An isolated village in Tamil Nadu under the control of a pitiless British officer and his perverse son is on the verge of freedom – but the villagers don’t know it yet. From this promising premise, writer-director NS Ponkumar has crafted a cartoonish and gratuitously violent alternative history of the Independence movement.
Robert (Richard Ashton) and his son Justin (Jason Shah) have established a reign of terror in the cotton-rich Sengadu. Wielding whips, cutting tongues, mounting bodies on spikes – Robert and Justin prefer medieval forms of punishment. Justin also preys on the girls of Sengadu.
Landlord (Mudhusudhan Rao) is Robert’s most prominent collaborator. Although the villagers are familiar with the Indian National Army slogan “Give me your blood and I will give you freedom”, they are entirely unaware that a lengthy anti-colonial movement is going to bear fruit in a matter of days.
Robert, who believes wholly in his self-invented maxim “Five minutes spent, 12 pounds wasted!” whips some more to extract as many riches from the village as he can before he hands over charge to Indian administrators. An unlikely hero turns up in the form of the village outlier Paraman (Gautham Karthik), who snaps out of his complacency after events involving the landlord’s daughter Dipali (Revathy).
Ponkumar’s Tamil-language August 16 1947 has been dubbed into Hindi and released with a UA certificate. Parental guidance is advisable for a film that might thoroughly confuse young history-minded viewers.
Nearly always loud and attached to brutal methods of dispatch, the 144-minute movie balances its elements ably enough up until the interval. The post-interval bits are a mess of confused plotting, hammy acting, and a series of mindless deaths.
Robert and Justin are the kind of comic-book villains who provide the laughs even when in the middle of demonstrating the most horrible behaviour. Robert, in particular, is a scream, screeching out orders and strenuously rolling his eyes to live up to his reputation as “a cross between Adolf Hitler and Changez Khan”. By contrast, the film’s leads are models of restraint.
Director Ponkumar has simply been too swept away by his RRR knockoff to bring his saga of suffering to a close. Emancipation from the unremitting histrionics never quite comes.
The repeated violence has its desired effect: it leaves the audience numb. By the time we meet the man whose tongue has been cut off and who is repeatedly told to express himself clearly because he can’t be understood, it’s hard to care whether freedom is around the corner or not, whether for Sengadu or the bludgeoned viewer.