Anyone can dream big until the dream becomes you and you become the dream. This is what you infer from Soorarai Pottru.
Last Updated: 04.47 AM, Jul 23, 2022
Soorarai Pottru, one of the favourite Tamil films of 2020, went on to sweep five National Awards this year. Directed by Sudha Kongara, a former assistant to Mani Ratnam, the success of the Suriya-starrer, is a sharp reminder of the craft that the filmmaker has. Truth be told, there's nothing new about Soorarai Pottru. It is old fashioned; has a predictable narrative, but Sudha demonstrated how a familiar story could be rejuvenated by fresh writing.
You know what the genre template requires the hero to go through to win. As you watch the film, you forget the content and begin to enjoy the journey of the various characters in the universe that Sudha Kongara built. Soorarai Pottru has a fine blend of social messages and emotions. The film rises to an above-average underdog story—not just for its setting, but the attitude of people, and how focused they are in the pursuit of their respective goals. Urvashi, who plays Suriya's mother, stands out as she strives to bring father and son together. That's her goal.
Loosely based on the inspirational journey of Captain GR Gopinath, who made air travel affordable for millions of Indians, Soorarai Pottru tells the story of Nedumaaran Rajangam (Suriya), a pilot officer, who quits the force to start a low-cost airline. He fantasises about the day Indians of all socioeconomic backgrounds will afford to fly. This dream is the result of his father's influence—a socialist schoolteacher in a small village. Suriya's character is well-written, with complex and contradictory shades of his personality—marred by loss, ambition, and masculinity.
The film is also about Gopinath's wife, Bhargavi, who stood by his side like a rock when he struggled to launch Air Deccan. One of the successes of Soorarai Pottru is that it depicts marriage equality in possible ways. Aparna Balamurali, cast opposite Suriya as Bommi, is a revelation. She's inquisitive, fearless, loud, independent, and does not conform to conventional beauty standards. On the other hand, Maara is short-tempered, and a rebel. Bommi is everything that Maara isn't. Naturally, they fit in seamlessly. It's easy to understand and empathise with both of them. They're flawed, but real.
Suriya has several standout performances in Soorarai Pottru. My favourite scene is when Maara hesitates to ask Bommi for money. Her bakery business is thriving, while he hasn't started yet. Maara struggles to ask Bommi for help. He struggles to speak. But, Bommi understands and has always got his back. Maara's dreams, vision, success and failure belong to Bommi, too. It's fulfilling to see a romance blossom from the union of ambitions and ideologies.
There has been a significant under representation of female writers in Tamil cinema. The world of stories, like several other fields, has been dominated by men—which is why a film like Soorarai Pottru—is quite important. However the narrative flows, the presence of female writers always resulted in a greater diversity of voices and points of view. Stories bring people together. When a powerful story is told, you can't help but root for a film and its characters.
The film is an ideal 'theatre material', and would have made for an incredible experience, on the big screen. The only negative aspect, barring its underwhelming villain role played by Paresh Rawal, is the film's lengthy run time. Soorarai Pottru is sincere in portraying Maara as a "socialist capitalist," but doesn't go beyond punch lines to explore his politics or how he tried to reconcile his philosophies with his entrepreneurial ambitions.
Above all, Soorarai Pottru was about seeing a male character through the eyes of a woman. Maaran's mother or his wife, Bommi, could be the person in question. Who says a woman can't write commercial films, heroic opening scenes, or female characters? I believe, when a woman writes, there is a level of sensitivity and self-awareness to manliness. And all of these characteristics are inherent in female writers. No way does a character end up being regressive or submissive when a female writer is involved in the production of a film.
Soorarai Pottru, which is getting remade in Hindi with Akshay Kumar, marks Suriya's return to form, after a few mediocre films. It takes a lot of guts for a mainstream hero to produce and star in a film that's not a conventional commercial potboiler. Mainstream actors in Tamil cinema were concerned that going straight to OTT meant they were no longer "commercially viable". And, Soorarai Pottru happened... Vidhai, Suriya pottadhu!