If Mani Ratnam was one among the best to re-imagine epics in ultra-modern formats, it's the turn of Bandi Saroj Kumar to take a hand in re-making Ramayana, one of India's greatest epics to suit modern tastes.
Bharani Minerals' Tamil film Porkkalam (Battlefield), certainly has the necessary characters to go through with it.
Rama: Karna (Kishore), a loner who lives alone, wears cool shades and walks in extreme slow-motion through practically every frame. There's no rhyme or reason to anything he does, whether refusing alms to a cripple, buzzing his car alarm at insane moments, tearing up his lover's letter or threatening to jump off a skyscraper unless the home minister arrests the rowdy Mohammed Qadhar. He's the mysterious, dark, handsome stranger who has a past no one knows. He can run, shoot, punch or snap bars of steel in an instant but he's no superhero, it's just his confidence, his destiny. Of course, there's a method behind his madness, a rather neat twist that explains everything he's done in the first half. Possibly the best moment in the movie.
Post intermission, though, everything goes haywire, so the twist's impact is lost.
Seetha: Sneha (Kannada actress Smitha), a runaway from, believe it or not, a small town called Lanka, in Andhra Pradesh. She's escaping the clutches of her evil fiance, and a shaman-like priest who looks like Saruman from Lord of the Rings, and has nothing to do except prance around with a goat-head on a stick. Why Sneha is afraid of him is anyone's guess as he does nothing but growl. But she does run away, straight to Chennai, and into the arms of Karna who's sitting atop a jeep, and banishes the villains in one stroke. He also takes up the cudgels on her behalf to down the entire villainy township, armed with battle-axes, giant swords right from the times of William the Conqueror.
Lakshmana: Satya (Sathyan), a faithful youngster who really does esteem his mysterious employer, and when he's puzzled about Karna's methodology, has the guts to actually question him, get a beating for him and eventually perform the highest sacrifice. A true friend in need, who unwittingly provides many comic moments, and is a large part of why the movie even works sometimes.
Ravana: Dhronam Raju (Sampath), yet another screaming villain who's supposed to have the entire state in his hands but somehow is brought to his knees by our lone man. With all his men, guns and artillery, he goes to "battle" with a giant axe. Possibly the most pitiful character in the movie.
Kumbakarna and Vibeeshana: One is Dhronam Raju's brother Obulesh; the other is Rangaswamy, CBI officer, and once Dhronam Raju's sympathizer who now wants him down. Neither has great roles and just exists as plot devices.
Hanuman (?): A madman who runs across town every day and acts as an impromptu messenger service between Karna and Sneha. One of the high points of the film.
Considering such a great set-up, you expect a killer of a story. And it does have its moments: the mysterious reason behind Karna's behaviour, chemistry between Satya and Karna, the latter's extraordinary memory, the beautifully choreographed fight sequences and Rohit Kulkarni's background music (Unnale Unnale), is a sweet listen.
What's the point though, when the director insists on running the whole darned movie in exquisite, boring slow-motion? Admiration for the lead actor is one thing; making him walk in slow-motion through every street in Chennai is pure torture and raises irritated shouts from the audience. There's no rhyme or reason for why Karna feels the need to be a super-human -- he just is. The villains, and the climax wreck all the good work done in the first half of the film, proving to be cardboard cut-outs tangling with centuries old iron swords, screeching to hell.
Courtesy D Bhaskar Rao, the entire movie is dark, gloomy and almost impossible to see, presumably the result of the director's wish to accentuate the hero's moods. Unfortunately, it feels like you've lost your eye-sight for close to three hours.
Kishore is neat as the taciturn, slick hero who lives life on his own terms -- the revelation about him comes as a complete surprise. Sathyan does very well, producing genuine laughs. Smitha doesn't have much to do but Sampath and his cohorts bore you to tears. This particular Ravana offers no challenge and is hopeless. Since he occupies the second half of the film, he destroys that part as well.
If only Bandi Saroj Kumar had cut through the slo-mo, added a fitzy villain and reworked half his movie, then Porkkalam would have been brilliant. As it is, this battlefield is a dud.