The Air Deccan ad is still vivid in my memory. The cut-out of Superman on the road minus the head. Passersby pose behind the cut-out, positioning their head to fit Superman's body and voila - flying is now for everyone!
Soorarai Pottru, directed by Sudha Kongara and now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, tells a story inspired by that audacious dream. The film is careful to stress that it's based on Captain Gopinath's book Simply Fly but is not a biopic. While the story sticks to his journey broadly, from a small village to the National Defence Academy (NDA) and later an entrepreneur in a high-risk business, it also makes several departures.
Like Sudha's Irudhi Suttru, Soorarai Pottru is also an underdog story, but this time with a man at the centre taking the punches. Suriya as Nedumaran Rajangam or Maara is in fine form, switching between angry young man to conflicted son, romantic husband and cussing businessman. Though few, his scenes with Poo Rajangam who plays his father, remind one of what he's capable of doing in a script that offers him scope for performance. Their relationship lies in the realm of the unsaid, leaving the mother - Urvashi as Pechi - as the conduit. Urvashi looks miscast initially but the dependable actor doesn't take too long to make us go past that. Take the scene when Maara arrives home in difficult circumstances; it's a pivotal moment in the film, revealing the nature of Maara's dreams. Few male actors can cry like Suriya does, his face completely crumbling and his grief so palpable that you know that he feels Maara in his bones. Urvashi's range is not a surprise to anyone who has followed south cinema. As Pechi, she laughs and cries with ease but the scene that had my heart is when she has the village behind her and asks, her voice trembling, pleading, for assurance from her son that he will succeed.
Aparna Balamurali as Bommi, a businesswoman in her own right, plays the supportive wife. The love between the two has a cinematic yet earthy quality to it; the lines written consciously to break stereotypes. It rather reminded me of the kind of exchanges you would see in a Mani Ratnam film, and I mean that it in a good way. It's not the lines themselves but the style of the romance where you know as much about what the woman thinks as does the man. Bommi isn't just quick with her repartee, she has dreams of her own. She isn't just the Mrs, she has an identity of her own. When Maara, in a moment of anger, puts down her business, Bommi doesn't take it lying down. The camera is on her flashing eyes as she reminds him who's feeding the family. And perhaps because it is a woman helming this film, Maara taking help from her doesn't emasculate him, it makes him stronger.
Aparna is a fantastic actor and someone Suriya shares crackling chemistry with on screen (GV Prakash's music, of course, helps with the charm as does Niketh Bommireddy's cinematography that captures the two of them at their best). That scene with him riding his bike and talking to Bommi who's in her 'marketing' tempo - ooh, it's the Suriya from Kaakha Kaakha and Vaaranam Aayiram who is finally back.
This is also among the few Tamil films where the lead pair talk about things other than love, romance or their respective families. Which is why I was greedy to see some in-depth conversations between the couple about the huge obstacles ahead of them rather than the brief exchanges, as well written as they are; I was wishing at times that this had been a straight-out romance instead of a business story.
Because the business story is the weakest link in the screenplay. Paresh Rawal plays an easily dislikeable, caricaturish villain; his anxiety levels shoot up if he's anywhere near someone from a lower class. He's the sort who washes his hands with sanitizer (and not because of the coronavirus) after a handshake. There's also Balaiyaa who is clearly modelled on Vijay Mallya, with references to his beer company and wearing bright Hawaiian shirts. The obstacles before Maara are arranged before him like any other hero-villain story. The arrogant, rich villains who throw money around to stop him from achieving his dream; the corrupt bureaucrats who backstab; the overblown twists that he has to overcome. Parts of this arc work while others - not so much. The whole standoff with Naidu (Mohan Babu) felt indulgent but Vinodhini's cameo as a talkative journalist was entertaining. What was missing, however, was solid storytelling for the how. We know why Maara wanted to start a low-cost airline (and Suriya is heartbreaking in that scene), but how he did it is largely confined to eureka moments like watching a sparrow trying to escape or quick answers he provides to skeptics.
The film is earnest in casting Maara as a 'socialist capitalist' (he's an anti-caste Periyarist) but doesn't explore his politics beyond punch dialogues and how he reconciled his principles with his business ambitions. Films like The Social Network that don't stop short of the nitty-gritties of business not only entertain but also educate the viewer. Soorarai Pottru, in that respect, leaves us with an all too familiar story of corruption and red tape. Considering there's so much else in the script which doesn't fall into a pattern, it's a pity the 'suit villain' didn't escape the cliches.
Faults apart, Soorarai Pottru is easily Suriya's best outing in a long time. It's a pleasant flight even if there's some turbulence along the way.
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.
Watch the trailer of Soorari Pottru: