The title Raame Aandalum Raavanae Aandalum comes from Rajinikanth's famous song in Mullum Malarum. It means 'Whether Raman rules or Ravanan rules', and this forms the crux of the Arisil Murthy directorial, produced by Suriya and Jyotika's 2D Entertainment. That is, it doesn't matter to ordinary people whether they are under Ram rajya or Ravana rajya because their lives hardly change for the better.
Like Mandela, RARA is an attempt at political satire by showcasing life in a small Tamil Nadu village. In this case, a place called Poocheri. A couple, Kunnimuthu (Mithun Manickam) and his wife Veerayi (Ramya Pandian) are extremely fond of their bulls, Vellayan and Karuppan. When the bulls go missing one day, they're distraught and don't know what to do. It's true that people who live with animals develop close bonds with them, but the film goes a step further and repeatedly underlines that for Kunnimuthu and Veerayi, the bulls are like human children.
I was initially reminded of the 2011 film Azhagarsamiyin Kuthirai which is about a man who goes on a search for his missing horse, exposing the absurdity of religion and superstition along the way. In RARA, Kunnimuthu makes similar 'discoveries' on behalf of the viewer, but about politics. A delivery boy asks for directions in Hindi and one of the characters proudly shoots back "Hindi theriyadhu". There are jibes at GST, demonetisation, petrol prices. In one instance, a passerby can be heard stating that this country will never improve, but the subtitles make reference to PM Modi's comments on clouds and radars as well as India shooting down a satellite. Last minute censorship that wasn't carried out properly?
The writing feels too deliberate, the characters mouthing lines like political cartoons instead of speaking like real people. In one scene, when the characters stop to eat, the board reads 'Wanted: An engineer who can work as a parotta master'. Sure, it's amusing but it's so in-your-face that it doesn't sting. I wished that Kunnimuthu and Veerayi would have one proper conversation as husband and wife. Something to establish their relationship, other than the sweet but generic flashback. Barring the folksy numbers and a few quirky characters who momentarily leave you smiling, you don't learn much else about the people of Poocheri and what they do. For instance, I wondered how Kunnimuthu and Veerayi manage to pay for the upkeep of the two bulls when they're so loath to engage them in any work that involves hardship and the animals seldom plough the field due to lack of rain. There's a poignant shot in the film that shows the people who love the bulls sitting in a line, looking devastated, but such moments that move you are too few.
Small films like this that revolve around the story and not the star are rare to come by; it, therefore, feels like a lost opportunity when here too, the characters are involved in obvious political messaging full-time rather than a representation that feels natural and organic. Joker was a hard-hitting film because it managed to tell a political story with a human heart at its centre. If it had only been smart one-liners, it wouldn't have left the impact that it did.
RARA is also keen to perform a 'balancing' act to live up to its title. So if it calls to question the policies of the current Union government, it also implies that everyone else is just as bad. The second half is in Peepli Live mode, with Vani Bhojan playing a TV journalist/upper-class saviour. From the Periyarists in black shirts to the farmer who wears red and arrives in an Audi car (a reference to activist-farmer-lawyer Ayyakannu) and a Tamil nationalist politician, everyone is painted with the same broad brush. The final act leading to the ending is deeply problematic, with a Malayali lorry driver and intercut shots of a butcher shop.
Watch: Trailer of Raame Aandalum Raavanae Aandalum
Several Tamil films have already beaten the same drum when it comes to corruption and cash for votes, and RARA does not offer anything new. It boggles the mind that at a time when the country is going through a crucial clash of political ideologies that may very well change its destiny, the film appears to suggest that they're all the same and voters should only care about whether they have roads, schools and streetlights. The latter is, of course, important but it is superficial to suggest that this is what good governance is all about ('development' has been the mantra for many to rise to power, but at what cost?).
Raame Aandalum Raavanae Aandalum will no doubt be celebrated as an earnest 'heartwarming' film, and it possibly is if you completely ignore its messed up politics and just view it as a story about a couple who love their bulls. But when it is screaming politics in every line, that would be a gross injustice. There's a difference between a simple story and a simplistic story, after all.
The film is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.