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.

Advertisements

Yutham Sei

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.

Naan Mahaan Alla

Naan Mahaan Alla is the fourth film release for Karthik Sivakumar (aka Karthi) and the second for writer director Susindran. The film starts off as a romance but ends up as more of a crime thriller, with Karthi’s character the main connecting factor.  As such, it’s very much a film of two halves and I find it disjointed as a result. However there are some good moments as Karthi puts in a strong performance and Kajal is entertaining while she is around.  I like that the film is set and filmed in downtown Chennai, as it means there are locations that I recognise from my trips to the city. It makes parts of the film feel more realistic, and considering it’s supposed to be based on a true incident is probably  Susindran’s intention.

It starts with an attack and implied gang rape of a girl by a group of pot-smoking, drunken college students who seem to routinely indulge in these vices. The attack occurs by the beach and the use of buildings apparently damaged by the tsunami for this adds to the bleakness and harshness of the scene .

Up to this point it looks as if the film will be a gritty crime drama, but after this short but brutal introduction, the film switches gears completely and concentrates on the romance between Jeeva (Karthi) and Priya (Kajal Agarawal).  The two meet at the wedding of a mutual friend and Jeeva is immediately enamoured with Priya.

Priya is  intrigued by Jeeva’s practical and down to earth manner and the two quickly progress to a relationship. There are complications though. Priya’s father is a lawyer and isn’t impressed by his potential future son in law, despite agreeing that if Jeeva gets a job he will reconsider their possible marriage in 6 months time.  In a rather unlikely scenario he goes so far as to call in crime boss Kutty Natesan to ‘persuade’ Jeeva to look elsewhere. This technique fails when Jeeva and Natesan end up becoming friends, which is just as unlikely but does give Jeeva a much needed ally in the second half of the film.

The romance between Jeeva and Priya is sweet and more realistically depicted than usual for a filmi love story. Kajal and Karthi have good chemistry with each other and their relationship is convincing in its simplicity. There is perhaps a little too much time spent establishing that Jeeva is a nice guy, blowing kisses at babies and buying chocolate for sick kids, but Karthi does a good job with his guy-next-door role. Kajal is lovely, looks the part and never has to dance which, along with a generally good wardrobe selection, makes her look more elegant.  I really like her here and it’s a shame that she doesn’t have more to do, although I do appreciate that Susindran didn’t just add in a heroine to make her another victim later on in the film.

Having set up the relationship between Jeeva and Priya, post interval the story switches back to the gang of youths from the opening sequence and basically ignores the romance for the rest of the film. Interestingly Susindran reportedly found a few of the actors he cast as the students when they were standing on a street in Chennai, although Vinod Kishan has played the role of a murderer before as  the young Suriya in Bala’s Nandha. Despite, or perhaps as a result of their collective lack of experience, the guys playing the murdering students really were effective in their roles as ruthless, callous killers and Susindran’s selection process seems to have worked. There is another first time actor, as the role of Natesan is played by cinematographer Arulhdass who also does a great job in front of the camera.  However despite good performances by all involved, the story starts to lose its way in the second half as there are a number of inconsistencies and gaping holes in the plot.

Jeeva’s father is a taxi driver and gets involved in a peripheral way with the gang’s abduction and murder of yet another girl and her partner.

The gang dismember the bodies and throw them into the local tip in various separate bags. The guys don’t seem to be at all disturbed by chopping up two bodies, one of whom is supposedly a friend (unlike similar scenes in the 1994 film Shallow Grave which has my favourite realistic body disposal scene) and are also not concerned about betrayal by each other. Perhaps a bit more depth to the characters of the students here would have helped to make the story more convincing but as it is they appear only as disposable and interchangeable as all villains seem to be. Despite all their efforts, it’s not long before the police discover various body parts, although there is no mention of why the investigating officers decide to look so closely at the tip.  It looks as if they use a local dump to film the search and discovery scenes here and it’s so vivid with the flies and piles of rubbish that I could almost smell it.

