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Movie Review: Sivappu

... M Suganth/TOI:

Konaar, the in-charge at a construction, takes in Sri Lankan refugees who have escaped from their welfare camp. Pandiyan, a worker, falls in love with Parvathy, a refugee. The couple elopes and Konaar seeks the help of a minister to unite them. But, the politician sees this incident as his only chance to win an election.

Review: Sivappu is the kind of film that seems well-intentioned and sincere despite failing as a movie experience. The film is about the plight of Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka, and makes a case for being compassionate towards them, but it is less impactful than it should be. It is also manipulative and at times, feels exploitative, though the makers would claim that they only wanted to be a voice of Lankan Tamils and show their sufferings to the world.

The central character is Konaar, and it is played by Raj Kiran with the kind of dignity and compassion that he has brought to his recent characters. He is a father figure to Pandiyan, a hot-blooded young man who works on the site. This open-hearted man decides to take in 40 Sri Lankan refugees who have escaped from their camp in the hope of leaving to Australia only to be cheated by a middle-man. He decides to let them work in the building whose construction he is overseeing until he can find a way to make their dream possible. Meanwhile, Pandiyan falls in love with a refugee girl — Parvathy. They decide to marry, but an incident with a lascivious site engineer results in the refugees being discovered and being sent back to camp. Pandiyan helps Parvathy escape and Konaar reaches out to the minister whose site they are working on to get the lovers married. But the politician, who is facing defeat in an upcoming election, sees this as his chance to win back the voters.

The problem with Sivappu is not the predictability of its plot but the uneven tone and pacing. Though he is dealing with a topical issue, Sathya Siva often opts for comedy (nails-on-chalkboard funny and featuring Thambi Ramaiah) and romance (bland) over the inherent drama (will the refugees be discovered?) in the story. In the process, he sidlines the film's most interesting character — Konaar. Though he is shown as a respected man, in an early scene, we see him asking a worker to not stop work following the death of a girl. He is loyal to the minister, who is a shady character, but their equation isn't fleshed out. The romance is nothing new and even though Naveen Chandra and Rupa Manjari perform well, we never really take to these characters. And other than Parvathy, none of the other refugees is given anything significant to do. Their only function in this story is to invoke pity and nothing more.

But there are a couple of silver linings. Cinematographer Madhu Ambat's brick red and cement grey palatte (most of the film takes place in a construction site and it only feels perfect) gives the film a distinct look and makes it visually stand out. And the director does have the guts to state his point of view in this whole issue, one that feels sensible enough: Anaadhaya irukkara andha makkala onnu aadharikkanum illa kai vitranum; avangala vechu arasiyal panna koodathu (Either we should support them or leave them to fend for themselves, but we shouldn't use their plight to play politics).