the hero — these are the reasons for this setting of boredom.
In this movie, we are unable to see an aviation entrepreneur, but an action-hero, that is Suriya.
When a biopic is taken, it is no doubt important that alterations are made for cinematic purposes.
But one should not murder the very basic personality of the movie.
That is exactly what has been done in ‘Soorarai Potru’ (Hail the Bravehearts).
From the title to the end, the movie could have been made loyal in spirit to the autobiography of the real-life hero whom they intended to praise — but because of their own ideological dishonesty, they have ruined it.
[Tamil Review written by film critic and Tamil writer Haran Prasanna, translated by Aravindan Neelakandan]
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