Do mafia movies distort Chennai?
Often I wonder whether it’s real or fictional. Is what is shown on the silver screen really Chennai?
Let me get to the point in a roundabout fashion. Nayagan, starring Kamal Hassan and directed by Mani Ratnam (as if you don’t know), may have been the first (or one of the first, argument anyone?) mafia film in Tamil, but it really wasn’t the trendsetter.
Around that time, director Ram Gopal Varma (who was ubercool back then) released a film with Nagarajuna and Amla in the lead (featuring the hero using a cycle chain with devastating effect). This film was very good, but it wasn’t a trendsetter. Neither was Thalapathy, which looks better with every viewing. None of those movies were followed by today’s wave of mafia films.
Many of these mafia movies though made in Tamil, were not set in Chennai.
Why? For years, the land mafia, the gunrunners and drug lords weren’t visible in this city, which is yet to face a major terror attack. The Ayodhya Kuppam Manis of the world were relatively unheard of. Not many were killed in encounters. But these days many actually are. You hear about them in the news. Last year, Kokki Kumar (or was it Punk Kumar) was shot dead by the police in an encounter. I can never quite tell fact from fiction, but Dhanush in Pudhupettai was called Kokki Kumar. That’s for sure.
You don’t see much of the violence and the “hacking to death”. So you think Chennai is peaceful. Compared to Mumbai, there is no mafia here. Or so you think.
But really when did the mafia wave of movies begin? What movie set off the trend, which doesn’t go out of fashion.
Pudhupettai, Naalai, and movies like that really contributed to this trend. The former, which takes it name after a city suburb known for its automobile workshops, showed Chennai being ruled by a mysterious underworld. Is it there? You don’t quite know. That’s is why it’s called the underworld, dummy.
I saw Anjathe last week and it’s very good. Brilliant, in fact. The entire movie, much like Pudhupettai, is set in Chennai. Many of the city’s underdeveloped suburbs are featured in the dialogues. The chase sequences happen on roads leading out of the city. It’s so hard to think of the last mentioned two movies without thinking of Chennai.
So Chennai a character only in mafia movies. Not really. The family drama Mozhi was set in Chennai. Chennai-28 was too, obviously. In fact, all Tamil movies are either set in Chennai or down south like Paruthiveeran and Veyyil.
It’s hard to say how much of the Chennai shown in movies like the recent Oram Po, starring Arya and Pooja, is real. But it certainly is based on real-life events. In fact, I heard a story that the director-couple behind Oram Po may of based their movie on newspaper clippings of actual auto races happening in the city’s outskirts.
How well is the city then represented, especially in mafia movies? Do directors exaggerate the violence for cinematic purposes or tell it as it is? I always ask myself that whenever I walk out of a movie featuring a violent Chennai. Are you any wiser?