The gang decide that Jeeva’s father may be able to identify them so take the rather drastic step of organising his murder. Unlike their previous crimes, for this one they need the Dhana’s uncle, a plan drawn in chalk on the floor and a cyanide painted shard of glass.  It all seems excessive and the set up for the murder takes up a lot of the second half. The issue of Jeeva’s father recognising them seems too contrived as the gang appear more self-centred and focused on entertaining themselves rather than concerned. Besides, if Dhana just cut his hair I’m pretty sure he would be much less memorable.

The plan (which apparently could only have been thought of by one of 4 master criminals in all of Chennai), does work and a devastated Jeeva takes it on himself to discover the identity of his father’s killers. Karthi is just as good here in the action sequences as he was in the earlier romantic scenes even though he’s now in a different film and seems to be playing a changed character.

It seems as if Susindran couldn’t decide if he wanted to make an action thriller or a romance. Rather than combining the two together he splits the film into two distinct stories with very different approaches which means that neither is particularly satisfying. I think that the romance in the first half works better than the action of the second as the interactions between Jeeva, Priya, their families and friends are well depicted. Of course that could also just be because I prefer a romantic storyline, but while the action starts off well it just becomes too fanciful to maintain the suspense. It’s hard to believe that by himself Jeeva could take on a gang of youths who’ve managed to eliminate some of the top rowdy’s in Chennai, and for me his final actions don’t fit at all with the characterisation developed earlier in the film.

Despite the issues I have with the story, there are a number of good points to the film and a number of very well shot scenes. For a change there isn’t an irritating comedy track, and the performances by all the actors are consistently good. Jayaprakash as Jeeva’s father Pragasam does appear to be an older version of his son with similar views and approach to life, and the relationship between the two is well portrayed. There are only 3 songs in the film but the music by Yuvan Shankar Raja is beautiful. More would have been good, although the background score is also excellent.

The idea of trying to make a film around the crime statistics from any major city in the world to-day is a good one but the depiction of the characters and the development of their part of the plot doesn’t live up to the promise of the initial opening scenes. Susindran tries a different approach and while his picturisation of the seedier side of Chennai falters, Madhi’s cinematography does reveal a more realistic take on the city. Worth a watch at least once for Karthi and Kajal, and skip the second half if you want to avoid the violence and unlikely storyline. 3 ½ stars

Temple says: Considering all the rape and murder going on, I found this film surprisingly tedious. I think the problem was Karthi’s character or performance as to me it was more like a succession of performances than a rounded character with depth or variation. Jeeva started out a smart mouthed manipulator and charmer who could talk his way in and out of trouble, before suddenly becoming a total innocent who believed everything he was told and had none of the insight he had earlier demonstrated, then he was a breathless and gushing fan of an admitted killer, the next incarnation was a serious young man who had learned the value of money through just a small taste of having to shop and pay bills, and finally he became the invincible and implacable hero. None of these segments felt connected with the others, and I was completely disengaged from his character after a while. I’m not sure whether it was the performance or the writing that missed the mark – I think both, although I have liked Karthi in other films. The first half is all about the romance and Kajal is quite effective as the likeable but kind of stupid heroine. Priya is indecisive and eager to please so never knows or voices what she really wants – a flaw Jeeva points out several times as he also tells her what to do.  Kajal and Karthi have nice chemistry, but as Priya disappears for the second portion of the film, there is no point getting too attached to the lovey-dovey pair.

The crime and revenge plot is also patchy. The gang is initially shown as a bunch of drug fuelled opportunists under the leadership of a psycho.  Somehow despite their poor impulse control they manage to cobble together and execute a ridiculously complex plan to eliminate Jeeva’s dad.  The finale is too long, too improbable and as I couldn’t relate to Jeeva it lacked emotional intensity.

The performances are mostly fine, it’s a technically well made film, but it’s a bit hollow for me. 2 stars.