Anbarivu tries to question caste practices but lacks the nuance and sophistication to make a compelling argument.
HipHop Tamizha takes on a dual role for the first time in Asvin Raam’s directorial debut Anbarivu. He plays named twin brothers – take a wild guess – yes, Anbu and Arivu. But Tamil cinema is no stranger to family drama with estranged twins. From MGR Engal Veetu Pillai at Suriya Vel, several films have defined the formula of this “genre”. Twins are diametrically opposed in character. They most likely hate each other. At some point, they will switch places to “act” like the other person. And of course there is a happy ending. It’s like how VS Raghavan hilariously observes in the Vadivelu-starrer, Imsai Arasan 23h Pulikesi (another distant twins movie), “Rettai kozhandhaigal pirandhu vittaal, thiraikadhiyil veru enna dhan seyya mudiyum? (if there are twins, what else can you do with the script? “
Anbarivu tries to match the lack of novelty of its narrative with its setting. The film takes place in two fictional villages – Arasapatti and Andipatti – near Madurai. As its name suggests, Arasapatti (the land of kings) belongs to the privileged caste while Andipatti (the land of the poor) is home to the oppressed. And the power belonged to Arasapatti, or more precisely to the family of Muniyandi (Napoleon). So when his sister Lakshmi decides to marry Andipatti’s Prakasam (Saikumar), Muniyandi is upset. But he decides to be “gregarious” and lets the couple get married. But there is no respect. Even his wife Lakshmi seems to tie him up like her father. Pasupathy (Vidhaarth), also from Andipatti, still fuels hostility between men. In the end, an enraged Prakasam leaves with Baby Arivu, leaving behind his wife and Baby Anbu.
Anbarivu tries to question caste practices but lacks nuance and sophistication to make a compelling argument.
Word ‘jaathi‘(caste) only happens once in the film; on several occasions it is called “kolgai” (ideology). I’m all for the gray characters, but Anbarivu only reserves it for the villainous Pasupathy. On the other hand, he makes teddy bears of Muniyandi, Anbu, and Lakshmi, only mildly berating them for all of their problematic behaviors. Above all, the caste struggle is presented as a “family problem”. Good Dalit Prakasam even “thanks” Muniyandi for letting him marry Lakshmi, given his “past”. The people of Andipatti, who have been repeatedly humiliated, are expected to instantly forget everything they have faced because Muniyandi realized his “insanity”. Even at the end, in a moment “love triumphs over everything”, the men of the two villages share a gesture of honor at the village feast. Women are however excluded.
Anbarivu also suffers from execution problems. The film breaks the cardinal rule of cinema according to which “show, don’t tell”. After the Arivu fina, the idea of mass / cool Anbu and Arivu is to wear sunglasses – no matter if it’s raining or if they’re at home. Everything feels staid, especially the Canadian portions, in which Arivu occasionally switches to accented English to remind us he’s an NRI. No one other than him has an accent. Pasupathy is a minister, but he seems to have no other job than to follow the Muniyandi family. (Seeing nice Vidhaarth playing a bad guy was fun. He seemed to enjoy it very much.) The conversations, the emotions, seem artificial. He has a heroine, Kalai (Kashmira) who seems to remember that she is only a doctor when she is in the hospital. At times of necessity, like a traffic accident or a fight, she is content to be a crying spectator. Less can be said about the other lead actress, Yaazhini (Kayal), who seems to only be there because Anbu needed some love interest. (HipHop Aadhi gets the credits for from Anbarivu story.)
Anbarivu is marketed as a “family entertainer”. And I started to wonder why Tamil cinema makes these family artists into time-warping portals. (Annaththe is another movie that has been marketed the same way.) Some of our biggest commercial stars are experimenting with genres and forms and being very successful. There is an urgent need to stop projecting the “song-fight-message-screechy melodrama” model as “family friendly”. Our families have evolved. So should we.
Rating: 1.5 / 5
Anbarivu airs on Disney + Hotstar
Ashameera Aiyappan is a film journalist who writes about Indian cinema with an emphasis on South Indian films.