There are so many problems in the world and there's probably a movie about each one of them. World cinema has largely gone beyond such broad societal topics and have moved on to handle the intricacies of life through character study. But India is a relatively new country with a very different history - exclusively home to a large number of social evils. Casteism and untouchability are so closely wound to our past that they even define our cultures. A lot of our movies tend to have a "message" and a large section of our audience expects a "message". The root of social problems go back a long, long time. The leftover scum has seeped into our modern age, which is filled with too many archaic people living in villages and even in cities. Gouravam is a story about one of the many such villages where pride comes before everything.
When his flight home to Chennai gets delayed, Arjun (Allu Sirish), an engineer visiting a town to put forth his proposal for a project, decides to go meet his college mate who lives in a village nearby. As he asks around for his friend, he is treated with hostility by the villagers. Arjun soon finds out that his friend eloped with the daughter of a village biggie (Prakash Raj) and has been on the run for over six months. After meeting his friend's ageing father, Arjun promises to return and find him his son, thus opening a can of worms which will change the face of the village.
Gouravam is reminiscent of Swades and Devar Magan for various reasons, but it fails to work because it gets too preachy and laughably unrealistic at one point. After starting off surprisingly well, the film neatly introduces all the characters. Arjun, who was clearly born and bred in the city looks at the village through the exposure he got through the films by P. Vasu and Barathiraja. The mystery has piqued our interest sufficiently and we are waiting for the next act to evolve. Then right before the interval, Arjun contacts all his college classmates who land in the tiny village and kick start a revolution. I mean, seriously? It was here that the film truly lost track and never managed to recover. When Arjun should have been just a supporting character, he is unconvincingly turned into a hero. He is soon beating people twice as big as him and giving rousing speeches.
Radhamohan's writing is mostly decent until it is not. There's one particularly funny gag about Air India stewardesses. There are often these scene in village-based movies where the nostalgia freaks speak in favor of the life in the countryside while bashing the city they come from. Gouravam gives Chennai its due share in a wonderful scene where a character speaks about how there's absolutely no caste-based discrimination. Radhamohan's direction, though, leaves a lot to be desired. While he is clearly efficient enough in bringing his vision to the fore, the problem lies in his vision itself. Relying on mega-serial melodrama, his film is complete with weepy score and endless reaction shots. Also, the fights are very dull and unnecessary.
Directors shouldn't let a movie go bigger than they could handle. The smaller the scale, the easier it is for the audience to consume it as realistic. A friend just told me that the film's audio release function was itself held on an episode of Neeya Naana. The problem with our filmmakers making these 'issue' movies is that they don't know where to draw the line. The effort is admirable but the cause shouldn't be at the expense of subtlety in the treatment.
Apart from the poorly directed and completely unnecessary 'revolution' subplot, the film's whodunit is the other weakness. The one golden rule of whodunit is that the person playing the character who actually done it shouldn't look conspicuously obvious. While the film's mystery was clear to me beyond a speck of doubt, I'm afraid it would be so to anyone watching this movie.
Yami Gautam plays Yazhini, a young lawyer who lives with her Father in the very same village. She would soon happen to meet Arjun and agree to help him in his search. While the film should be commended for making sure their romance takes a backseat, there's always this inescapable feeling that she's way out of Arjun's league. Her Bengali background and the film's multiple references to Calcutta suggest some unrealised parts were left out in the editing room. While her character is necessary to the proceedings and is used effectively, she doesn't have a lot of screen time. I wonder what about this project interested her. Personally, I would prefer a version of Gouravam where Yami goes all Erin Brockovich on her town.
The digital photography deserves a mention here. The locations scouted for the film have been shown so beautifully that even a film like Anatolia can be shot in our countryside. Prakash Raj gives a good performance.
Gouravam isn't a period film set in the past when such issues were rampant. Its central idea is to show that such abhorrent problems are still prevalent and how they could be tackled when youth of the nation unite. It's out to create awareness. So I wonder- will this movie be successful in convincing a person who staunchly believes in the notions the film is trying to quash and dispel? There's a tiny possibility. But will it be worth the time of a person who is wise enough to know better than the antiquated practices of honor killing? Probably not.
RATING: 2.5 on 5.