Kalavani represents something of an anomaly in modern day Tamil cinema. It is a romance/comedy set against the backdrop of two warring villages, but, unlike most recent films set in a rural milieu, it has no violence or bloodshed to speak of. In fact, I can count only one scene where a fight using aruvaals results in blood, but even in that sequence, there is no death-count (as is true of the entire film, for that matter). The film has an undercurrent of innocence and comedy running throughout, and the hero is a lovable rogue who the audience can take an instant liking to. Seriously, what were they thinking when they made this movie. Didn’t they get the memo stating there should be this much litres of blood spilt, this much number of people getting unwittingly pulled into violence, and this person from the hero’s side dying resulting in a tragedy. The village film that highlights everything good about rural Tamil Nadu – the innocence of the village belle, the fun-loving nature of its youth, and those beautiful shots of rice and paddy fields where you can almost smell the freshness of the green grass – has become a myth. The acknowledgement that this myth has become a reality in the form of Kalavani is the single greatest reason why it is worth watching.
The two warring villages mentioned above are Arasanur and Ranimangalam. The opening scenes do enough to establish the intensity of the cold war between them as a youth T20 cricket match erupts into a full-scale fist-fight on the field even before a ball has been bowled. Immediately thereafter we are introduced to Ilango (Thirumurugan) who is the power-figure from Ranimangalam, and whose rivalry with Arikki (Vimal), from Arasanur, is the main reason for the continuing cold war. Arikki’s daily routine consists of stealing measly amounts from the village-folk to pay for the drinks for himself and his gang of friends and making any girl irrespective of age promise to be his bride. His mother (Saranya) lets him be hoping it is only due to the unlawful alignment of the stars, and doesn’t heed calls from his sister that his behaviour should be informed to their father (Ilavarasu) who is in Dubai. Arikki is really love-stricken when he meets Maheshwari (Oviya), who happens to Ilango’s sister of all people, and a few fights later, a mutual relationship develops between them. However, more problems arise when Arikki kidnaps Ilango’s girl for the sake of his friend, which furthers the conflict between the villages and, more than that, between himself and Ilango.
One of Kalavani’s greatest strengths is that it doesn’t take itself seriously. Every aspect of the film is treated with a healthy dosage of innocence and humour. Early in the film, Arikki and his gang declare that Panchayathu (‘Ganja’ Karuppu) has taken polydol to escape from his dishonest wife so that they can escape from a thievery charge. Much later, they declare the same person dead to make a quick getaway from a precarious situation. And, of course, the film itself builds up to a climactic face-off between Arikki and Ilango with a background score that would feel right out of a thriller suitably in-place to raise our tension. However, even that ends up as an anti-climax of sorts. In most other films, this treatment would’ve been infuriating, but in Kalavani it just adds to the film’s innate charm.
Vimal more or less fuels his Pasanga character in Arikki. He looks ruggedly handsome and has a masculine voice which is perfectly suited for the role, but his acting talent is not stressed too much. Oviya cycles through a limited number of expressions in most scenes, but doesn’t show any on-screen inhibitions and matches the role of the rustic village belle pretty much to a T. Debutant Thirumurgan has a strong screen-presence and a sneery expression making him apt for the role of the villain-character of the film.
Although the younger cast has the lengthier screen time, the more experienced members of the cast easily take the cake. ‘Ganja’ Karuppu’s comedy track is easily his strongest in recent memory. While much of the comedy is built around him and involves Arikki’s gang (which itself is composed of a wonderful bunch of supporting characters), there are many scenes where he leaves a mark with his unique slang. Saranya adds another impressive supporting performance to her credit which highlights why she has been one of the most underused actresses in Tamil cinema. Ilavarasu makes an appearance only in the second half, but his distinct dialogue delivery style that drips with sarcasm in every line is just about perfect for the role of the father of the good-for-nothing son.
Cinematographer Om Prakash captures the lush green locales quite vividly and, like Subramaniyapuram or Pasanga, this film feels right out of rural Tamil Nadu, much to his credit. S.S. Kumaran’s music suits the mood of the film and the entire soundtrack is a great listen with Oru Murai Iru Murai… and Pada Padavena… being highlights, though it sports an already-heard it feel. The rest of the crew provides solid support to director A. Sargunam who directs the film with an iron-fist; this is definitely the kind of directorial debut that you take notice of. While Kalavani has many elements that feel derivative, you cannot argue when the cohesive whole offers such great entertainment. In a day and age when everything in Tamil cinema feels cynical and where violence is celebrated, if a movie like this one cannot be appreciated for providing a throwback to those innocent days, then I don’t know what can.