There are three narratives buried in the convoluted screenplay of G Mohan's Bakasuran. One is from the Shankar playbook, where a wronged man turns into a vigilante and kills those who wronged him by means of an exotic method. If it was Varmakalai in Indian and tactics from the Garuda Puranam in Anniyan, here the modes of killing are taken from Bheema in the Mahabharata. Mohan G adds a communal angle to this tragedy: in a scene where an affected father talks to and seeks comfort from a blazing fire, he points out that the man belongs to the same community that was enraged by the depiction of the Agni Kundam in Jai Bhim. Selvaraghavan, whose character is named Raasu, plays the vigilante killer. This is not a spoiler because we see him in this mode in the film's very first scene. (His last name is muted in the film, but the trailer told us it was Kachirayar.)
The second narrative in Bakasuran is a broader version of the first narrative. Here, instead of one wronged man, we have many wronged people whose daughters end up in sex work. That is the plot-driving factor in this narrative. If the earlier narrative was a simpler story about a single girl who was traumatised, this narrative is about a larger conspiracy. It's not clear whether the victims belong to the same community as I mentioned above, but based on this filmmaker's earlier work, I think it's possible to guess the identities of the young men who lure these young women into sex work – though I can't say for sure. This narrative involves Natarajan Subramaniam as a successful YouTuber named Arul, who uploads true-crime videos. The character is also something of a detective – though the "clues" in this screenplay are easy enough to follow by anyone who has seen a Tamil movie.
Bakasuran is dull. For all the sensationalism, there is no tension. The two narratives blend together uneasily, and very predictably. And very broadly, too: a man who heads a meeting about violence against women is shown to be a womaniser. Yes, there are a few interesting points raised: for example, if people refuse to report sex crimes fearing for their family honour, then how do we bring the culprits to justice? This is the problem Arul faces. And the solution comes from the other narrative: that the only way to "expose them" is to kill them, or reveal their misdeeds via video recordings. The film says that smartphones are evil and lead to women being led astray by evil men, but it also shows how a smartphone's video camera can be used to bring down the biggest of villains. So is the smartphone good or bad?
The answer is that it's not that simple. Everything that can be used for good purposes can also be used for bad things. So why villainise the poor smartphone, which is just a tool? The best character in Bakasuran is the progressive grandfather played by K Rajan. This man knows that a girl cannot be held responsible if she is duped by bad people, and he even encourages his granddaughter when she brings home a boyfriend. And yet, there is the subtext that had this girl not had a boyfriend, had she just been a "good girl" and concentrated on studies, then none of the things that happened to her would have happened. There is also the subtext that people in cities "live like Westerners" and that women are safest in their own homes. And even there, their safety is suspect because of… smartphones.
In other words, decoding the messaging is more interesting than anything else in this randomly written and unimaginatively directed movie, where a miscast Selvaraghavan is thrown into big action scenes. (See Saani Kaayidham again to recall how wonderfully this actor's unique persona can be used.) And now we come to the third narrative: the subtext in these films by directors who are vocal about caste. The protagonist is shown as a man who lives on alms from a Shiva temple. He sings songs about this God from devotional epics like Pattinathar and the Nandanar, which was about a… Dalit saint. Is the man really a Shiva devotee, or is this just his disguise? After all, he is used to playing parts, being a folk-theatre artist in his village. Like many other movies of this nature, the real interest in Bakasuran may lie in what is being said (or being left unsaid). I don't know the answers, but sociologists and political minds might have a more interesting time with Bakasuran than lay audiences like us.