After watching the excellent Anjathey I was inspired to seek out more films by director Mysskin, and Yutham Sei was the next in the pile. Although it leans in somewhat the same direction as Anjathey it’s a slightly different take on the thriller genre and for the first half of the film at least, it’s very successful. Mysskin excels in building suspense as the plot gradually unfolds and starts to take shape as a detailed and intriguing police procedural drama. But after such a great beginning the second half is overly dramatic with a little too much focus on the torture and gore and not enough attention to the basic story. So what started out as a promisingly different film ends up with some major plot holes that are conveniently swept aside along with all the blood by the end credits. However it’s still a gripping story with mainly good performances from the cast and overall Mysskin succeeds in keeping the turns and twists in the plot unexpected and surprising.
The film starts in black and white with a flashback to events which we eventually learn are critical to the plot. There are numerous clues in these first few moments but it’s not until much later in the film that the important details and how they all fit together into the main story become clear. This gradual reveal is the main strength of the film and the suspense is maintained by making sure that we don’t know the full story either and only learn about events at the same time as the main protagonists.
Cheran plays Inspector J. Krishnan, commonly known as JK, who is given the task of investigating a series of gruesome discoveries around the city. Severed arms have turned up in cardboard boxes conspicuously placed in public areas but no associated bodies have been found. JK takes on the case rather reluctantly as he wants to spend his time investigating the disappearance of his sister some three months previously. However his boss promises to reopen his sister’s case, so JK starts the painstaking process of trying to identify the limbs and discover who and what is behind the dismemberments.
The police procedures are thorough and painstaking as, along with Sub-Inspectors Prakash and Thamizhselvi (Dipa Shah) and Head Constable Kittappa, JK questions suspects, interviews witnesses and slowly identifies the remains. Scenes shot in the morgue are particularly effective and are a real shock to anyone more familiar with the gleaming white benches and sanitised bodies from US TV crime shows. These scenes also introduce V. Jayaprakash as Chief Pathologist Dr Judas, the chief pathologist and a crucial link in the story, although perhaps his choice of name was a little too revealing.
Slowly JK discovers that the severed limbs belong to criminals who are linked to a case involving the suicide of a renowned doctor (Y. G. Mahendran) and his family. Each small piece of the puzzle is only uncovered after long and arduous investigation on the part of JK and his team and Mysskin’s characteristic methods of filming feet or only part of the scene adds to the piecemeal effect. Cheran is excellent as JK and the difference between his decisive investigations during the day and his introspective brooding at night is captured well. V. Jayaprakash is the other standout in terms of performance and his world-weary doctor seems to have stepped straight out of a BBC crime drama. The other actors are all solid in their roles although there is little in the way of any character development. Considering the style of story that’s not a major problem, but it does make it difficult at times to differentiate just who is who, particularly among the villains.
Generally the second half moves more to action and the more that is actually seen to be happening rather than just implied violence, the less effective it all becomes. So the scenes of torture and the completely over the top reaction of Lakshmi Ramakrishanan in her role as the doctor’s wife end up without much impact. It doesn’t help that once the full story is revealed the final show down is inevitable although the almost pedestrian and petty nature of the original crime is a good touch. Just for once though I’d like to see a police officer call for back-up before heading into an abandoned factory full of criminals and usefully breakable objects!
While most of the first half seems very carefully plotted, the second half has a number of leaps of faith and convenient discoveries which become more and more dramatic and detract from the simpler style used earlier in the film. However on the plus side there is no annoyingly irrelevant comedy track and no tacked-on-for-the-sake-of-it romance angle so I can forgive Mysskin his tendency to over-dramatise a few scenes. The cinematography by Sathya is excellent and keeps up the suspense with many of the critical scenes shot at night or in dim light. Kay’s background music also adds to the atmosphere and is generally used to very good effect. There is one song in the film, and although the placing is fine, I think it would have worked better as a short snippet rather than as a complete dance routine which does seems a bit superfluous. Impressive gold lungi though!
Overall Yutham Sei starts off like a European police thriller but ends up more like a Hollywood horror film. If Mysskin had managed to maintain the early tension and suspense right to the end this would have been a fantastic film. But even with the issues I have with the second half, I think it’s still interesting – somewhat different from the usual hero-centric Tamil action film and definitely worth a watch for the excellent development of the plot in the first half and an impressive performance from Cheran. 3 stars.