Thadam (2019)

Thadam

Magizh Thirumeni’s Thadam takes a little while to get going, but once it does, step by step the film builds into a puzzling conundrum where the identity of a murderer is cleverly concealed until the final big reveal. There are two prime suspects, but which one of them is the murderer and perhaps just as puzzling, why was the victim killed? Arun Vijay is excellent here in a double role that requires him to fight himself (which looks very convincing!), while the story keeps you guessing right to the end. The film does start rather slowly, but there is more going on than first appears and once the investigation kicks in. the twists come thick and fast. Although Thadam initially only had a three day run in Melbourne, it was popular enough to be extended and I’d definitely recommend it as a better than average whodunnit.

The film starts by introducing two men, Ezhil and Kavin, both played by Arun Vijay. First is Ezhil, a successful engineer who runs his own construction firm. He’s chasing after a girl who works in the same building and the first riddle is the correct question he must ask to persuade Deepika (Tanya Hope) to go out on a date. Eventually he works out the critical query and the two quickly becomes an item until Deepika leaves to attend a wedding. Ezhil seems like a nice guy – he’s thoughtful and considerate, has his own successful business, and is prepared to use a bra to illustrate the miracle of engineering that is Howrah bridge. Perhaps not such a great chat-up line!

Kavin, on the other hand, is a crook. He’s a thief and fraudster who, along with his friend and accomplice Suruli (Yogi Babu), cheats anyone and everyone. Kavin is also addicted to gambling which is unfortunate since he seems to be particularly bad at it, losing a large sum of money which Suruli had set aside to repay a debt to a nasty thug. When Suruli can’t pay, Kavin is given a short space of time to organise the funds otherwise his friend will suffer the consequences.

After introducing the two men and their significant others, Magizh Thirumeni throws in a murder. There’s a dark night, a thunderstorm and a vicious attack on a young man in his apartment. SI Malarvizhi aka Malar (Vidya Pradeep) is the chief investigating officer who is initially baffled by the complete lack of clues. No fingerprints, the rain has kept everyone away and the victim Akash doesn’t appear to have any enemies who would want him dead. A chance photograph throws up a potential lead that seems a sure thing once Inspector Gopalakrishnan (Vijayan) recognises the man lurking on Akash’s balcony. He’s had dealings with Ezhil before and is positive that Ezhil is the man in the photograph. But another police station has picked up Kavin and identified him in the photograph too. So, who is the killer? Both men appear identical and the photograph is the only clue Malar has to work with. It turns out that Gopalakrishnan has a personal bone to pick with Ezhil and there doesn’t seem to be anything that links Ezhil to the murder. However, there is a large sum of money missing which leads Malar to suspect Kavin even though she can’t work out how he could have known about the cash. With no answers and only a few days before she needs to either charge or release both men, Malar is desperate to find any link between Akash and either Ezhil or Kavin. Adding to the mystery, Ezhil and Kavin seem to know and despise each other. What is the connection? Why Akash? And who committed the crime?

There are plenty of clues and red herrings alike in this clever story that is actually based on true events. Magizh Thirumeni keeps us guessing as he throws up clue after clue that seem to lead nowhere and Malar’s frustration is beautifully captured as every lead she has turns out to be worthless. I also liked how seemingly meaningless conversations from earlier in the film turn out to be important later on – it pays to take heed of even the smallest comment as almost everything turns out to be significant in the end. This also helps make sense of the first half of the film which is slow and spends a lot of time on the romance between Ezhil and Preethi. There’s also a seemingly pointless con where fraudster Chechi (Meera Krishnan) sets up Kavin as a potential husband for Ananthi (Smruthi Venkat), but both the romance and the con are essential for the reveals in the second half. However, without the benefit of hindsight, the first half just seems overlong and slow until Akash is killed.

On the plus side, throughout the film there is a good mix of action and comedy that helps ensure that the film doesn’t get too lost in the fluffy romance or bogged down in the police proceedings. Yogi Babu has less to do with this than expected and much of the comedy comes from George Maryan as a bumbling police officer and the interactions between Ezhil, Kavin and the cops. Some of this is just too filmi to work in the context of a thriller, but most of the comedy is well integrated into the main story and is genuinely funny. The exchanges between the police and their suspects are also well done but it’s the tangling of the story that really makes this film worth watching as Magizh Thirumeni manipulates us into repeatedly changing our minds as to who is the guilty party.

Arun Vijay is fantastic in the double role, particularly once Ezhil and Kavin have been arrested. The two men look identical but their personalities are different, although similar enough to make both a plausible suspect for the murder. His reaction to the arrest as Ezhil is brilliantly done, while his Kavin is perfectly cocky when brought in for questioning. Also worth mentioning are the excellently done interactions between the two characters. A great job by the special effects team who really made it look as if Ezhil and Kavin were fighting each other, and brilliant acting from Arun who made every interaction between Ezhil and Kavin seem totally natural.

Vidya Pradeep is also excellent as a police officer who has something to prove after being transferred in under a shadow. I really like that she isn’t portrayed as a “female” police officer, but instead she’s simply the main investigator for the murder. This doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a definite improvement over the more usual insistence that any female lead has to either have a romance track or be a comedic figure of fun. Vidya brings a good mix of seriousness and authority to the role along with some lighter moments that ensure her character appears likeable and as approachable as can be expected for a police officer in a murder investigation. Tanya Hope on the other hand has little to do except be romanced by Ezhil, but Smruthi Venkat has a more nuanced role and is good in a small but important role. Less successful is a flashback sequence featuring Sonia Aggarwal as Kavin’s mother that feels overdone in comparison to the rest of the film and doesn’t work as well as it could to explain Kavin’s motivation.

