Roughly 22 years ago, Senapathy called IPS officer Krishnaswamy from Hong Kong and told him that “Indian will be back”, and finally it is. Director Shankar announced recently that the shooting for Indian 2 will begin from today. So, I decided to revisit the 1996 film Indian.
When Indian released back in May 1996, the movie took the screens by storm. It paved the way for Shankar to make more movies like Mudhalvan, Sivaji, Anniyan etc that incorporated bold, political statements. It is no secret that Shankar loves capitalising on the problems of the “common man” and Indian went on to become a commercial and critical success. It surpassed Baasha in box office collections and was even selected by India as its entry for the Academy Awards in 1996, although it was not nominated. It is not hard to see why Indian was so popular among the masses back then and how it remains that way till date.
The film centres around septuagenarian Senapathy (Kamal Haasan with heavy prosthetic make-up), an extremist freedom fighter who is hell bent on rooting out corruption. He uses his expertise in Varma Kalai to incapacitate dishonest government officials who take bribes, ultimately killing them using a knife fashioned into a belt. The movie also focuses on the moralistic clash between Senapathy and his son Chandru (also Kamal Haasan) where we ultimately see that Senapathy is unwilling to relax his principles even for the sake of his own children.
Indian is a movie that was relevant back then and is still very much relevant today. The political nature of the movie allows it to showcase the clear apathy of government employees or “public servants” towards the very people they have sworn to serve and protect. There is a scene where a group of people are seen protesting and marching towards the police (the issue is irrelevant), when the cops open fire. Protesters and civilians are shot and killed. The scene is oddly reminiscent of the Sterlite protests that happened in Thoothukudi last year, cementing its relevance. One of my favourite moments in the entire movie is a conversation between two old women who are sitting outside the Treasury department, waiting to collect their compensation from the government. Manorama, who lost her husband in the protest, is seen telling another woman whose house burned down in a different protest, how bribes travel in the office. What is most striking is how casually Manorama explains it all, as if she has internalised the exhausting yet illegal process.
In the movie, we are taken back to the freedom struggle where we see Senapathy as a fierce protector of the country. The scenes where he joins Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army to fight for the country is done in a very realistic way (thanks to technology) and is truly memorable. There is no doubt that the movie aims to instill a strong sense of patriotism and it does that well. The sepia tones used for the flashback, accompanied by AR Rahman’s background music, sets the tone for Senapathy. Audiences and the public will root for him, without a question.
Whether Indian 2 will achieve the same without chest-thumping nationalism remains to be seen. But, one thing is for sure, we will still root for Senapathy.