Puriyaatha Puthir (2017)

Puriyaatha Puthir

Ranjit Jeyakodi tries to sell an important message in Puriyaatha Puthir, but despite a decent performance from Vijay Sethupathi and good camerawork from Dinesh Krishnan, he doesn’t quite pull it off. There are some creepy moments in this thriller, but they don’t compensate for the abundance of plot holes and the slow start that drains much of the excitement well before the interval. This one falls into the ‘could have been better’ box for me, mainly due to the unevenness of the screenplay and unrealistic reactions from the lead characters as the drama unfolds.

Kathir (Vijay Sethupathi) is a musician who also runs a musical shop. He first notices Meera (Gayathrie) on a bus and becomes interested when she turns up in his music store as a customer. Meera is also a musician who works as a violin teacher in a local school, and she has a surprisingly large number of students in her classes. Who knew playing the violin was so popular! The best thing about Meera’s character is that she does actually know how to hold and play a violin, and that is a significant improvement over most actors who seem fairly clueless when handed a musical instrument to play. Although to be fair, Vijay Sethupathi also knows his way around a guitar when he gets to show off his skills later in the film. However, otherwise Gayathrie makes hard work of Meera’s character and generally appears stiff and awkward with little chemistry with her co-star during their romantic interludes.

This may be partly because the romance develops very slowly despite Meera initially asking Kathir to deliver her new violin directly to her apartment and seemingly making the first moves. When they go out together she seems skittish and shy, and doesn’t want to invite him up to her apartment at the end of the night. This leaves her alone at the entrance to her block of flats and cinematographer Dinesh Krishnan makes the most of the shadows and empty spaces to build tension and a feeling of suspense as Meera makes her way up to her apartment.  There is a good sense of menace in these scenes and Meera’s sense of panic feels very real as she suspects someone is following her home.

Although it’s Meera who appears to have a stalker, it’s Kathir who starts to get videos of Meera taken without her knowledge or consent. He’s enraged by shots of her changing in a store changing room, and bursts in to the store like a bull in a china shop, throws around wild accusations and never actually seems to explain to the shop assistants exactly why he is so distraught. I don’t think it was a subtitle issue either, as nothing Kathir said seemed to be any sort of explanation for his wild behaviour, but it’s no wonder that he doesn’t get very far in finding out the source of the videos.

At the same time, Kathir’s friends start to have problems too. An early scene shows Vinod and DJ (Arjunan) explaining to Kathir that nothing is really a crime unless you get caught! Unfortunately for both, that’s exactly what happens. Vinod works for a music TV station, but is a serial womaniser and is having an affair with his boss’s wife. He gets caught on video and ends up losing his job as a result. VJ also is exposed as a drug user on video and is subsequently arrested by the police. Whoever the stalker is, they are well-informed and always manage to be in the right place at the right time. It’s no surprise that Kathir starts to feel that he is under siege.

Although the film as a whole doesn’t quite hit the mark, there are some excellent ideas adrift in the choppy waters of the story. At one point Kathir does the sensible thing and goes to report Meera’s video stalker to the police. However, once there he realises that the police aren’t interested in discovering who is behind the videos at all – they just want to see the images of Kathir’s girlfriend in various states of undress. They appear to be no different from the stalker, in fact seem much worse given that they should be investigating the crime, and Kathir realises he can’t get any help from official sources. Who do you turn to when the people supposed to deal with crime are more interested in perpetuating the assault themselves? A scene where Kathir ends up standing exposed in the rain is also well staged as is the creepy discovery that the messages are coming from the phone of a girl who suicided a few years previously, but unfortunately in between there are too many plot holes that weaken the tension.

Ramesh Thilak appears in a rather bizarre role that doesn’t make any sense. I think he was supposed to be a significant red herring, but instead just seems out-of-place and an unfortunate add-on to the plot. The video’s too become less feasible, while Meera seems either too unconcerned and overly compliant with Kathir’s demands, or bizarrely happy to head back to her apartment alone at night. It takes Kathir finding a diary (sigh) to finally work out what is going, and by that stage I’d really lost interest in the proceedings.

