Jagame Thandhiram (2021)

I’ve been a fan of Karthik Subbaraj’s previous films, even his venture with Rajini, but he seems to miss the mark this time. Despite an excellent cast and some good ideas, Jagame Thandhiram fails to engage as it should, mainly due to its over 2 ½ hour run time. But there is also a clash of themes, with the first half of the film being a typically violent gangster film with flashes of comedy that doesn’t mix well with the political ideology and humanitarian motif in the second. The supposed redemption of the lead character is also problematic, but at least Dhanush has enough charm to induce a whiff of plausibility to the change.

The film sets the scene with a violent murder in the streets of London before moving back to Tamil Nadu and introducing a local rowdy Suruli (Dhanush). Suruli’s reputation is such that his bride prefers to leave him immediately after the ceremony rather than go through with the marriage, but when a London gang is looking for a murderer for hire, they decide that Suruli would be the ideal fit. Lured away from his parotta restaurant by the promise of vast sums of money, Suruli finds himself working for a white supremacist by the name of Peter (James Cosmo) while his childhood friend Vicky (Sharath Ravi) translates Peter’s demands. This actually works well as a device to show that we tend to hear what we want to hear and not what is actually being said. However, with so much else going on, the translation issue tends to get pushed to the background.

Peter’s target is a Tamil gangster Sivadoss (Joju George) who was behind the murder of one of Peter’s men in the opening scenes. Sivadoss is a smuggler, primarily trading in guns for gold, but he also is involved in assisting refugees to settle in the UK. As a bigoted anti-immigrant, Peter is violently opposed to immigration and decides to use a brown man, Suruli, to solve a brown man problem – Sivadoss. So far so good, with Peter’s over the top posturing not too unrealistic given similar behaviour has actually occurred far too frequently in real life recently. But just when everything seems to be settling in for a nicely violent gangster film, Karthik Subbaraj decides to introduce a secondary theme that ultimately derails the film.

On one of his outings with Vicky, Suruli spots Attilla (Aishwarya Lekshmi) who is singing in a bar. There follows the usual tired and very outdated love at first sight trope that really needs to be allowed to rest in peace, but at least Attilla does push back – at first anyway. The whole romance feels like a bad fit with the rest of the film, and more like a nod to appeal to a mass audience rather than a genuine attempt to add something different to the screenplay. But in the second half, Attilla shares her past which moves the story in a different direction although unfortunately, none of this proceeds in a way that fits with the previous storyline or is even slightly believable. Added to that, both leads look uncomfortable with each other, which ensures the romance never takes off either and makes the final point of using Attilla as Surali’s redemption a step too far that misses by a mile.

Although the story fails to deliver to Karthik Subbaraj’s usual standard, the cast mostly fit well into their roles. It’s just a shame they are all acting in a different film to each other. Dhanush has played this type of gangster film many times before and perhaps that’s why he seems less than thrilled with some of the scenes. The action sequences are great, but he seems as bemused by the romance as I was, and it’s really only the scenes where he is double-crossing anyone and everyone that genuinely come alive. Joju George and James Cosmo are both very good in their roles but of the two, Joju has the better role. The character of Peter is one-dimensional to a point that makes him almost a cartoon figure, while at least Sivadoss has more shades and better dialogue. The various other gang members are mostly interchangeable and superfluous with even Vicky being relegated to the background as the violence heats up. Aishwarya Lekshmi is totally wasted in a role that probably looked good on paper, but doesn’t work at all within the context of the rest of the film. 

What does work well are the action sequences which are beautifully choreographed and flow easily into the storyline. The music from Santhosh Narayanan is also good and the songs also fit well into the film. It was also good to see parts of London on screen and the usual chilly British weather ensuring everyone (apart from James Cosmo) looked suitably frozen in any outdoor scene. James Cosmo benefited from a rather warm looking coat and cashmere scarf and so looked much more comfortable, but then as a Scot is probably more used to the cold anyway! And if you’ve ever wondered how Scottish dancing would look with Tamil music, wonder no more.

