It can safely be said that Pothuraju is not for everyone. Which is all right, because not everyone is going to watch it. A film about capital punishment, with only violence, de-glamorized gore and really bad CG to distract from that somber theme, does not stand a chance against pinky-pink romances and candyfloss comedy.
So the film's real measure of success will be based on what the people who did show up make of it. Well, the story doesn't pussyfoot around the issue, but it doesn't sledgehammer smug prejudices with the impact of Dead Man Walking either. Make that a 5 on the Richter.
The movie starts off in a very promising way, with officials on various rungs of the judiciary giving a hand-held camera their personal take on justice by death. Everyone from a human-rights advocate to the executioner has a view, from the moral to the intellectual to the practical (hey, it's just a job). The interviews are being conducted by Barkha-Dutt-lookalike Angela Yesupadam (Rohini), whose father was hanged for a crime that saved her life. Angela's personal stake in the story makes her a more-than-usually persistent journalist, who manages to make her way through the corrupt barracks and right into death row.
Two criminals who share a bloody past are brought into the interrogation room, and the first one (Reddy) tells his story. Reddy (Pasupathy) was a land baron of sorts in his village, and perpetually at loggerheads with the leader of the neighboring hamlet. Pothuraju (Kamal Haasan) is a local hero of this second village, who owns a crucial piece of land, and is hence wooed by both chieftains. Raju, however, throws his lot in with Reddy, because he is head over heels about Adilakshmi (Reddy's niece, Abhirami).
And this where the two stories - as told by Reddy and Pothuraju - veer diametrically from each other. While Reddy makes Raju out to be a hotheaded murderer and the rapist of his niece, the latter has a whole other tale of vested ambitions, bribery and the wiping out of evidences. The two stories, each with a different villain, are narrated excellently, with a very realistic idea of bent perceptions. You watch two similar stories, told from two slightly varied angles, and this makes all the difference. No prizes for guessing who was telling the truth.
While Angela untangles the two versions, a riot breaks out at the jail and suddenly she and her colleague are in mortal danger because of harmful evidence they've filmed against the corrupt jailors. To capture her and the film, the cops set Reddy and Raju loose with the promise to delivering one to the other. The last 45-minutes or so are filled with fights, riots and casual murders.
You have to wonder as the credits roll if the film really says much against capital punishment. After all, the central idea is that one murder cannot be redeemed by another, but apart from a couple of dialogues that say as much, the issue remains unexplored. It seems like the argument here is that capital punishment is wrong because it might result in the death of an innocent man. But when it comes to the baddies, we still prefer them dead. Pothuraju makes a better case against an impotent, and immensely saleable, justice system. It's real, it's charged and it's eloquent - just a little out of focus.