Prolific filmmaker Vetrimaraan has a knack for flourishing the Southern Indian rural landscapes with dollops of violence infused with the essence of righteousness and betrayals. “Garudan,” directed by RS Durai Senthilkumar, who also wrote the screenplay, is based on a story by Vetrimaraan. Therefore, it is unsurprising that one would find similarities with films like “Aadukalam” and “Vada Chennai.” Like those films, “Garudan” is also a story centered around the pith of loyalty and morality. And the conflict between the two virtues. Despite hiccups, and there are some, “Garudan” soars to its desired vantage point, much to the credit of its central character and the fantastic job that actor Soori did in portraying it. 

The story begins using the trope of the third person, establishing the central characters as if placing pieces on the chessboard. The trope here especially works as it highlights the fable-like nature of the story. Local police chief Muthuvel (Samuthirakani) retells the story to his superior as part of his reason for resignation. Set in the Southern Tamil Nadu town of Kombai, the story begins with the friendship of Aadhi (M. Sasikumar) and Karuna (Unni Mukundan). Aadhi and Karuna are orphans, and they are raised by Karuna’s grandmother. Karuna’s family is one of the oldest and richest families in the town, and they own the land where the village’s most sacred temple is situated.

This is the premise where our underdog, Chockan, enters. Although the film revolves around the trifecta of Aadhi, Karuna, and Chockan, it is Chockan who can be termed the heart of the story. When they were young boys, Chockan saved Karuna from the bullies. In return, Karuna takes Chockan home and provides him with food and lodging. Karuna’s granny takes pity on young Chockan and adopts him. From that time onwards, Chockan lives with Karuna and becomes his most obedient aide. In association, Aadhi also becomes Chockan’s friend, and that continues till all of them are adults. 

Everything was fine and dandy till a powerful politician’s greedy eyes fell upon the temple land owned by Karuna’s family. There are a whole lot of scenes, fairly unnecessary if you ask me, explaining how that land could make the politician and anyone who supports him immensely rich. This is what sows the rift between Karuna and Aadhi. Aadhi’s righteous stand to save the temple land clashes with Karuna’s need to have more money. Chockan becomes the wild card in this conflict. 

A still from Garudan (2024).
A still from “Garudan” (2024).

There is no denying that Aadhi and his family love Chockan. Aadhi’s wife considers him a brother, and his son looks up to him as a loving uncle. Chockan also strives for that genuine love. However, the loyalty Chockan has for Karuna is undeniably immense. That is the essence of his character. He is the loyal dog of Karuna. The dog analogy has been quite on the face, with multiple references by both Karuna and Chockan.

This is the bright spot of “Garudan,” where it explores not just moral values pitted against unquestionable loyalty but also shines a light on what love is. Karuna’s pity and the compulsion Chockan felt to obey him is not love. In contrast, the organic feeling Chockan had with Aadhi’s family while they shared their lunch with him is. So much so that one could wonder if Chockan needed a romantic interest at all. The love he carried for Aadhi’s family was perhaps enough to establish the two sides that would be fighting within him. 

One of the aforementioned hiccups would be the inconsistent pacing of the screenplay. Senthilkumar takes plenty of time to establish the premise. You have the police chief narrating the story, but before that, you also have some fifteen minutes of long and redundant scenes just to establish the greed of the politician. The story is framed with three chapters that are titled “Land,” “Money,” and “Woman.” These are portrayed as the three pillars of destruction when it comes to the relationship between our central trio. Putting women in the same line with something acquirable as land and money is a tad reprehensible. Especially when you consider that this segregation is hardly contributing. Land and money culminated to be the same thing here, and the events of the film would have happened anyway without the intervention of the implied villainous ‘women.’ 

The film slogs till it reaches its high-octane halfway mark. A running gag of Chockan’s inability to not blurt out the truth provides some humor. This comes out of the blue and offhandedly. But it is the saving grace while “Garudan” repeats the process of sowing seeds of the upcoming war. Then comes the halfway mark, or what mass Indian cinema calls “Interval block.” This is where Soori’s mass appeal as Chockan takes center stage. Both Sasikumar and Unni Mukundan fit in their traditional ‘mass’ hero avatars as Aadhi and Karuna. However, Soori’s transformation from a timid yes-man to an unhinged mass-murdering avenging anti-hero is something to behold. 

Soori’s performance and the riveting character arc that his Chockan goes through form the cornerstone of “Garudan” in the second half. Thanks to that, the rest of the film becomes a breezy and dark fable. Something that was intended by the makers from the beginning. Whether it is “Karna” from “Mahabharat” or Jaime Lannister from “A Song of Ice and Fire,” great characters are born when they have to choose between unflinching loyalty and pure righteousness. This is where “Garudan” succeeds. Because it has Soori’s “Chockan” in the same mold. 

Read More: The 20 Best Indian Movies of 2023

Garudan (2024) Movie Links: IMDb, Wikipedia, Letterboxd
Garudan (2024) Movie Cast: Soori, Unni Mukundan, M. Sasikumar, Revathy Sharma, Sshivada Nair, Samuthirakani. Mime Gopi
Garudan (2024) Movie Release Date: 31st May 2024 | Genre: Action | Runtime: 2h 13 Mins
Where to watch Garudan

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