'Rudra Thaandavam' review: Better craft, better cast, and yet, similar problems

Director Mohan G is slowly perfecting the sinister art of turning the tables on the oppressor- oppressed relationship through some careful writing choices
A still from Rudra Thandavam
A still from Rudra Thandavam

Director Mohan G is slowly perfecting the sinister art of turning the tables on the oppressor-oppressed relationship through some careful writing choices. His protagonists—on evidence of the two films he’s done so far—belong to the privileged and the powerful, and are hapless victims. Where there’s a victim, there is a villain, of course. His villains are either from the minority (like in Draupadi), or from those claiming to stand for them (like in Rudra Thaandavam). This filmmaker seems to also detest human rights groups. Perhaps for this reason, the villain in this film, Vatapi (Gautham Menon), is the leader of a group called Manidha Urimai Ezhuchi Iyakkam.

This filmmaker enjoys picking on loopholes in a system and projecting it like it were the norm, thereby mounting opposition to the very system and any potential benefits it may possess. In Draupadi, for instance, he spoke of ‘nadaga Kadhal’ to vilify inter-caste love marriages. Here, he has more agendas, including mounting opposition to religious conversion, and vilifying, of course, victims of caste oppression. But this time, he has learned to mask these motives better.

A crafty tactic is to have the hero’s allies belong to those groups he attacks in the film. For this reason, Rudra has a ‘good Christian’ friend (Thambi Ramaiah’s Joseph), a Dalit lawyer (Radha Ravi). Hurrah for representation, you think? Wait, watch the lawyer closely. Pay attention to how quiet he is about his identity, until that scene in which he uses it as leverage to protect Rudra. Notice how this lawyer proclaims that even though he’s a Dalit, he worships several leaders including Ambedkar, yes, and Muthuramalinga Thevar. It’s clear who this film views to be a good Dalit man. And yet, the filmmaker makes some familiar mistakes.

He centres his story on an exception, a loophole, without ever recognising the larger oppression at play. He continues to attack helpful systems and practices, like love marriages, for instance, simply because some take advantage of it. Take that early scene for example, in which a woman cop, in disguise, gets drunk and drugged. The film doesn’t communicate its explicit disapproval for women at bars, but it becomes obvious when you notice that the good women of this film are either mothers or are getting there. Pregnancy is a running theme here. The pregnancy of Rudra’s wife is her identity. Later, Rudra loses his bearings when two men on the run almost cause a woman to get injured, but then, you notice the real reason for his fury. The woman is pregnant.

Towards the end, we see another good woman (Deepa Shankar, who’s quite good), launching into what this film believes is a moving monologue. Her pain and distress stems from… you guessed it, her identity as a mother. The war against drugs is but a smokescreen for the film’s actual agendas. The film, despite its overlong runtime stretching to almost three hours, never truly sinks into the childrenand- drugs angle, because it is constantly busy peddling messages, including justification for police brutality. Rudra often smashes skulls with weapons that would make AR Murugadoss proud.

In a particularly chilling scene, someone enters his office, and he asks his assistant, “Andha lathi la yennai thadavi ready-a veinu sonnene. Vechiya?” More chilling is when he commands the police officers to hoist an accused and roast his genitalia. And yet, later, when some members of the public shout slogans against police brutality, we are encouraged to laugh at their pretentiousness. In this mirthless film, a moment of great humour is when this film, whose protagonist doesn’t take law too seriously, suddenly turns into a courtroom drama. I discuss this film’s ideologies as much, as it doesn’t amount to much without it. This is despite the craft and the cast being better here than in Draupadi. Gautham Menon is a local leader and the film’s antagonist, and every time he tried to sound local, I thought I heard Pandya (Kaakha Kaakha). Yet, he is an interesting presence, and might be better utilised sometime by a filmmaker who casts him as a suave villain.

Rudra Thaandavam, leaving aside its problematic messaging, doesn’t ever amount to anything out of the ordinary as a courtroom drama or as a battle of the wits between Rudra and Vatapi. Somewhere near the middle though, this film, for a few minutes, touches upon the intriguing idea of a conscientious police officer, who faces inner tumult because of his guilt over causing the death of a youngster. In our cinema whose police portrayal is either black or white, Rudra feels deliciously grey in these portions where he wrestles with inner demons and his sense of righteousness.

Unfortunately, Mohan G isn’t as interested in the personal, as he is in the social. Ultimately, both Draupadi and Rudra Thaandavam, despite containing an interesting premise, feel simply like crafty arguments, mounted on exceptions, with which to defend the privileged and the powerful, and discredit the subjugated. In a film that often confuses us about its stance on the sanctity of the law, the truly bizarre development was to see Rudra’s strangely insensitive wife disown him for being a conscientious, dutiful man—well, briefly anyway. Oh wait, there was something more bizarre: Rudra and Vatapi constantly referring to each other as darling and sweetheart. Perhaps Rudra Thaandavam was a progressive film, after all?

Film: Rudra Thaandavam

Director: Mohan G

Cast: Richard, Gautham Menon, Deepa, Thambi Ramaiah, Malavika Avinash

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