Puriyaatha Puthir was filmed in 2013/2014, back when Vijay had just completed such diverse films as Soodhu Kavvum and Pannaiyarum Padminiyum, and was starting to make a name for himself. Here he carries the film on his shoulders, and it’s only though his intense belief in the story that a number of unlikely scenarios and appear even vaguely plausible. Part of the problem may be that when this film was written there was less media attention and community awareness about the topic of cyber-harassment. Making Kathir appear angry and his reactions so intense probably made sense to get the outrage and sense of violation from the videos across to the audience. Nowadays we are all more familiar with the crime and here Kathir’s confusion and anger seem to be initially misdirected, although blaming the victim for the crime is sadly still something that occurs even now. Vijay Sethupathi is definitely watchable and his anger and despair are well expressed, along with his frustration, but it’s not enough to keep the tension and suspense the film needs to be effective.

The issue of cyber-crime has been addressed in a few films recently, and as a crime with serious consequences it’s a worthwhile topic too, but the treatment needs to be much tighter than Ranjit Jeyakodi achieves here. There are some good moments but the slow romance, flashback sequence and character reactions are at odds with developing suspense. Worth watching for Vijay Sethupathi and some good tunes from Sam C.S, but that’s about it.

 

Sethupathi (2016)

sethupathi-poster

After the excellent Pannaiyarum Padminiyum, S.U. Arun Kumar and Vijay Sethupathi are back together with a masala cop film, Sethupathi. But this isn’t your typical story with a hero police officer busting heads right, left and centre on the tail of some desperate villain. Although the police officer in question is as rough and tough as they come when he’s out on the streets, once he makes it back home it’s a different story. The film spends almost as much time looking at the home life of police inspector Sethupathi as it does following his investigation into the murder of fellow officer Subburaj. The glimpses of Sethupathi with his wife and children make him a more human hero, giving an insight into his thought processes and ensuring the otherwise routine story has plenty of depth and interest. He may be a violent and argumentative man at work, but at home he is in love with his wife and a good father to his young kids. Sethupathi has the usual chase sequences, fight scenes and general rowdyism expected of a police thriller, but it also has heart and that what makes it such a watchable film.

The film opening sequences give an indication that the police are the good guys. Here are the men you hope to meet when you have a problem – compassionate, caring and protective and doing the best they can in an often difficult job. The victim, SI Subburaj, is one such police officer. After stopping when he witnessed an argument between a husband and wife, he’s set upon by a gang of thugs and burnt to death on a bridge. Although the police officer belonged to another police station, the job of investigating his death falls to Inspector Sethupathi (Vijay Sethupathi), a man whose colleagues describe as a psycho but also 100% honest and incorruptible.

Sethupathi rules his police station with a heavy hand, but although many of his officers seem terrified of him, he has the respect and loyalty of his right-hand man Murthy (Linga). Despite all his bluster, Sethupathi has very clear ideas about what is expected from a police officer and is determined that everyone should follow his line. He tells his men that they should not upset the public unnecessarily although he isn’t slow to react when he thinks a crowd is being disrespectful outside the hospital. He’s infuriated that someone has dared to kill a police officer and expects that everyone will be as enthusiastic about tracking down the killer as he is himself, and when that isn’t the case he’s quick to anger and lets everyone have the sharp edge of his tongue. But for all his barely contained violence, even at work Sethupathi is more caring than first appears. When a man comes in looking for his missing wife, Sethupathi sends the couple’s young daughter away so that she does not have to hear her father speaking ill of her mother. It’s clear that he’s thinking of the bigger picture and hoping for a good outcome for the family.

Sethupathi quickly discovers that SI Subburaj has been killed by mistake and the real target was another police officer, SI Kanagavel. Kanagavel is married to the daughter of local king-pin Vaathiyar (Vela Ramamoorthy) and by all accounts it isn’t a happy marriage. Rather than letting his daughter divorce Kanagavel, Vaathiyar decides to murder him instead – effective but perhaps not the best solution to the problem. While investigating, Sethupathi arrests Vaathiyar who immediately swears vengeance for the insult. At the same time, something goes wrong during an interrogation of two schoolboys, resulting in Sethupathi’s suspension and an investigation into his actions. While Sethupathi desperately tries to work out what happened and prove his innocence, Vaathiyar is out for blood and determined that Sethupathi will pay for his embarrassment – one way or another.