Jagame Thandhiram could have been a really good gangster film, or a really good refugee film, but it can’t be both. The combination storyline makes for an overly long running time and the two halves never gel together. As a result Suruli’s character is also problematic, having made too many bad decisions in the first half for any of the events in the second to ring true. There are lots of good ideas, but for once Karthik Subbaraj fails to bring them all together and the usual deliciously wicked humour is totally missing. Perhaps if it had been a 4 episode web series it might have had the space required to fully develop the story, but even with two and a half hours, there just isn’t enough time to make it work here. 2½ stars.

Pattas (2020)

Anyone who visits CinemaChaat regularly will know that I’m a massive Dhanush fan. Even when a movie is bad, I can usually still enjoy his performance even if everything else is terrible. But for once I can’t even say that Dhanush’s performance saved the film. And it’s not that he’s bad here, not at all, but there is something missing. His energy that usually bursts off the screen seems muted and I just couldn’t connect to his character(s) at all. I’ve had issues with R.S. Durai Senthilkumar films before, and I suspect it’s his style of film-making that basically doesn’t work for me. Ethir Neechal started well, but didn’t sustain its early promise and Kodi was an interesting film that unfortunately didn’t have subtitles, so again I struggled. And for Pattas the subtitles are so bad as to be almost unintelligible. I mostly ignored them because the English made little sense and often didn’t seem to connect with what was happening onscreen.

So is Pattas worth watching? Well, it has some good points – the inclusion of the ancient martial art of Adimurai is interesting although it could have been better explored. It’s rare to see a female character get to take part in the action sequences, so that’s a plus. The music is great and the choreography (both fight scenes and dance moves) is excellent, but realistically, that’s just not enough to make a good movie. 

The film starts with a flashback of Kanyakumari (Sneha) fighting back against a group of men who have beaten her son. She is arrested for the death of one of the men, despite the fact that they have killed her son, and should really have been the ones on trial. The film then switches to the present day where Pattas (Dhanush) and his sidekick Puncture (Sathish) are robbing a kickboxing studio. Switch again and we move to Thailand where Nilan’s son has won a kickboxing tournament and Nilan (Naveen Chandra) announces a big MMA competition to be held in Chennai. Switch again, and we’re back to the prison where Kanyakumari is being released from prison, apparently with vengeance on her mind.

It’s a check box film. Each character has certain things they need to do to get to the next scene, so they are ticked off, and then we move on. Although this is a revenge drama, rather than focusing on Kanyakumari and her plans, the film instead drifts between characters without ever establishing a strong rapport with any of them. There is a flashback to how Kanyakumari ended up fighting for her son’s life, where Dhanush plays his father, Thiraviyam Perumal, a Adimurai fighting champion. This section is better, but there is still little to draw the viewer into Thiraviyam’s world. Obviously Dhanush has put a lot of work into the part. The slow martial arts moves required look difficult and he manages them well, but there is no real sense of the character outside of his training. We get that he’s something of a pacifist; a nice man who tries his best to help his friend and his training master Asaan (Nasser). But there isn’t much more. As the younger Pattas (aka Sakthi), Dhanush is again wonderfully athletic, but the romance with Sadhana (Mehreen Pirzada) is woeful and again his character seems underdeveloped. The focus is all on the action, but it takes more than kicks and punches to make a film, and the story behind all the fight scenes doesn’t.

Naveen Chandra does well as the protagonist and out of all the characters in the film his role has the most definition. Unfortunately, the character development means that his story is often the weakest as there is no underlying motivation given for some of his actions. There are a group of foreign actors in the flashback who play Nilan’s friends, and every single one of them is absolutely terrible! I couldn’t work out if they were foreigners to emphasise Nilan’s alienation from his home country, or just because R.S. Durai Senthilkumar didn’t want to show Indian men carrying out such dreadful atrocities as are perpetrated here. Whatever the reason, it seems to be a bad choice all round.

