Blue Star review: Ashok Selvan’s spirited anti-caste cricket film almost hits the right spots
Blue Star (Tamil)(3.5 / 5)
Blue Star opens with interspersed shots of beef in butcher shops, statues and portraits of Dr Ambedkar, trains, and rivals Ranjith (Ashok Selvan) and Rajesh (Shanthanu Bhagyaraj) about to face-off on the cricket ground. Debut filmmaker and co-writer S Jayakumar establishes the subject of the film – caste politics in cricket – from the very first shot and does not depart from it. What sets Blue Star apart is the complexity of the caste politics explored in the film. However, this also becomes its undoing because the message gets trite and repetitive progressively.
Blue Star tells the story of Ranjith, a cricket crazy young man from the Dalit community, and his aspirations for his team Blue Star to emerge victorious over their arch nemesis, Alpha Boys. Ranjith’s team comprises entirely of Dalit players including his brother Sam (Prithvirajan), while Alpha Boys, led by Rajesh, has players only from the ‘oor theru’ (main area of the village, usually occupied by dominant castes).
Set in the 90s in Arakkonam, there is no subtlety in the portrayal of caste tensions that exist between the two teams and by extension, the ‘oor theru’ and the ‘colony’ (Dalit colonies in Tamil villages are commonly referred to as ‘colony’, often in a derogatory manner).
Ashok Selvan fits seamlessly into the role of Ranjith, a spirited young man who does not hesitate from doling out a few blows when he feels wronged, no matter what the occasion or who the person at the receiving end may be. Whether it is effortlessly breaking into dance to parai music or facing dejection over the bias in selection for a government job, Ashok Selvan’s range of performance makes him the perfect choice for the role.
The only irksome aspect of Ranjith’s character is the brown face he put on for the role as it looked artificial and unsettling. This practice of using darker makeup on actors also raises questions of why darker skinned people were not considered for the role and whether people from certain communities need to be shown as having a certain skin colour.
Shanthanu Bhagyaraj, who has had little experience playing a village ruffian, displays his acting chops and settles comfortably into the role of Rajesh. The subtle expressions of dejection and pain, especially when he realises that his dominant caste identity will not protect him from being at the receiving end of casteism, adds to the richness of his character.
The women in the film are spunky and full of sass but have little else to offer. Susila (a brilliant Lizzie Antony), Ranjith’s and Sam’s mother, delivers sharp quips and quotes the Bible effortlessly while she is after her sons for not getting their lives together. Her general annoyance with her sons, her mother-in-law, and her husband (Kumaravel) provide for comic relief, but it is limited to just that.
The chemistry between Anandhi (Keerthi Pandian) and Ranjith is undeniable and a treat to watch. While Anandhi is able to offer sharp insights on Ranjith’s and Blue Star’s performance after watching their matches from her classroom window, she disappears during the second half of the film. We see a little of Anandhi, her dreams and aspirations, and before we know it, her character is written off for good. Despite her fleeting presence, the organic and easy romance between Ranjith and Anandhi is delightful and the film could have done with more of it.
Govind Vasantha’s music and Arivu’s rap make the high octane cricket match scenes even more exciting. Tamizh A Azhagan’s cinematography manages to bring to life the rivalry and the subsequent camaraderie between the rival team members. His skill really comes through during the cricket matches as they manage to keep the audience on the edge of their seats, especially towards the end of the film.
Tamil cinema has seen a wave of anti-caste films over the past few years and almost all of them have explored the caste dynamics of and oppression enforced by intermediary castes on Dalits. Blue Star takes this one step forward and explores the discrimination doled out to both intermediary castes and Dalits by a privileged caste.
Cricket was and continues to be the privileged caste men’s dominion in Tamil Nadu but this dynamic has hardly made it to movies on the sport, except for a passing mention in Jeeva (2014). While S Jayakumar does not make any reference to the caste of ‘elite’ players being nasty to Blue Star and the Alpha Boys alike, subtle hints give it away. The filmmaker also shows how the supremacy of intermediary castes will not make them immune to caste based discrimination from those higher in the hierarchy. In fact, this nuance also demonstrates how the ultimate beneficiary of casteism is the group right on top of the pyramid. The more disunity between those below them, the more beneficial it is for the privileged castes.
The film is filled with tropes and cliches borrowed from both anti-caste and sports films, but it hardly feels tedious. However, the message of unity between the warring castes to defeat the ‘ultimate evil’ becomes monotonous at times. While trying to get rival teams to unite, especially when there is a history of violence between the two, is bound to bring up old wounds, the repetition of clarion calls for unity tends to bore the audience. Tighter editing, especially in the second half, would have done wonders for Blue Star.
Despite minor flaws, S Jayakumar knocks it out of the park with Blue Star and deserves accolades for exploring the intricacies of caste and class politics in cricket.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film’s producers or any other members of its cast and crew.