There’s a beautiful moment in the second half of Haridas where the child lets his father know exactly what it is that excites him. It is, at once, the first time the father stoops down to truly understand what drives his autistic son; the scene where the audience understands the significance of a totem the child has carried thus far; and the instant where the film finally kicks into gear. It is also one of the few truly cathartic sequences in a film which is otherwise muddled in the melodramatic conventions required of Tamil films. Not surprisingly, my mind floated back to the distant memory of watching Prakash Raj’s thematically similar Dhoni at about the same time last year. It is a memory I am not particularly fond of. Both films tackle seemingly difficult subject matter earnestly, a quality I found truly heartwarming, yet I was unable to overlook the sloppiness in execution pervading them.
Take, for instance, the first time Shivdas (Kishore) takes his son Haridas (Prithviraj Das) to the doctor. I began fearing the worst when Yuhi Sethu appeared clad in a doctor’s coat, and my fears were realized when the tone began shifting between the jocular and the serious in the subsequent scene. Yuhi alternates between breaking down autism to the father and sarcastically poking fun of the latter’s cop-buddy. And it is not that Yuhi’s deadpan delivery isn’t funny. In fact, by the amount of people erupting in laughter beside me, the opposite is actually true. Where I take offense is that these jokes seem totally superfluous and they stand out because they appear in otherwise dour moments. That the film is riddled with numerous such instances is what I found unforgivable. I couldn’t shake off the feeling that the execution had taken a turn for the worse once the script had found its way to the streets of Kodambakkam. Kollywood, unlike any other cinema in the world, has the unique talent of crucifying a story in the name of creative compromise.
Let us take a look at some of these “It happens only in Tamil cinema” scenes, beginning with the item number: A group of inebriated encounter specialists break out into a dance with a corpulent female draped in a saree two sizes too small for her. We’ve seen these same people begin the film by taking down a long sought-out henchman with brooding countenances. Yet here they are minutes later singing about the misgivings of their profession. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Tamil film without a comedy track, would it? We’re given one featuring ‘Parota’ Soori as Shivdas’ driver. One moment he’ll be flirting comically with his long-lost love, the next he’ll be spewing hatred on the heartlessness of his boss to Haridas’ teacher. And unlike the Yuhi Sethu cameo, his jokes aren’t even funny and that makes the presence of his character doubly unbearable. And how else would you explain the necessity of making Shivdas an encounter specialist when, in reality, a more grounded profession would’ve been suitable for a film looking to explicate the virtues of autism? (Dhoni fared slightly better in this regard, but then again, one can say the father in that film was too grounded.) Finally there is the granddaddy of all Tamil cinema cliches: the climactic fight sequence. In Haridas, we’re treated to an unnecessarily long one which overlaps with the son finding his place in the world and eventually culminates with a monologue by the now grown-up son on why he considers his father to be his first hero. (That is not really a spoiler since the film is a flashback.)
Having said all that, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ll watch a well-intended misfire like Haridas any day over thoroughly atrocious “masala” films like Alex Pandian and Kanna Laddu Thinna Aasaiya. For one, the former happens to be acted out by much superior performers. Watching Kishore here, I got the feeling that he really should consider moving out of his comfort zone for his next film. The steely stare with the brows coming together was fresh and novel in Polladhavan, not anymore. That isn’t to say this isn’t a good performance, far from that. I just wish he wouldn’t allow himself to be stereotyped into such intense roles. He’s far too gifted an actor and should take a cue from what Sampath achieved in Goa next time he pores over a script. And each time I see Sneha, I cannot help but feel dejected. Here’s one of the best actresses of the past decade who let her off-screen image rend her on-screen career. For, Haridas is yet another proof of what Tamil cinema has lost because of her recent marriage and before that, well…, the less spoken about it the better.
And inspite of all the aforementioned flaws, Haridas isn’t without its moments of inspiration where the director expertly avoids clichés. There are scenes which genuinely surprised me and evoked a round of applause from the audience. And the climax, for all its other blemishes, was another example of the director trying on a different hat. However, in-between all that was a film I found to be unbearably mawkish at times. Would that the same script have been taken in a different film industry… Alas, such are the travails of the Tamil cinema viewer. Until we get a truly visionary piece of filmmaking, or to put it differently Paradesi from Bala, we’ll have to make do with misfires like Haridas.
- Banner image used falls under fair use and taken from Wikipedia