The second feature length film funded by the Singapore Film Commission's Feature Film Fund, Gurushetram - 24 Hours of Anger, is being touted as Singapore's first Tamil film, unless of course if you're considering a Tamil-speaking local film then Eric Khoo's My Magic would be ahead of this effort by TT Dhavamanni, who directed and co-wrote the story with Cheong Tze Chien, which touch on Indian gangsters dabbling with drugs as a way of life.
It's interesting to see how Singapore society gets portrayed through the lens focused on a different cultural segment than what has been dished out so far in a Singapore film, continuing with that fascination of the underbelly of society. From the get go we are introduced to a very dysfunctional family, where a mother of two gets sent to the gallows no thanks to drug trafficking, leaving behind a her husband who disappears soon after the funeral, and the sons being taken care of by their uncle who's chief gangster of the North, priding himself and his gang with delivering some of the best coke for the country's elites, and being quite blatant about it through their mixing and preparation with the windows of their hideout wide open, and doing so in the living room. Talk about having balls and dicing with the death penalty!
There were moments in the narrative that the film comments on how those in positions of power exploit the working class and the desperate, in making them take tremendous risk in order to fuel the elite class' pleasures and highs. There were also enough scenes which may have you question just how it mirrors and parallels the power of the law in this land, but of course this allows for some bandwidth for our top cop Anbarasan Segar (Matialagan) to flex some of his unorthodox methods in getting the job done, despite being played out by his secret informer a number of times, or so he thought.
Yes, Gurushetram is also a cop film with Infernal Affairs proportions, where trust serves as a precious commodity and is one of the key themes in the film, especially as the narrative develops itself and dishes out a number of pleasant surprises along the way, despite a plodding, and some false starts. Central to the tale is that of the close knit relationship between Prakash (Vishnu) and his mentally challenged brother Subra (Prakash), where the former is always on the lookout for the latter, with both being drawn into the drug trade by family ties, their uncle Vinod (Sivakumar) who runs a catering business (check out that retro blue color Volkswagon van!) used as a front to their clandestine operations.
I will not say I have intimate knowledge of the cast here, though I do note that Matialagan is fairly familiar, probably from television, and he does have a debonair flair of being a no-nonsense cop. There's a very small subplot trying to explore the estranged relationship with his social worker wife, who is coincidentally tasked to take care of Prakash and Subra many years back and a key source of her marriage breakdown, but unfortunately this was somewhat glossed over in favour of a greater focus between the two brotherly siblilngs. While Vishnu and especially Prakash in his role as the slow Subra do enough to convince you of their close ties, they do get repetitive especially when the plot calls for the same old device of hide-and-seek to cast the Subra character aside for a while.
Narratively, as mentioned, Gurushetram is a slow brew, picking up toward the second half of the film complete with flashes of brilliance as the story moves at breakneck speed, though it did stutter sometimes with scenes that were crafted in quite cartoonish fashion, for instance when Segar and his partner come face to face with a group of Malay thugs. Editing, especially with its flashback scenes could be kinder in its transitions, with flashing back being done too often which stuttered the narrative flow. For instance, a scene going back in time was inserted so as to show how Subra will behave when in a similar situation, which is too soon a deja-vu for the viewer.
As usual with Indian cinema, the soundtrack is always excellent, which accentuate scenes really well, and one almost cannot escape from having song and dance opportunities worked into the story, such as the X-plosion Night competition which allows for a quick snapshot at the dancing talent readily available. As a first feature film, Gurushetram had plenty of potential to be that decent commercial film our industry so seldom sees, although one gripe that I do have, is how its references to the Mahabarata do not go beyond just subtitling to let you know of some direct references, which will likely leave the non-Tamil speaking audience guessing for the most parts how its references mirror the moment on screen directly. Would have loved to know the intended deeper meaning for such scenes.
With two down and seven more features to go, it's perhaps uncanny to note that the first two films released under the Feature Film Fund banner are tales which have got to do with revenge, with a violence begets violence narrative. Hopefully there's a lot more diversity in the remaining features which are currently in various states of production.