Carrying the name of the yesteryear blockbuster of Superstar Rajinikanth, Dharmadurai is about the love and life of the titular character, played by Vijay Sethupathi (Makkalin Selvan Vijay Sethpathi, as they name him) . With a slew of performers and a solid filmmaker in Seenu Ramasamy, does Dharmadurai satisfy all the expectations?
When the title was first announced, it appeared to be yet another appropriation of a Superstar movie’s title, in line with the general perception that these titles will be lucky for the makers. But, when we hear the name of Dharmadurai’s unscrupulous brothers, Beemarasu and Arjunan, the name Dharmadurai makes sense. Their mother (Radhikaa Sarathkumar, delivering yet another outstanding performance, which is sure to warm all the hearts) named them after Pandavas so they can stay united. But, the early scenes strongly establish the troublesome relationship between Dharmadurai and his brothers. He is a doctor. But he ain’t practicing anymore. He’s become an alcoholic. The brothers go to the extent of locking him up so they can keep him in check and keep their pride intact. These scenes show Dharmadurai as a loser, along with the subtle traits of his character.
Then the story flips into a flashback, where Dharmadurai is a medical college student. We are introduced to Stella (Shrusti Dange), Subhashini (Tamannah Bhatia, carrying off a meaty role with grace) and their professor Kamaraj (Rajesh). These characters are so clichéd and the entire flashback seems so contrived that the momentum that was sustained during the first half hour gets lost at a steady pace. This part never gels well with the pace of the movie, though Vijay Sethupathi tries to bring his best on-screen. Once again, the movie goes to back to where it began and it is found that the bag brought by Vijay Sethupathy contains cash, which creates a lot of drama at the other end. Then he goes up to visit Stella and Subhashini, where he finds about their past and he sheds light on his past and how his life turned square in a drastic manner. What happens after that forms the rest of the story.
The biggest problem with Dharmadurai is the amount of earnestness and nobility the movie shows. It is way too earnest for its good. Subhashini, during the last day of college, asks Dharmadurai, “What is your next plan?” He replies, “Nee nalla irukkanum. Adha naan paakanum”. This doesn’t seem to be a medical college that produces doctors. It seems to be producing saints of the highest order. Yes, the fact that they’ve been called the ‘Fruit Gang’ has been established, yet this is too much to digest. Dharmadurai writes poems about peace for the college magazine. Subhashini, meanwhile, says she’s donating her body after she dies. Their professor changed his name from Muniyandi to Kamaraj, after the Chief Minister Kamaraj, who implemented the midday meal scheme and provided a reason for Muniyandi’s mother to send him to school. How noble!
Another huge problem is the treatment of the script. Though a few scenes hit the top gear and stand out, a lot of scenes left a lot to be wanting. The potential for drama is huge. But this potential hasn’t been tapped properly in all the scenes. The scenes which have to remain subtle to portray what is being written on paper, have been hammered hard and long, which is purely unnecessary. And the end portions, which needed to be high-octane, have been made low-key with ounces of subtlety. Because of these things, the wonderful story never fully transforms itself onto the screen, despite having fairly engaging moments.
Why do Tamil directors choose dialogue as the only way of conveying these social messages, when we know there can be a lot of other ways too? The most offensive scene comes about after Dharmadurai decides to help a transgender woman, who tells him she’s working as a watchman. “Watch-woman”, he corrects her, recognising what she wants to be seen as. This small line suggests an ocean of inclusiveness. It would’ve at least been stopped at that point. But when he makes her an assistant in his clinic and hands over her salary, she falls at his feet. That becomes way too dramatic. Adding to that, it is not enough that we see Subhashini and Dharmadurai in bed. The scene has to be prefaced with the admission that they are living together. He’s always carrying around a copy of an English newspaper, as if him speaking in English is not enough to prove that he’s educated.
Dharmadurai is the first doctor from his village, and a man who has firmly decided to follow his professor’s advice and serve his people in the village instead of migrating to the city and making money. The most interesting point of the film is the clash between these modern ideologies and the pull of backward traditions that have been hampering our society for long. Dharmadurai’s brothers now view him as a cash cow, so they can recoup the 20 odd lakhs spent on him. How dare he say he’ll marry Anbuchelvi (Aishwarya Rajesh, with yet another performance that tics all the boxes) without a single penny as dowry? Is it possible to hold on to individual beliefs in a joint family? How do two people with failed relationships behind them get together and build a life together? All these questions give us some interesting plot developments. But the problem is these key points haven’t been treated to the fullest and we are left dry-eyed at places. Yet, the director proves his mettle at certain key scenes and scores brownie points at those points.
Vijay Sethupathi gives yet another dependable performance and carries the movie on his shoulders, though one might feel like he was just phoning in at places. All the supporting actors give able contributions. Yuvan Shankar raja makes a strong comeback with a decent soundtrack (with lovely lyrics from Kaviperarasu Vairamuthu) that merges seamlessly with the narrative and an effervescent background score, which takes the movie a notch up. Lip sync becomes an issue at places and I wonder how the director missed out on these details. Editing looks a bit hurried too. But if one is able to neglect these issues and watch it for the performances and the emotional drama, Dharmadurai can be a movie that will be worth their money, which oozes positivity throughout and makes us question the ever-present backward ideologies and traditions.
Dharmadurai- A decent family drama!