The finale of the film revolves around the martial arts competition, where again we have more foreign actors supposedly playing the various competitors. I’m not sure if R.S. Durai Senthilkumar has ever watching any MMA competitions, but one thing you can’t help notice is how supremely fit each competitor is. Not so at this contest, where the competition looks as if they had one biriyani too many before stepping into the ring. It might have been the dreadful subtitles, but I also couldn’t work out why Nilan’s son pulled out of the competition and instead Nilan took on Pattas outside in the parking lot. The whole thing was just so bizarre given that this takes place at a world championship that would presumably have all the usual rules and regulations banning competitors from having side spats just outside the arena. And by this stage Kanyakumari has been sidelined, Sadhana has pretty much vanished along with Puncture and their father Kolusu (Munishkanth), so there is little emotion here despite the supposed revenge for Thiraviyam Perumal’s death.

What does work well are the fight scenes. Dhanush looks fantastic as both Thiraviyam Perumal and Pattas, and the fighting style works well with his smaller frame. Sneha too has great action sequences and these look realistic and exciting onscreen. The songs from Vivek-Mervin are catching and the dance sequences fun and very well executed. Kudos to all the choreographers, Jaani for the dance sequences and Dhilip Subbarayan for the action, who obviously put a lot of hard work into these scenes. This could have been a really great action film, especially since the fight sequences look fantastic, but it needs more focus on the martial art, and a greater exploration of Sneha’s character. Sneha does an excellent job here, but just doesn’t have enough to work with, especially in the scenes in the modern day where she is trying to take her revenge.

One last important point. It’s crucial for an international release to have good subtitles – not the terrible attempt here that just did not make sense, and in fact ruined the story for me. Please, please producers, you need to pay attention to subtitles which really are important, especially if a film is to be successfully screened outside of Tamil Nadu. Rekhs is the best of course and there are good subtitlers out there, so why not use them? I wish I enjoyed this film more – it has all the elements that I usually enjoy, but the weak story, poor use of the actors and awful subtitles made it a bland and disappointing watch. Wait for the DVD or for streaming – the songs and fight sequences are worth it and you can FF the rest.

Enai Noki Paayum Thota (2019)

Gautham Menon’s latest film Enai Noki Paayum Thota has a number of similarities with his 2016 release, Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada (Sahasam Swasaga Sagipo), but the formula doesn’t work as well this time around.  Dhanush manages to hold the erratic story together, but there is too much that has been seen before for this film to really make an impact. However, the songs are good, the action sequences work well and Dhanush is charming in the romance sequences, making Enai Noki Paayum Thota worth at least a one-time watch.

Raghu (Dhanush) appears to be a fairly typical student from a rather well-to-do family until the day he meets and falls in love with aspiring actress Lekha (Megha Akash). He is immediately smitten (we know because there is a voice-over that tells us so), but the relationship is initially slow to develop, partly because Raghu is rather awed by Lekha, but also because he isn’t totally sure of his own feelings and appears to prefer a more restrained approach. However, once Raghu makes his move, the romance progresses swiftly and Lekha seems equally head over heels in love with Raghu. That does strike a discordant note since there doesn’t seem to be any reason for Lekha to pick Raghu out of all the scrawny students watching the film shoot in their college, particularly since Raghu doesn’t go out of his way to make her notice him. There is no effort to explain her actions either, but then Lekha generally has very little will of her own in this film and ultimately, she isn’t important except as a reason for Raghu to search out his brother and beat up lots of ‘bad guys’. This film is all about Raghu, and Lekha is just the means by which he gets to show off his survival skills.

The romance itself, although beautifully filmed, is also rather less than satisfying. There is some chemistry between Dhanush and Megha in the songs, but that seems to be muted everywhere else, and the love story just isn’t completely convincing. I can buy that Raghu is besotted by Lekha, but Megha Akash doesn’t seem to be able to generate the same amount of emotion or attraction that Dhanush brings to his role. Since we learn early on that Lekha is being abused by her manager Kuberan (Senthil Veerasamy), this does lead to the conclusion that perhaps the relationship is developed by Lekha to get away from a bad situation rather than being a true love match. There are mixed messages from the dialogue too. Raghu says he’s a good man and doesn’t want to take advantage, but that doesn’t stop him from kissing Lekha when the opportunity presents. Then Lekha says she cannot live without him, but leaves when pressured by her manager, and doesn’t contact Raghu at all for years. It all makes it difficult to empathise with either character or even care if they will manage to meet up again.

