Thevar Magan (1992) (aka The Chieftain’s Son)

“Go on, go educate your kids”


Thevar MaganThe slew of movies in Tamil cinema based on villages stopped with the late eighties as cities became the prime audience of the filmmakers. Though infinitely many stories still lie in the villages waiting to be told, not many movies from the nineties and the new century have tapped it. One film that has indeed done it, Kamal Haasan’s Thevar Magan (1992), stands out as a vital milestone in the history of Tamil Cinema.

Coming as a revamped adaptation of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Thevar magan chronicles the life of Sakthi (Kamal), the son of the village head Periya Thevar (Shivaji Ganeshan) who has just returned from his life in the city for a few days. He experiences a totally different and even savage life in the rural area and is disgusted by it. Just when he decides that he has had enough of it, things take an awry turn and Sakthi is forced to relinquish his career to take up the helm of the village administration. Past rivalries are dug up, cries of scores to be settled once and for all echo and hatred and violence reign. Sakthi decides that the village needs to be saved and the villager’s pride for caste and race needs to be eradicated.

More than anything, the film is a powerhouse of high wattage performances with the central conversation between the two veterans remaining one of the best scenes of recent times. One can easily condemn the film as glorifying violence but on second thoughts, it is indeed the violence of the film that supports its cause. At the end of the film, one does realize that nobody has won and violence does not pay.

While watching Polladhavan, I realized that almost every other Tamil movie that releases today is based on underworld and organised crime. Gangwars, Hooligans in love, Rise to power of a henchman, common man pulled into violence and what not. We may even see a Dada learning bharatnatyam or a Gunda turning into a priest very soon. I then traced back to the movie that perhaps started it all, Mani Rathnam’s Nayakan. Released way back in 1986, the movie has inspired a whole new generation of filmmakers in the state.

Heavily inspired by the Coppola classic The Godfather (1972), no doubt, Nayakan still has the power to sweep you off the ground. This may not be Kamal Haasan‘s best performance or Mani Rathnam’s best venture, but Nayakan has provided something Tamil cinema has longed for – a milestone. Organized crime has never been shown before with such authority and vitality in Tamil cinema. A commoner who has the guts to stand up against the tyranny of the police, a boy-next-door growing to become the biggest don, a godfather you can rely upon for help – what more could the audience ask for? Velu standing against the water spray, Nayakar defending Selva after his daughter witnesses murder, the scene at the hospital where a child is to be treated, the death of Surya, the now-classic climax – these images will linger in minds of everyone who wants good Tamil movies.

No other “don movie” has even thrilled audience like Nayakan (excepting Basha, credits fully to Superstar), leave alone making an impact. This shows how stale the state of the Tamil cinema industry is. Why do the filmmakers go in search of another Nayakan? Why don’t they try reforming the present state? The answer, some may say, lies in the “Critical Vs Commercial” debate. But haven’t many other films been both critical and commercial success? So why are we stuck up with these gangstas? Are we lacking talent? Are we devoid of new ideas? I think not.

The present state of the industry may be attributed to the producers who want to play safe. The small ones want to use the time tested formulas (2 rooba pottu 3 rooba sambathikardhu) and are afraid to produce new ideas. The big players, on the other hand need stars who in turn do not want their image to be hurt by new ideas. So what is the solution? It is up to the veteran directors and actors who want to provide good cinema to persuade their producers to take a bold step forward. Shankar’s S-pictures, for one, is doing that. Also, if the small-timers can collaborate or if the senior directors can contribute for more such production houses, Tamil cinema can proudly give birth to new Nayakans.