Soorarai Pottru (2020 Amazon Original): From Mani’s Ratnam’s Guru to Sudha’s Mara

There has been a slew of biopics in Hindi cinema in the last few years, but most of them have been hagiographies. Biopics as a trend has not picked up in the southern cinema. Even when Bollywood has chosen a South Indian for a biopic, they have transported the protagonist to North India like Padman. Soorarai Pottru takes inspiration from the life of Captain Gopinath and his quest to start the no-frills airplane in India.

Soorarai Pottru has a close resemblance to Mani Ratnam’s Guru. In terms of treatment and narration, the film almost follows the same pattern. The only stark difference is Guru is willing to bend the law to achieve his goals, while Mara (the protagonist of Soorarai Pootru played by Suriya) wants to achieve his utopian dream while being an idealist.
If you look at both films, the father of the lead character is a teacher by profession and who represents the moral compass and are happy to be in their own world. Their better half in both films are opinionated and not afraid to share their views.

While in Guru he gets the help of a Newspaper owner, here it is a radio journalist who helps Mara to get his voice heard.  The similarities between both films are way too many to be ignored.

In fact, we get the whole homage to Alaipayuthey in one song where Maraa goes in search of his wife.

Both films are based on a similar premise of two men who dream of running a business empire to reach out to people who are marginalised but are keen to move up in a socialist India where babus collide with powers to be and increase the barrier levels in the name of protecting consumers, but end up hurting consumers and helping the current business magnates.

Even though Soorarai Pootru is heavily fictionised, we know that Jazz Airlines in the film represents the now-defunct airlines whose name also starts with J. We all know how then the ministers changed the rules on whims to favour one airline and hurt the prospects of growth of Captain’s airline.
What the film deviates is how Guru saw it as a class struggle between have and have nots. While here it is given a caste angle which is surprising considering the person on whom the film is based is an upper-caste Hindu. For the uninitiated, this is like choosing a black actor to play a real-life white character and saying how the white character had to endure the same discriminations due to his colour. This is very disturbing as we hardly have Dalit filmmakers or protagonists telling their stories in our films.
Suriya is a treat to watch as the underdog Mara, the airport scene where he breakdowns because he does not have extra money to purchase the ticket, hits us even harder as we saw migrants earlier this year walking during lockdown to their homes as they did not have money. The scene where he hesitates to ask money from his wife which then culminates with him apologising to her is such a treat to watch.
Aparna Balamurali playing a strong independent woman and Mara’s wife is one of the talents to watch out for. Urvashi is another anchor of the film.  As the doting mother (of Mara) this character could have been so clichéd. But Urvashi brings such a warmth to this character that you want Maara to succeed just for her sake.
I have not watched Sudha Kongara’s debut film – Saala Khadoos/Irudhi Suttru, but this clearly has inspiration and a strong imprint of her former mentor Mani Ratnam, be it in the screenplay or song placement.
However, that does not mean she is a lesser director. A biopic is a tight rope walk to in which one has to merge fictions and facts seamlessly to entertain audiences and Sudha succeeds in that. My only grouse is that the film could have been easily trimmed by 20 minutes especially in the second half where the director is repeatedly making the same point of Maara being the underdog.
Nonetheless, this is the best lockdown acquisition that Amazon Prime has made from the South.
The film is streaming in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam on Amazon Prime Video.
P.S. – I understand the prestigious institute of IAF going into a frenzy after Gunjan Saxena. But I hope they would know as an institution Indians have faith in them and one movie would alter the foundation and admiration of Indians to the institution. The disclaimer here which states it does not reflect the official policy of IAF is a bit disturbing, as all scenes depict IAF in a positive light and how they stand up for the nation and their fellow brothers.

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