2017 saw a slew of brilliant, small-budgeted Tamil films from debutants. Along with Lokesh Kanagaraj’s Maanagaram, Gopi Nainar’s Aramm and Nithilan Saminathan’s Kurangu Bommai, came Suresh Sangaiah’s criminally-underrated Oru Kidayin Karunai Manu. Despite having a wafer-thin premise and being a slow burn, the director maintained the momentum while packing the film with unique characters indulging in naive yet witty conversations that made for some entertaining moments. While he tries to replicate the same with his sophomore, Sathya Sothanai, the results are, unfortunately, far from favourable.
Sathya Sothanai (Tamil)
Director: Suresh Sangaiah
Cast: Premgi Amaren, Swayam Siddha, Reshma Pasupuleti, KG Mohan, Selva Murugan
Storyline: A simpleton’s noble gesture lands him in trouble and it’s up to him to save himself from facing the repercussions
Sathya Sothanai follows the trials and tribulations of Pradeep (Premgi Amaren), a gullible man who spots a dead body in a remote location and decides to hand over the person’s gold chain and mobile to the cops. He also moves the body a few metres away because even a dead person would prefer a tree’s shade instead of being under the scorching sun. This, unsurprisingly, snowballs into an issue when Pradeep realises that the body was supposed to have more jewels on him and the cops feel the only way they can get to it is by tormenting poor Pradeep.
Both of Suresh’s films deal with innocent people stuck in precarious situations because of a stranger’s death, and how people around them, in the name of solving the issue, try to milk it for their benefit. It’s quite apparent that Suresh wants to hold up a mirror to society and pinpoint how the systems kept in place for the well-being of humankind aren’t exactly doing their job, and the need to understand the difference between benevolent and being astute.
But in his second outing, the simple premise doesn’t allow the film to do justice to its theme and the jarring tonal differences don’t come in handy either. Premgi’s character Pradeep is shown to be an illiterate who can converse in English; he’s jobless but walks into a police station as he owns it, he’s naive but once he escapes with a walkie-talkie from the station, he uses it to get freebies from villagers. The inconsistency in writing is Sathya Sothanai’s biggest drawback. We see Pradeep talking at length about police brutality, but when he’s thrashed with lathis, a comedic score erupts from the speakers. What’s supposed to be funny about this?
But the film does have its fair share of good stretches that are hilarious. Suresh’s first film worked majorly for the style of humour that’s unique to the rural backdrop where he set his film and it’s no different here. When one of the convicts at the station is asked for his name — and the reply is Vairamuthu — the cop asks why one would have such a nice name and resort to such activities. Unlike Oru Kidayin Karunai Manu though, such sequences are far and few in between. In another scene, where a video recording is crucial and the characters are glued to a TV screen, one of them goes “Enna, CCTV vela seiyudhu?” If only such self-awareness had been shown throughout the film, it would’ve turned out better.
Just like Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘The Story of My Experiments with Truth’ which is titled ‘Sathiya Sodhanai’ in Tamil — in which he journals his life from early childhood through to 1921 — Pradeep also shares his life stories as a series of events that led him to where he is. But those scenes lead to no man’s land thanks to the limitations of the script. Apart from Premji, who is a brilliant casting choice, it’s the cops, especially Kuberan (Mohan) and Mahadevan (Selva Murugan), who steal the show along with the old lady. Certain aspects in the film like moving the body, causing the case to come under another person’s jurisdiction (which we’ve seen in films likeJai Bhim) and elderly folks not understanding court proceedings that evoke humour (similar to Kadaisi Vivasayi ) give it a been-there-seen-that feel.
A more-rounded film with better character arcs would’ve made Sathya Sothanai an interesting watch on the lines of several small-town cop investigation dramas that have dotted Tamil and Malayalam in recent times. But all Suresh Sangaiah manages to produce is an uninterestingly simple film, which goes nowhere, but still manages to engage in parts thanks to the one-liners.