Captain Miller is a film that defies traditional expectations, offering a unique and strong alternative to the typical mass cinema. Directed by Arun Matheswaran, the movie features an impressive cast, including Dhanush, Shiva Rajkumar, Priyanka Arul Mohan, Aditi Balan, and Sundeep Kishan. With a runtime of 160 minutes, Captain Miller takes viewers on a captivating journey filled with violence, ethical dilemmas, and the pursuit of freedom.
The Ethical Conundrum
Set in pre-Independence India, Captain Miller explores a village's struggle to gain entry into a temple forbidden to them. During this time, the nationalist movement coexists with the landed gentry's collaboration with the British. The film presents two paths for the protagonist, Analeesan (played by Dhanush), to escape this dilemma. He can either join the army and fight alongside the British to earn money or join the revolutionaries to overthrow both the landed gentry and the British.
Analeesan initially chooses the former, believing that respect equals freedom. He sees the army as a means to gain respect, symbolized by the boots he wears, the uniform he dons, and the name he is given – Miller. This perspective challenges the conventional idea of liberation, where freedom is often sought but rarely achieved. Analeesan's pursuit of respect as freedom offers a radical reimagining of the concept. However, this newfound respect is short-lived.
In a pivotal moment, Analeesan, now known as Captain Miller, is forced to shoot unarmed protestors, leading him to confront the brutality of the British Empire. Consumed by guilt, he contemplates taking his own life. Yet, he is stopped by someone who reminds him of the countless lives already sacrificed. This poignant line, "Are the lives forsaken so far not enough?" forces Miller to question his actions and sets the stage for his transformation.
The Conflict and the Cause
Captain Miller delves into the heart of its conflict, which continuously evolves throughout the film. The villains shift between the landed royalty and the British, while the victims remain the residents of the local village. The villagers' fight encompasses both the desire to enter the forbidden temple and the larger cause of freedom. The film balances these dual motivations, creating a tension that drives the narrative forward.
One of the defining characteristics of Captain Miller is its language of excess. The film boasts limbic excess, with intense sequences featuring fire, guns, and explosions. The cinematography by Siddhartha Nuni captures this raw energy, often employing shaky and vibrant shots. The colors bleed into each frame, immersing viewers in the textures of doors, saris, and temple sculptures. Amid the chaos, bodies soar through the sky like confetti, creating a poetic visual experience.
However, the film's excessive use of violence begins to wear thin. As violence becomes commonplace, the value of life diminishes. Each bloodbath becomes less impactful, and death loses its emotional weight. This dilution of violence undermines the film's momentum and blurs the distinction between the various incarnations of villainy. Nevertheless, it is within these action sequences that Dhanush's performance shines.
A Paean to Dhanush
Dhanush's portrayal of Captain Miller is truly captivating. His eyes convey a profound sense of emptiness and despair, as seen in his previous roles in films like Vada Chennai, Asuran, and Karnan. When his character is drunk, his eyes become hollow, reflecting both his desperation and brokenness. Dhanush's physical transformation, with a slight muscular build, exudes confidence and charisma. His red thundu (traditional Tamil scarf) billows in the wind, a symbol of his resilience.
To witness Dhanush on-screen is to witness stardom itself. His presence commands attention, captivating viewers' gaze. Logic bends before him, as he effortlessly takes charge of the narrative. However, the film's decision to strip away love from his story and focus solely on rage diminishes the complexity of his character. The portrayal of womanhood in the film also falls short, reducing it to a disinterested entity in masculinity. Captain Miller misses an opportunity to explore the multifaceted nature of relationships.
The Division of the Film
The division of Captain Miller into chapters, a recurring approach in director Arun Matheswaran's films, feels forced at times. This structure adds weight to the film's length, as the adversaries become increasingly grandiose, diluting the impact of the overarching villainy. Matheswaran's previous film, Saani Kaayidham, juxtaposed beauty and violence, such as blood dissolving into chili powder. This tradition continues in Captain Miller, seeking beauty within the contradictions of gore.
Captain Miller is a powerful and thought-provoking film that challenges the conventions of mass cinema. It explores themes of violence, ethical dilemmas, and the pursuit of freedom in pre-Independence India. While the film's excessive violence may lessen its impact, Dhanush's performance as Captain Miller is truly remarkable. The film's portrayal of womanhood and its structural choices could have been further developed to enhance the narrative. Overall, Captain Miller offers a unique cinematic experience that keeps viewers engaged and leaves them contemplating the complexities of life and liberation.