Rating: 3-1/2 stars

With his latest effort “Mudhalvan” , Shankar continues his trend of making movies with one-word titles. Unfortunately. he did not employ the same standards of brevity to the film itself, which probably is about a song’s length longer than necessary. In spite of this, “Mudhalvan” is surprisingly both a thought provoking as well as an entertaining story, contradictory as that may sound.

The story focuses on Pughazhendi, played by Arjun. He happens to be an ambitious TV journalist, working for “Q TV” . He eyes Thenmozhi (Manisha) through his roving camera, while on assignment in a village. He instantly falls in love with her, and embarks on a voyeuristic journey, making full use of the media resources at his hand. He also interviews the present Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu (Raghuvaran playing himself again, only he looks older). Pughazh asks the tough questions, and the C.M. starts trembling like George Bush playing 20 Questions. Unlike Bush, however, Raghuvaran is smart enough to ask Arjun to put his money where his mike is, and play king for a day. After using up a few lifelines mentally, Arjun comes up with his final answer – he agrees. So “Gentleman” Arjun is now “First Gentleman” Arjun. Arjun & Manisha in MudhalvanHe does such a great job on his first day, that the voters eventually elect him to be their permanent leader. Of course, all of this does not occur without any repercussions. Nepali’s ex First Daughter’s fictional father does not want her to be T.N’s First Lady. There is also the ubiquitous Opposition, which opposes Arjun at every possible turn.

Politics has always proved a popular topic in India, both in real-life as well as in the movies. Shankar has exploited that to its maximum potential. Shankar neatly states the problems that Tamil Nadu is facing, and is bold enough to suggest some of his solutions. In the scene immediately after the bus driver and student clash, Shankar effectively captures the complex divisive forces that are at work in India. Pugazh’s achievements during his one-day term as “Mudhalvan’” can not (and should not) be taken literally. The fact that he personally chases eve-teasers is irrelevant. The point is that as C.M. he can arrange for them to be caught, and Shankar spares us those mundane bureaucratic details. Arjun accurately portrays a young dynamic person, all set to change the world If Manisha’s character seems unconvincing and minor, think of all the spouses of people in power, and how much we really know about them. Shankar is also honest enough to admit that no one can create a Utopian society. Pughazh’s naivete is cruelly exposed time and again. The film has a great ending, which is self-defeating in that it shows that the Tit-For-Tit Rule, though not perfect, is the best one that we can live by. Pughazh has matured as a politician, but more importantly Shankar has matured as a director. If “Indian” represented idealism, “Mudhalvan” represents realism, with a generous dose of optimism.

Ram Seshadri

Original Photograph (Mudhalvan): Thanks to Kumudam
Photograph scanned & reworked by: Krishna