Maaran is a socialist, not a socialite. He wants the working class to fly. He wants to bring the privileged down to their knees and treat the under-privileged with the same respect. He wants to break not just the cost-barrier, but also the bloody caste-barrier, dammit! He offers pilot jobs to retired Air Force soldiers. He openly declares that his wife is more successful than he is. He respects his mother and grandmother, and is always fighting the good cause. He is disgusted by bribery. He wants every single Indian to experience the glorious experience of flying, to prove that it’s not just a luxury of the rich. His goodwill nature would get irritating if it wasn’t met with his ego, which also seems to be his only flaw. The only thing that would make Maaran more perfect is if he had the appearance and mass appeal of a southern super star.
Directed by Sudha Kongara and starring Suriya and Aparna Balamurali in lead roles, Soorarai Pottru is inspired by true events of low-cost aviation, an initiative taken by G Gopinath, the founder of Air Deccan. Air Deccan, later Simplify Deccan, was a ground-breaking business that emerged in 2003 and ran until 2008, as it provided flight tickets to the working class. In the movie, tickets are for all of one rupee only. Even though Gopinath later merged with Mallya’s Kingfisher flights (after first saying they are from opposite worlds) and the Deccan airlines operations ceased in 2008 due to severe losses, it was an impressive feat, and the first of its kind, to provide low-cost carriers. The title, Soorarai Pottru literally transalates to ‘praise the brave’.
However, the question about whether Gopinath’s business warrants an entire biopic dedicated to his greatness, becomes an irrelevant one when a star like Suriya is attached to it. Because the movie is a Suriya show. And he definitely steals it. Apart from looking fantastic as always, the actor really taps into the Maaran character with an enviable ease, and grounds every emotion in his eyes. He’s intense, strong-willed and entirely believable. Suriya is the epitome of screen presence. He can dance, laugh, cry, scream in anguish and play the part of the devoted lover with ease. Aparna Balamurali is a skilled actress and a refreshing on-screen presence. Bommi matches Maaran in every possible way: ambition, ego, discipline, strong-will, even carefree dancing. She’s the feminist character that’s much needed in Kollywood, and only a female director as observant as Kongara could have written her down. Suriya and Balamurali, along with the secondary cast of Kavitha Ranjini, Urvashi, and Mohan Kumar, tap into the very specific dialect and mannerisms of their Madurai-based characters, inhabiting their world with authenticity.
Paresh Rawal, however, sticks out like a sore thumb. Not only is the dubbing far too obvious, his character is probably one of the dullest, most black-and-white antagonists to exist in movies. Of course he’s the rich dude who owns a successful airline. Of course he doesn’t want smelly masses to sit by his side. Of course he’s threatened by Maaran and uses his influence to create obstacles in every step of his way. Oh, and I suppose he has anxiety because that’s supposed to make him human? Relatable? Centre him? It does none of that. Instead, we have a caricature of a villain whose only job is to be snooty and manipulative. Like a Blair Waldorf, straight out of a high school drama series.
Soorarai Pottru is entertaining and has some great music to it, courtesy of GV Prakash Kumar, but it has all the negatives of a biopic. First, the predictable storyline that goes failure, failure, failure, success! as Baradwaj Rangan points out. Second, it glorifies its protagonist, making every life event seem overly dramatised and creating a godlike character that is above everybody else. Third, it’s all about the lead actor. This movie is all about Suriya, every tear that he sheds for betraying his dead father and every time his flight business is foiled, every word that he utters that is inspirational to us to keep moving forward, and every fist-pumping, triumphant-background score that keeps the audience engaged in his every step. Fourth, it felt pretty much like a checklist of saviour complex. How many causes does Maaran care about? Not just the cost-barrier, but the caste-barrier dammit! His desire to serve the masses becomes annoying even, and I begin to suspect that this is just good PR for Suriya.
Having said that, Soorarai Pottru is actually engaging, entertaining with equal parts comedy and drama, and an air-tight script that knows exactly what it wants to say. I didn’t feel the absurdity of a biopic like Shakuntala Devi, that was scattered and not at all about her passion for maths, nor did I feel the humanness of Gunjan Saxena, that had a wide spectrum of grey characters, none of them heroes or villains. Soorarai Pottru is simple, but in its simplicity there is great enjoyment. I believed its world entirely and rooted for Maaran and Bommi to make it in their egalitarian marriage, and careers respectively. I believed its context of the 90s, just as the internet was taking over and airplane businesses were soaring over the nation. I believed in Gopinath’s ideals that flying in an aeroplane should not just remain a luxury of the elite, but a basic right to all citizens. I believed and I stayed with the film, through all the rickety parts as well.
Besides, it’s always a treat to watch Suriya in uniform.