Tuesday, October 26, 2010

SAIFF ’10: Anima and Persona

Evidently, Tamil gangsters are much like those found the world over, measuring their worth by their swagger. Unfortunately, when one aging godfather loses his potency, it indirectly precipitates all sorts of trouble in Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s Anima and Persona (trailer here), which screens this Saturday at the 2010 South Asian International Film Festival.

A captive trophy, Subbu does not want to spend a lot of quality time with Ayya, a big boss in decline. His inability to perform only makes his mistreatment of her worse. Already aware he is losing a step, he resents the goading of his chief henchman Pasupathy. Ostensibly agreeing to Pauspathy’s plan to pull a fast one on their competitors, he intends to dispatch the uppity soldier during the course of the operation. Of course, the disposable henchmen can’t get the job done, which forces them to take Pasupathy’s girlfriend hostage as a consolation prize.

The super bad Pasupathy is a dangerous enemy to have on the loose. Ayya also has to worry about the missing drug shipment he expected to appropriate and the rival gang from which it was swiped. Into this inter-gang skirmish wanders the comic relief, a bumbling villager and his sharp tongued young son, who desperately need a big score themselves, but are way out of their depth when the hot potato lands in their laps.

Anima is a Tamil film, but it features the established Bollywood star Jackie Sheroff as Ayya. Though there are no musical numbers here either, it is closer to the spirit of commercial Bollywood than other Indian films in the festival, particularly in its scenes involving the forbidden romance blossoming between Subbu and the apprentice henchman Sappai, as well as the slapstick of humor of the father and son country bumpkins.

Though the international title oddly invokes Jungian analysis, Anima is best when dramatizing Paupathy’s zen-like theory of gangsterism. Indeed, Sampath Raj emerges as a fantastic anti-hero protagonist, grittily intense and physically imposing throughout the film. Yasmin Ponnappa is also quite interesting to watch as Subbu, the femme fatale-in-distress. However, the low comedy of Somasundaram’s bumbling hick Kaalayan gets old quickly and rather clashes with the Pulp Fiction-like tone of the rest of the film.

Still, Kumararaja proves to be quite adept at juggling story lines, tying them all together rather cleverly. Though often quite cynical, Anima should prove to be a crowd pleaser at SAIFF, largely thanks to the very cool presence of Raj. An engaging gangster film with a few inventive narrative wrinkles, Anima is definitely worth catching when it screens at SAIFF this Saturday (10/30) at the SVA Theatre.