Saturday October 21, 2017

Thupparivaalan (Movie review), Tamil – Mysskin

Posted by Karthik

There is an incredibly choreographed fight sequence between Vishal and the Chennai-Chinese underlings at the Red Dragon Chinese restaurant in Thupparivaalan. During this extended, flamboyant sequence, at one point, Vishal dodges the multiple attackers and runs up a small staircase. As he does, a couple of underlings chase him and one of them tries to attack Vishal with a brutal looking knife. As he does, it hits the staircase’s steel handle repeatedly as Vishal dodges each hit.

It seems oddly musical, like a sequence of musical notes (perhaps concocted by composer Arrol Corelli who is especially fantastic all through the film with a dizzying array of musical cues) – a progression in musical notes, to be accurate. If you think about it though, you’d notice that the steel handle is being hit by the same knife and the railing is a simple steel tube like any other with no additional construct. The musical progression that plays in the background should have ideally been one without any progression – a series of similar notes repeated 4-5 times.

But Mysskin wants dramatic tension here. So he plays those notes as an ascending progression, each note accentuating the tension. This is the hallmark of the entire film, in a way. A spectacularly nuanced and intelligent construction of many scenes that are attached to each other only because Mysskin wanted them that way. Because he can.

It’s hard to begrudge him that liberty, given that the film’s leading man chose to produce these amazing scenes loosely tied to a Sherlock-in-Saligramam premise.

The opening scenes—the ‘hero’ introduction—are oddly amateurish. Using a first-person visual narrative to showcase KaNiyan’s frustration in not getting an ‘intelligent’ case to solve seems so elitist and alienating to a normal movie watcher in Tamil Nadu and may appeal only to the sub-segment of audiences who are both interested in Tamil films and are aware of the Sherlock Holmes world. You let it pass and end up in Rhinoceros piss.

But, from Mysskin’s point of view, he establishes a lot of nuances about the characters in those scenes. What stands out is Vishal’s attention to detail, sometimes at the cost of assuming too many things (often accurate; only once does he accept that he is guessing and offers a choice when he asks Mallika if she lives with an uncle or an aunt) by extrapolating his guesses into a coherent story. And then the dynamic between Vishal and Prasanna (playing a world-weary and practical Dr.Watson) where Vishal signals his Watson not to touch the car keys dropped by a prospect, to let him build his story based on his actions. Watson—Prasanna—complies instantly. He listens. He sees. But he doesn’t observe, as Vishal states later in the film.

The antagonists that get on Vishal’s nerves are an interesting bunch. Veteran K.Bhagyaraj reuses his Santa Claus beard from Rudra and presents a stoic ‘Uncle’, while Andrea and Siddanth Venkatesh as the duo that accomplishes things for the gang, even as one of them spectacularly commits Seppuku in the middle of a road in Chennai, surrounded by Tamil Nadu Police (Why? Because Mysskin can!). And, in a comeback of sorts, Vinay Rai, as the cruel (named Devil!) chief villain who, while clearly lacking any larger motive, showboats his villainy in at least two amazing scenes—one in Bhagyaraj’s home and another in KaNiyan’s home—and his poor skills in culinary anger management involving eggs in one head-spinning scene.

There’s a lot of intelligently crafted sequences and ideas all through the film. The nuances they bring (allowing the viewers to think) are really what makes the film so engaging and gripping.

Like Vishal’s name in the film – KaNiyan Poongundran. His lack of social grace almost seems like an allegory to the original KaNiyan Poongundranaar’s Puranaanoru verse, Yaadhum Oore Yaavarum Keleer!

Like the two crafty murder techniques that open the film; the former, involving electricity, is clearly a work of genius!

Like the nuance around the ricocheting bullet.

Like the way KaNiyan asks Ravi Mariya (Mallika’s uncle) where the balcony is as soon as he enters their house and goes to mentally calculate the distance between the 3rd floor balcony and the floor (not enough to die, but enough to impair).

Like the scene where KaNiyan asks Prasanna to freeze when the neighbor comes out of his house and suspects someone standing at the other door, but is not able to see it clearly. This is another place where Vishal’s constructive guesswork simply works – night, middle-aged, not wearing specs, possibly short-sighted.

Like the out-of-focus shot of Andrea standing outside the adjacent room when KaNiyan rushes to that floor in the hotel where Kamlesh is staying.

Like the mixed sentences KaNiyan throws at Vinay in the final scenes in Pichavaram while talking to both Vinay and Prasanna at the same time.

There’s so much to observe in the writing all through the film and gawk at the way they are visualized to precision.

It’s perhaps fitting and ironic at the same time that all this attention to detail is lavished only on a lot of supremely crafted scenes, but not at the cohesiveness of a plot.

The villain’s motive and backstory are explained in one breath-taking (for the actor, not for us) torture scene. The villain’s name is revealed (Holcha!) in the end as if it is going to make us feel something (we don’t; we have no clue that we should!). Even the elaborateness of the antagonists seems mighty pointless on the whole, even if individual scenes are astonishingly imagined (like the throwaway introduction of their cruelty, with the partly open fridge and the persistent cue of ‘coffee’ being a precursor to a murder).

It’s as if Mysskin constructed the entire film to showcase Sherlock’s… sorry, KaNiyan’s prowess as a detective. In a way, the entire film feels like an extended hero introduction scene. It all comes together to introduce Vishal as a restless, super-intelligent detective ready to take on deadly villains, with Holcha being the first.

It’s befitting that the film, within a month of its theatrical release in Tamil Nadu, is available on Amazon Prime for streaming directly to the homes and mobile phones of audiences. Thupparivaalan is the kind of stuff meant for binge-watching.

This should have been a 13 part television series to premiere in one-go on Amazon Prime. Heck, it actually feels like a fantastic pilot for Thupparivaalan, Season 1!

That would help set KaNiyan’s world as something more than one film, more than one set of villains, and more than just a one-note character. That could help overcome the dismay about how disjoint it all was while also being mind-bogglingly engaging and relentlessly entertaining.

Throw in 13 villains over 13 episodes of 120 minutes each (the film has no songs anyway, but there is a short title track that connects this KaNiyan Poongundran to the original sangam poet’s ‘Yaadhum oore’ line and plays awkwardly in two places almost as if this was planned as a 13 part series and this theme could have played over many more scenes across the series!) and you would have convincingly built a Saligramam-based Sherlock Holmes saga.



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