Vijay Sethupathi does masala cop brilliantly here, twirling his moustache and barking orders while displaying all the tenacious enthusiasm of a bulldog on the scent as he chases down criminals. He’s determined, ferocious and heroic – exactly as required for a mass action film. The brilliance lies in the other side of Sethupathi. The man who goes home to romance his wife and play with his children, call home when he’s away on business and send selfies to his wife to let her know how much he misses her. I always appreciate some good white board pondering – used here as Sethupathi tries to figure out why a gun fired when it shouldn’t have, and the many little touches that A.R. Arun Kumar adds in to illustrate the family dynamic. Vijay Sethupathi changes body language, demeanour and his language once he gets home and I love how realistic he appears as he deals with the doubts and problems that he faces every day. Plus of course he’s great in the fight sequences and completely nails the tough cop persona in every way.

Remya Nambeesan is also fantastic as Sethupathi’s wife as are the two child actors who play his children. There is lovely chemistry between the two actors, and their relationship feels comfortable and enduring – exactly as you’d expect for a couple who had been together for a while. This is a much better thread to the story than the more usual ‘romantic interest’ and the relationship provides a structure and a focus to Sethupathi’s actions that makes them appear logical and inevitable. There are hints that there are some troubles in the marriage and issues with Sethupathi’s in-laws that are never fully revealed. I can’t decide if the film would be better with a little more detail or if the hints should have been removed but regardless the relationship itself is so well done that in the end it doesn’t really matter.

Vela Ramamoorthy is a rather pedestrian villain, but then again he’s not really the focus of the film. His attempts to remove Sethupathi are inconveniences rather than obstacles in Sethupathi’s path and the Inspector makes it clear that if Vaathiyar would leave him alone, Sethupathi has no further interest in him. Amusingly the various thugs are rather less eager to jump into battle than usual and with Sethupathi’s reputation their reluctance makes sense, but once they do attack the choreography is well executed.

The film looks good too with some clever framing shots from cinematographer Dinesh Krishnan who uses mirrors and reflections beautifully throughout the film. The music from Nivas K Prasanna works well in the film and is mainly used to further develop the relationship between Sethupathi and his wife or as background music for the action scenes. There are no big song and dance numbers and the film doesn’t need anything so commercial to detract from the actors’ performances. It’s also short, at only 2 hours the screenplay is kept tight and the pace generally fast. I thought there might be some long drawn out revenge at the end, but instead it’s kept short and sweet, totally fitting the character and his approach to his job.

Sethupathi is an excellent mix of action and drama. The crime element of the story works well and Vijay Sethupathi is charismatic and engaging as the lead character. Adding in the domestic scenes is a clever idea that pays off superbly, giving more interest to the central character and a human touch to the whole story. I love that the romance is between a husband and wife rather than a token heroine who only turns up for the songs, and too that the relationship is so comfortable and warm. Definitely a cut above the usual police thriller and highly recommended. 4 stars.

Thegidi

Thegidi

Writer and first time director P Ramesh offers something a little different in his crime drama that delves into the world of surveillance and private detection in Chennai. Despite what the subject matter might suggest, this isn’t a nail-biting thriller but instead Thegidi is a well-written and intelligently constructed mystery, that eschews car chases and fight scenes to focus on better than usual plot development and realistic characterisations. While that may not sound exciting, it’s actually an intriguing story with enough suspense to hold your attention right up to the very end, and just when you think it’s all over there is a tantalising hint of a possible sequel. P Ramesh keeps it deceptively simple while building a detailed plot and at least with the surveillance angle this time the hero really does have a legitimate excuse for stalking the heroine!

The film starts with some excellent opening titles which are evocative of American comic strips and are a great way to set the scene. From this I was expecting a classic ‘lone gumshoe against the rest of the world’ detective story, and allowing for some modern updates that’s pretty much what I got.

Vetri (Ashok Selvan) is a new criminology graduate who accepts a job offer to work for a private detective agency in Chennai. He’s very wet behind the ears and it’s this inexperience and naiveté that play a large role in the events that follow. Vetri’s bosses at the Radical Detective Agency, Sadagoppan (Pradeep Nair) and Sailash (Jayakumar) set him the task of finding out about some  apparently ordinary people with the implication that they are being investigated by their employers.  As the star pupil from his class, Vetri appears to have little difficulty in carrying out his assignments despite hanging around rather conspicuously in stairwells and spending time observing from his car. Ashok Selvan is generally believable as a nerdy and overly idealistic private detective, although he relies heavily on the same two expressions throughout. He’s still quite wooden and inexpressive, but compared to his previous role in Soodhu Kavvum, his lack of expression here is at least more in keeping with the reserved nature of his character. And he does seem to be trying – there are some good moments between Vetri and his mentor, Govardhanan (Rajan Iyer) which help establish Vetri’s character early on and later on between Vetri and his friend Nambi (Kaali Venkat).

Vetri slips up one night while trying to break into an apartment and is spotted by Madhu (Janani Iyer) who suspects that he is a thief. One brief glance has intrigued Vetri and before long he has managed to meet Madhu, convince her of his innocence and the two are well on their way to falling in love. Only in the movies! Of course things get more complicated when Madhu turns out to be one of the people on Vetri’s list of surveillance subjects, especially since getting close to the target is contrary to one of the cardinal rules of his job. The romance here is beautifully handled with Vetri doing the best he can to mess things up and Madhu keeping everything on an even keel. It works because it does feel true to life and there is some good chemistry between the two leads. Janani Iyer is lovely here and she imbues Madhu with plenty of joyfulness and grace while keeping her as an essentially well grounded character. She perfectly conveys her initial suspicions, gradual acceptance and final mistrust and is very convincing in the romance scenes. P Ramesh does give her a relatively substantial role and uses Madhu as a means of further developing Vetri’s personality and making him rather more vulnerable than he first appears.

Around the same time Vetri realises that the people he has been shadowing are dying from a variety of seemingly unrelated causes. Given that Madhu is on his surveillance list Vetri suddenly has a very pressing reason to work out exactly what is going on before she becomes a target too. He’s helped in these endeavours by Nambi who has a more realistic view of the situation and acts decisively while Vetri gets somewhat bogged down in the investigative detail. Kaali Venkat is excellent and has totally nailed the role of best friend and ‘the sensible one’ who unfortunately doesn’t manage to convince Vetri to follow his advice. However, mainly through a series of mistakes, Vetri manages to bring the case to the attention of Inspector Raghuram (V. Jayaprakash) who is astonishingly tolerant of Vetri’s meddling and unusually receptive to his ideas, while competently managing a police investigation into the suspicious deaths. This is where the story starts to get a little more unrealistic, but that’s not a major issue given that the characters themselves stay true to their initial characterisations. P. Ramesh works on building up suspense but the story is relatively simple and we know by the interval exactly who is responsible for the deaths.  There is still a minor build up of tension around Vetri’s impulsive actions and the uncertainty surrounding Madhu and the fledgling romance which could be over before it’s begun due to Vetri’s uncommunicative nature. P. Ramesh also works on fleshing out the motivations for the crime which is well written but again a little predictable given the nature of the people involved.

In addition to the well written screenplay and good performances the film also looks fantastic due to the combination of excellent cinematography from Dinseh Krishnan and some rather nifty set design. I love the clocks on the wall, the pipe and magnifying glass on the shelf and the ibis sculptures in the detective office and there are more intriguing sculptures and decor in almost every room. Many of the shots are beautifully framed with good use of the external environment and quite a few actually serve to increase the tension by isolating Vetri’s eyes and increasing his intensity. It’s clever thinking since his eyes are Ashok Selvan’s best resource and he does manage to convey more emotion through these shots than in his otherwise rather static expressions.

The music by Nivas K Prasanna is mainly sweet and melodic, fitting the romantic mood of the songs but also evoking some suspense in the background score. There are no big song and dance numbers and the songs are used to move the story forward, which works well for the screenplay. Keeping it simple seems to be the guiding force behind everything in Thegidi, from the music to the fight scenes to the story itself and it works a treat.

Director P. Ramesh is another winner of Nalaya Iyakunar, the TV show which going by their recent ‘graduates’ seems to be doing a great job of identifying new talent in Tamil cinema. His experience in short films has stood him in good stead as he shows understanding of the benefit of a good storyline and the importance of believable dialogue, something that many filmmakers never seem to grasp. Thegidi isn’t a fantastic thriller but it is a good story and just as importantly, one which is well told. A little more suspense would not have gone amiss but I really liked the fact that the bad guys (and the hero and his friend too) were really so very ordinary. Definitely worth watching for a different take on a detective story and some good interior design ideas! 4 stars.