I remember watching Kuruthipunal (′River of Blood’; 1995) when I was still in college and staggering out of the theatre in shock. That feeling stayed with me the entire week and I went back thrice.
With each additional viewing, as the emotional impact dulled, I could appreciate the police action thriller more and more for its impeccable performances and powerful screenplay, all contained within a bare-bones structure that eschewed the usual song-and-dance routines of Tamil cinema. Even the violence seemed necessary rather than gratuitous.
Another big departure from the norm was that in this action flick, the reel cops — Kamal Haasan as Adhi and Arjun as Abbas — behaved like real ones who displayed intelligence and strategy against their ruthless Naxal adversary Badri (played by Nassar). In this movie, killing the baddies was not as important as capturing and questioning them. For a while, Kuruthipunal became the gold standard to which I held all Tamil movies, and most predictably failed.
Kuruthipunal was released on 23 October, 1995, and 2020 marks the 25th year since it first hit theatres. Now is a good time as any to look back on the film’s impact. Has it aged well? How well will it sit with an audience today? How do its technical aspects measure up to today’s standards?
Right movie, wrong time?
Kuruthipunal is widely seen as a classic now, but it was perhaps a little too ahead of its time when it was released. It became India’s submission to the 68th Academy Awards (although it was not nominated), but it confounded Tamil audiences back then and did not do nearly as well at the box office as superstar Rajinikanth’s Muthu, which was released on the same date. The movies could not have been more dissimilar. Muthu was a rather regressive tale of romantic cross-connections set in a land of semi-fantastical proportions. Kuruthipunal was rooted in realism and so removed from the cinematic conventions of the time that even Kamal’s fanatical fans...