At first, it seems like another lazy appropriation of a Rajinikanth film title, in keeping with Tamil cinema’s belief (or perhaps desperate hope) that some of the superstar’s luck will rub off on the film: a man decent named dharmadurai (‘makkal selvan’ vijay sethupathi, phoning in his act) exploited by unscrupulous brothers. but then we hear the names of these brothers. Arjunano Beemarasu. her mother (raadhika sarathkumar, who does more for the role than her role for her) named them after the pandavas, so they would stick together.
if only. dharmadurai is an alcoholic. the only way the brothers can keep him under control is to lock him up. The opening scenes paint dharmadurai as a loser, and I ended up feeling sorry for the brothers who have to put up with his rude behavior.
but dharmadurai is a doctor, and we go into a flashback: it’s set in the medical school of madurai and it’s full of cardboard characters. like stella (srushti dange), who draws a big heart in his notebook and gives it to dharmadurai. like subhashini (tamannaah), who, on the last day of college, asks dharmadurai, “what’s your next plan?” he replies: “nee nalla irukkanum. adha naan paakanum.”
This doesn’t seem like a university that produces doctors. seems to be producing saints. dharmadurai writes poems about peace for the university magazine. Meanwhile, Subhashini says that he will donate his body after his death. his teacher (rajesh) changed his name from muniyandi to kamaraj, after the prime minister who implemented the noon meal plan and provided a reason for muniyandi’s mother to send him to school.
Is there another film industry whose directors suffer from such a chronic case of do-gooder? by all means use the medium to address socially relevant issues, but why do our filmmakers choose dialogue as the only medium to convey these messages? the most offensive scene occurs after dharmadurai decides to help a transgender woman, who tells him that she works as a vigilante. “Watcher- woman,” he corrects her, acknowledging how she wants to be seen. this small line suggests an ocean of inclusion. but when he appoints her as her assistant at her clinic and hands over her salary, she falls at her feet. why deify him? why not let him just be a good… man?
dharmadurai is full of scenes that clinch long after the point is made. it is not enough that we see subhashini and dharmadurai in bed. the scene has to be preceded by this admission: “we are living together”. it is not enough that dharmadurai, thanks to his education, speaks in english. always carry a copy of the hindu or the indian express with you.
and in the midst of all this literalness, all this nobility of mind, an excellent story is lost. dharmadurai is the first doctor of his village, a man who has decided to follow his teacher’s advice and serve his people instead of emigrating to the city and earning money. the most interesting aspect of the film is the clash between these modern ideals and the pull of backward traditions. the dharmadurai brothers now see it as a source of income. How dare he say that he will marry anbuchelvi (aishwarya rajesh, still looking for a role that will do more for her than her) without a dowry from her? Is it possible to cling to individual beliefs in a united family? how do two people with failed relationships behind them come together and form a life together?
if director seenu ramasamy (who hints at his unreleased idam porul yaeval in one line of dialogue) had focused only on these story beats, he might have ended up with something as moving as his neerparavai, which was also about alcoholism and unlucky love. that sadly underrated movie swept us up in a sea of emotions. dharmadurai leaves us dry-eyed, despite its great potential for drama.
the first scenes have no objective, the last ones do not affect. The writing is so rushed that we barely have time to pause and react to the events surrounding Stella, Anbuchelvi, Subhashini’s monster-husband, and Dharmadurai’s ridiculous belated discovery of the money in the bag he brought from home. these are the parts where the drama needed to be hammered away and weirdly these are the parts where seenu ramasamy chooses to be subtle. maybe he wanted to be discreet, but sometimes that’s the same as going unnoticed.
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