This is a clever whodunnit that keeps its cards close to the chest and doesn’t give anything away until the end. The final reveal is excellent and not wrapped up too neatly which allows some room for reflection. Arun Vijay is brilliant, as too is Vidya Pradeep, but better still is the execution of the idea and the twists and turns along the way. I thoroughly enjoyed Thadam and highly recommend it as a murder mystery that’s shrewdly plotted to be delightfully baffling. Make sure you don’t miss the true stories mentioned at the end too.

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Naiyaandi

Naiyaandi I’m a huge Dhanush fan, so despite the negative reviews it was inevitable that I would make the effort to see his latest film in the theatre.  And to be honest I don’t think it was quite as bad as reviewers have described, although it is still fairly terrible.  Naiyaandi is billed as a comedy and at least for the guys beside me in the cinema it delivered as promised, since they were literally rolling around in their seats laughing.  But I can’t work out if Sarkunam actually wanted to make a comedy or an action masala flick as the film ends up combining aspects of both genres without ever managing to form a coherent whole.  Naiyaandi is more like watching a TV comedy show with a series of skits, some of which work, and some which don’t, interspersed with the odd fight scene.  It does have a few funny moments, mainly in the second half but generally this is one to skip and wait for the DVD.

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Naiyaandi begins by introducing Meera Krishnan as a desperate mother trying to find a bride for the eldest of her three sons.  Her dilemma is quickly explained when the eldest son is introduced (Sriman), sporting an impressive paunch and seemingly well past marriageable age.  Matters look almost as bleak for the second son (Sathyan), however there is perhaps more hope for the younger son Chinna Vandu (Dhanush) who is much younger (and thinner) than his two brothers. For some unexplained reason, Chinna Vandu doesn’t live with the rest of the family, but rather lives with his uncle (Imman Anachi) in a small village and spends his time lazing around with his friends.  This also involves mooning after Vanaroja (Nazriya Nazim) who is visiting the village to spend time with her grandmother (Sachu).

On the surface Vanaroja should be fairly sensible; she’s apparently a dentist and comes from a loving and wealthy family, but she has irritatingly stupid habits which make her seem childish and inane, and generally she has the personality of wet tofu.  After a few days of being followed by Chinna Vandu, who uses more and more ridiculous methods of trying to attract her attention, Vanaroja decides that she has fallen in love with her stalker and plans to marry him.  Even though he appears to have no job prospects and she knows little about his family. Seriously – no-one is this dumb – even in a ‘comedy’!

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At this point Sarkunam seems to feel that the story needs a villain, so provides one in Vamsi Krishna whose psychotic determination to marry Vanaroja is perplexingly stubborn given that he’s only met her briefly.  However since his sole purpose is to provide a reason for our hero to abscond with the girl, presumably his lack of rationale doesn’t really matter.  Vamsi Krishna does the usual villain shtick, but it’s all very half-hearted and he’s neither menacing enough to be truly evil, or too over-dramatic to be funny.

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Things do improve in the second half where Vanaroja and Chinna Vandu are trying to hide the fact that they have become married from the rest of his family.  The only way to allow them to disclose their relationship is apparently to get Chinna Vandu’s two elder brothers married off, but this could be more difficult than ever since both brothers have their hearts set on Vanaroja.  Sriman and Sathyan provide some much needed comedy, which generally hits the mark and is actually pretty funny.  Whether it’s Sriman pulling in his stomach every time he sees Vanaroja, or Sathyan trying to get her to read his poetry, the two work well with each other (and with Dhanush) to make this section of the film more entertaining.

Nazriya Nazim doesn’t have much scope, but she is also better in the second half and actually seems to develop some personality as she dodges the two brothers while simultaneously contriving to meet Chinna Vandu in secret. Unfortunately this doesn’t last, and the final scenes are clichéd and ridiculously over the top without managing to raise many laughs. This is the first time I’ve seen Nazriya Nazim but she didn’t impress, although that is probably more due to her uninspiring and clichéd character which didn’t give her any opportunity to make an impact.

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To add to the disappointment of an unimaginative storyline, the songs are uniformly terrible with bizarre choreography and obviously shot on a tight budget.  At least that’s the only explanation I have for the cheap and nasty costumes worn by the backing dancers in Switzerland.  Dhanush wears a succession of outlandish outfits which don’t suit him at all, and both he and Nazriya get little opportunity to actually dance.  I can’t decide if this was supposed to be part of the comedy or if the songs were meant to be taken ‘seriously’, but this is where the FF button and the film on DVD would be appreciated.

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However, despite the terrible storyline, unfunny dialogue from Soori and Imman Anachi in the first half and nonsensical villain, there are a few things to enjoy about the film – even if only briefly.  Sriman and Sathyan are genuinely funny and the older Tamil songs that accompany some of their deranged imaginings are a good touch.  I did laugh for most of the second half of the film and it does seem better written with wittier dialogue.  Even the fight scenes are better.  Dhanush is fine in his role and always watchable, but the character here doesn’t require him to do anything special and such an unremarkable role is particularly disappointing after his impressive performance in Mariyaan.  Overall Naiyaandi is worth a watch for Sriman and Sathyan and the latter part of the film, but I think I’d recommend waiting for the DVD and judicious use of the FF button.