Adding to the plot is Raghu’s missing brother Thiru (Sasikumar), who left the family many years ago after a tragic accident. Thiru has been AWOL ever since, but when Lekha finally gets back in touch with Raghu, she reveals that she is staying with Thiru and that he is in trouble. Further muddying of the plot happens with Kuberan’s links to various shady underworld deals, and just in case he wasn’t despicable enough, the years have turned him into a wife-beater and potential rapist who wants to exploit Lekha by pimping her out. It’s all just a bit too much, and the emotional blackmail used to coerce Lekha into staying with Kuberan is equally heavy handed and overly filmy.

There are also a large number of coincidences in the film that further dilute the story. Lekha just happens to meet up with Thiru in Mumbai, a crowded city where it can be difficult to meet up with someone even when you’ve arranged a meeting! It seems too good to be true that Lekha stumbles across someone who is actually an undercover cop, and the rationale seems contrived and simply unlikely. Also conveniently, Raghu follows his brothers trail easily despite minimal information and is able to find the evidence he needs right under his nose, although no-one else has been able to figure it out. And then there are a lot of close shaves with bullets (the title is taken quite literally here) that are rather too miraculous to be true as well.  The different ‘modes’ also generated some laughter in the cinema, particularly ‘beast mode’ which seemed to be an excuse to add some action sequences, although these are well choreographed and work well within the overall story. A word too about the subtitles, which were in yellow and easy to read font, but which appeared to be literal translations in parts, which simply didn’t make sense in English. So, some of the issues I had with the story may just have been due to not understanding exactly what was going on.

The film released late in Melbourne, and I’d read a couple of comments on social media about the voice-overs by Raghu throughout the film. On watching, these do make a sort of sense since the film is Raghu’s life story and his internal monologue helps clarify his thoughts and motivations. To his credit, Dhanush puts enough emotion into his performance to compensate for the lack of actual dialogue between characters, however the voiceovers also isolate the story to just Raghu’s view of the situation, reducing the rest of the cast to bit players in Raghu’s story. Ultimately this affects the all relationships; between Raghu and his family, his brother Thiru and even his relationship with Lekha, since the main view the audience sees of each is through Raghu’s own thoughts.

The focus of the story is firmly on Raghu, and Dhanush puts in an excellent performance, once again transforming himself into a fresh-faced young student and then appearing as an older and wiser version later in the film. He has the energy and acting talent to make his role believable, despite all the odd coincidences, but his character still doesn’t connect well with the rest of the cast. I don’t think this is just because of the monologues, but seems to be a more fundamental problem with the writing. All the other characters appear only through their connections with Raghu and only rarely interact with anyone else. Sasikumar, who should have been a powerful influence in the film ends up with very little dialogue and the lack of a convincing relationship between Thiru and Raghu makes his parts of the story clunky and awkward. Events mean that their relationship never gets any better either, while Raghu’s parents and sister have less screentime and therefore proportionately even less connection with Raghu.

Megha Akash looks beautiful but seems very constrained and lacklustre, especially when compared to Dhanush. Gautham Menon seems determined to make her a victim here, and perhaps I’ve just had enough of this tired trope, but it was frustrating to watch Lekha continually wait for someone to rescue her. Raghu’s Mumbai-based friend Meera (Sunaina) has more gumption, at least initially, but frustratingly she’s also quickly reduced to a victim with little further part to play in the story.

The entire film revolves around Raghu, but this narrow focus makes it difficult to invest in the story or the characters, and it’s really only Dhanush’s performance that makes any kind of impact. While he is front and centre, the film works reasonably well, but there are too many irritating issues with the other characters to make this a truly engaging film. Worth watching for Darbuka Siva’s songs and Dhanush’s skilled performance, but unfortunately there is little else here to be excited about.