There is something more frustrating when a movie comes close to greatness and then falls short- it is when a movie is perfectly flat and gives me not enough reason to hate it.
Rajesh M Selva’s follow up to Thoongavanam is the cinematic equivalent of what is referred to in corporate appraisal meetings as “barely meets expectations”. These meetings don’t end badly, but neither are they the source of future happiness or gross percentage increase in salary.
It is like just doing enough to avoid being hated by the manager.
Doubly frustrating if you can relate it to our writers at the Lowly Laureate- this could have been an FRS.
Lucky for the director that he has the script from the french film which saved him from doing stuff from scratch- ideally would have given him more time in character development- but who cares what I believe.
“Let’s just have Vikram walk in slo-mo and hope the audience go bonkers and maybe they will use indeterminables like” chiyaan swag etc.” Let’s also have him smoke a cigar because that would add to the style right?
Ghibran could add some “BWAAAAH”, that dark knight type music? Ok cool.
Character development done.
Somewhere along the line, a set of characters do an exposition dump in the middle of a car ride- this is just after they discover the mysterious KK (vikram) in the police database. Of course he is ex-special forces, double agent and expert safe-cracker and no one on the robbery unit couldn’t recognize him on the go, because Malaysian police are nothing without their databases.
I thought maybe the movie should have begun with something like “In a world where everyone in malaysia speaks Tamil” that would have been crazy and fun, but this movie does nothing crazy(or fun), even the tired ‘twist’ comes before the halfway mark.
The initial romantic portions between the leads Abi Hassan and Akshara Haasan (not related) too look like they have been inspired by a real estate ad asking young couples to invest in a new apartment so that they can claim subsidy from the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana ( but then this scheme is not applicable in Malaysia).
Maybe I should not be expecting anything. Maybe I should not be so mean.
Caustic Kumar looking for a face he could recognize through the controlled darkness of the pub, mouthing something he had been thinking over and over again, “who keeps a meeting in such a place?”
It was the chief, his thin frame had been accentuated by the darkness, pencil in the night. His white David Lynchian hair bent forwards when he spoke.
“Important night CK, someone just told me that the Laureate must be prepared for a hostile takeover”
“What! I can’t see any one reason anyone would want to buy The Laureate!”
“So did I”, said calmly the chief “But it is in this pub that I am to meet the informer, I had called you to tell that if things go the wrong way, let the piece on Thoongavanam be the last one you write for us”
CK did not understand, this could have been conveyed by a simple text message, an even easier free Whatsapp message, more importantly he could not come to terms with the fact that that the only establishment that thought him fit to be employed is actually being taken over, could this be the end?
He turned to convey the same to chief, but the chief had silently slipped away, a near distant light showed the location of the bar, legs moved involuntarily.
“Thoongavanam” CK repeated
MM appeared out of nowhere, like a genie waiting for a keyword, he shouldn’t be here, but CK was willing to put down everything in the disbelief component of his brain.
CK: “I’m sure you’ve seen it too Mod” (looking visibly disturbed)
MM: not once, but twice, and I absolutely loved it.
CK: this is even after seeing Nuit Blanche (the movie on which the latest Kamal movie is based)
MM: Look here, CK; we are the only ones who have seen the French film and we wouldn’t have seen it if not for the fact that Thoongavanam was in the works, but I guess I like Thoonga more.
CK: Nuit Blanche was a straight-jacketed action thriller, engrossing and feverishly cinematographed and leaving no room for extensions
MM: unless of course if Kamal Haasan takes up scripting duties…
CK: when I saw Thoonga for the first time, I was only doing mental comparisons scene by scene, how Thoonga is different but at the same time retains much of the core of Nuit Blanche.
MM: the detailing, the back stories, in NB the hero is a regular detail-less action hero, but here CK Diwakar is played by Kamal and that means that he will have issues, women, children and morals
CK: Kamal has rarely written and played any character without any noticeable motivations, remember that line from Vishwaroopam ?
(“I have a lot of emotional baggage”)
MM: Yes digging a little deeper, here in the improved screenplay there is a bit of detailing for everyone who partake in the back story of Diwakar and in that we are able to connect with the problem of the hero, like his wife, his colleagues and even his adversaries; but then again the characters Kamal play are increasingly becoming like ‘him’
CK: that is only scratching the surface type reading of a film, let us look at it this way, how much of value has been added when Kamal has taken up scripting duties, obviously you are not going to touch the action sequences
MM: which were done exceedingly well, I might add, finally had moments on screen when I was bothered who was getting hit and by whom
CK: and why is that? Because we know the characters, at least to the extent of what Kamal is willing to tell us, like say the importance of soya milk or how cell phones have replaced watches, when all this happens, when you put in characters of flesh blood in a setting much like this pub, you actually feel for their lives, dismissing them as extrusions is quite troubling for me, Kamal just uses his ‘Kamal-ness’ to get the feeling about
MM: I wouldn’t still agree to the whole self-referential for a reason argument, but there is still something that is there in Thoonga that is very much absent in Nuit Blanche, the humour.
MM: But then at points I thought that this was in a way dampening the overall tension, this mixing of the genres, this trying to appease different sections of the theatre
CK: Mod, my only response to you for that will be that you are forgetting that you are watching a Tamil remake of a French film. Yes maybe strictly speaking in this type of a film there must not be any place for humour, but there has been films like Die-Hard…
MM: Oh no, wait! You are bringing up Die-Hard….
CK: I thought I would bring up the Shining as well, it is not that Thoongavanam flanks these movies, but strangely yes occupies the same mind space as these two, even more so in the case of the Shining, the hallways with doors that lead to unimaginable places, the restriction of the setting itself, here a pub named Insomnia and there The Overlook; the setting does things to the main characters. Movies should remind you of other movies, if the remembrances are good, there you go, if they were bad then I really don’t know what to say…
MM: And Die-hard because of the one man in the building against the villain type, yes I do think there is quite a bit of humour in most block buster material, still strange this mixing of genres and thoonga is hardly blockbuster material
CK: yes it is quite a strange film, which kinda gets more enjoyable when you know what is going to happen, because you sit there and see the other things like how a change in radio channel is used to denote time of day, the dripping ceiling denoting time past, plush interiors that somehow feel dreamlike and characters who walk in and out, just like that?
CK: Mod? Mod?
He calls out again to see no one respond, only again it is the barman who motioned for another drink.
CK: have I been talking alone all the while?
CK’s phone lightened up the dark place, obviously it was a Whatsapp message which read as thus
“No one is buying the Lowly Laureate, that’s the bad news; but I’ll kill you if you don’t send the Thoongavanam review, as it is you have declined doing a Vedalam review, because of your principles our readership is threatened . Add few nice words on the cinematography, engrossing music by Ghibran, Hollywood style making etc etc, send them soon, I mean by tonight, SOOON- Chief”
The chief didn’t realise that he didn’t need to sign himself in a whatsapp message, this old fashioned-ness made CK smile and he went to work, and it would be a sleepless night.