Director: Doss Ramasamy
Cast: Nayanthara, Thambi Ramaiah
The trailer of Doss Ramasamy's Dora brought to mind the Stephen King haunted-car story, Christine, which became a John Carpenter movie. But what we have here is the acknowledgement of an entirely different kind of superpower: the heroine's.
Nayanthara gets the kind of "glorifying" dialogue usually delivered by the hero's sidekick to keep the hero's fans whistling. Her father, Vairakannu (Thambi Ramaiah), says there's no one like her in south India. And isn't that true? Which other actress today is capable of getting the trade excited about a film that has her as the protagonist, with no leading man? At this point in her career, Nayanthara is putting the "hero" in "heroine".
Nayanthara gets the kind of "glorifying" dialogue usually delivered by the hero's sidekick to keep the hero's fans whistling
In Dora, she plays Pavalakkodi. The old-fashioned name — it belongs to the mythical princess whose story became the basis for MK Thyagaraja Bhagavathar's debut feature in the 1930s — matches the boat-like Austin Cambridge she purchases. She outlines her dream to her father: a call-taxi service whose USP is antique cars.
There's just one small problem. When a cat leaps on the car at night and decides to take a nap, the bonnet flips open angrily and the bewildered animal finds itself on the ground. Austin Cambridge has attitude.
Worse is to come. When Pavalakkodi and her father venture out at night to offer prayers to a local deity, the lamp flame goes off, and a woman who looks like a bit of an otherworldly spirit herself bursts into cackles. "Nee nenakkardhu nadakkadhu," she tells the car. What you think, it won't happen!
The ultra-broad comedy by Thambi Ramaiah is ultra-annoying (and it does not belong in a film that isn't your typical "horror-comedy"), but the rest of Dora works pretty well. The narrative unspools as two parallel threads. In the first, Pavalakkodi learns that her car is possessed and is capable of murder. In the second, Harish Uthaman features as a cop investigating a series of crimes. The way the two threads (and characters) meet could have been written better, but I was grateful it wasn't a falling-in-love scenario. Quite the opposite, actually!
Around interval point, when we see the shadow of an enraged dog, the film really takes off. There's the shadow of another Stephen King novel/film here: Cujo. Only, this dog is… I'll leave that for you to find out.
The all-explaining flashback works, and it's fun to see Nayanthara in "mass" mode as she turns vigilante. She even gets a slo-mo walk. At first, when we get the special-effects scene of an accelerated heartbeat, it felt random and redundant — but later we see why. Which is another way of saying the story really works. The director makes you care about a… car!
The emotional beats are so effective that we forget, after a point, that we are heading to a foregone conclusion. The cops on Pavalakkodi's tail are too easily outfoxed. I'd have liked a little more spunk in the cat-and-mouse games. But really, think of the typical mass-hero film and you'll realise you've seen far worse. Why burden a mass-heroine film with such expectations when it's otherwise consistently fun and innovative (say, the way Pavalakkodi tracks her father, who's been abducted).
I was more than pleasantly surprised. Not just because, unlike the average Tamil "horror-comedy," there's actually a brain at work here. But also because we get a heroine who isn't after love and marriage (she actively resists an attempt at matchmaking by her father). At first, she wants a career, which is why she gets the car. Then, she wants revenge. Like I said, she puts the "hero" in "heroine."
Watch the trailer here: