"Whatever is needed is Dharma," or so goes a quote attributed to the philosopher Chanakya prior to the start of Thiagarajan Kumararaja's debut movie, Aaranya Kaandam (the forest chapter). The movie, which is part of Kollywood's new-found passion for off-beat themes, has certainly satisfied its cinematic 'dharma' by looking beyond the traditional masala fare, and still produce a gripping entertainer.
A gangster flick, Aaranya... steers clear of the good v/s bad kind of characterisation, with virtually every character painted in hues of grey — a departure from the Robin Hood/vigilante-themed movies. Singaperumal (Jackie Shroff), a dreaded gangster, beats up his concubine Subbu (Yasmin Ponnappa) while unable to get it up during intercourse, but makes up for it by handing money to Sappai (Ravi Krishna), his effeminate assistant, asking him to purchase something for her. A kid, Kodukapuli (Master Vasanth), helps his drunkard dad perform his daily ablutions, but steals from a neighbour.
As for the story, Singaperumal and Gajendran (Rambo Rajkumar), who in his attire could put even a Bappi Lahiri to shame, are rival ganglords who do not see eye-to-eye. Singaperumal’s henchman Pasupathy (Sampath) senses a business deal for the gang, which gets struck down by his boss. All of a sudden, everyone starts baying for Pasupathy’s blood. Does he have a solution?
There is never a dull moment in either half of Aaranya..., thanks to the absence of songs and taut editing. Expletives form an integral part of the movie's dialogues, and have been, unsurprisingly, blanked out. Yuvan Shankar Raja seems to have taken refuge in his father Ilayaraja's yesteryear compositions, which he uses as part of the background score. Watch out for the ending, almost a la Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather. This must perhaps be the first Tamil (if not, Indian) gangster movie not to feature an item-number. Gory sequences, in slow motion for added effect, are present throughout the movie.
Shroff, attired in a veshti speaks in halting Tamil, in a measured, gruff tone (he could have been acting in a Mani Ratnam movie!); Sampath fits the bill as a rowdy in a daze (he had a similar role to enact in Venkat Prabhu's Saroja); Ravi Krishna and Yasmin Ponnappa are Aaranya...'s surprise package for the characters that they portray.