Is Ritu Varma a Great Actress™? I'm leaving this question out here, as it's essentially unanswerable right now, with her small body of work. But here's why I'm asking. When I saw her first, in Pelli Choopulu (2016), I liked her the way you like a kitten. The words that came up were "sweet", "cute", "harmless"… But fast-forward four years, and she's the best thing about Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadithaal. Now, it's hard to say how much of this Great Acting™ is due to the writing (this is a much tougher, more textured character than the one in Pelli Choopulu), or even how much of it is from the guidance of the director, Desingh Periyasamy. But my gut tells me that a lot of what Ritu does — it's coming from her, and it's coming from the inside. I think this is the case of an actor really feeling the part and shaping her reactions with those feelings.
Part of it is the way she uses her body. Part of it is the face. It's a great face. It says "innocent" and "won't hurt a fly", but it's also hard to read, and contradictory emotions flit across like that. Watch the scene where Meera (that's her character) runs into Siddharth (Dulquer Salmaan). This is an unexpected run-in, and Ritu's brief is to sell this unexpectedness to the audience. The easiest, laziest thing would be to arrange the lips into an "O", widen the eyes, arch the eyebrows… Ritu does none of that. She makes us feel that we are seeing Meera, and not Ritu Varma acting out Meera. She is enacting only what Meera would feel, without stressing about the fact that we may not catch on to the character's surprise. It is as it should be. The actor's job is to sell the character. It's the writer's job to sell the situation.
The film is a pleasant diversion. I had a lot of issues with it, but here's what I really liked. (And here's where you should stop reading if you don't want spoilers.) It's wonderfully amoral. None of the leads — Meera and Siddharth, and their best friends, Shreya (Niranjani Ahathian) and Kallis (Rakshan) — has a moral bone in their bodies. They don't want to change the world. They don't want to take up organic farming. They just want to make money, pots of it, sacks of it — by hook, or by crook. They're all crooks. And their crookedness (well, except in the case of Meera, who offers a flimsy excuse) isn't justified by a Horrible Past™ or something equally vulgar. They're just in it for the con.
The box-office success of Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadithaal is one of the most heartening trends of this dismal year. I hear it's more of an A-centre hit, but I'll take it. We need to liberate our cinema from the burden of conventional morality. We need to give movies the space to be fiction, and not expect them to do what our parents and teachers or we ourselves should be doing. If a film wants to get into that zone, then fine! Hey, Samuthirakani is an Indian citizen, too, I will defend unto my death his right to… bore me to death. But the fact that younger filmmakers are blithely raising a middle finger to the notion of cinema as an air-conditioned pharmacy to cure social ills is thrilling, thrilling news.
I wish this had been a better movie, though. It needed to be shorter, tighter, far better staged. But most importantly, the twisty plotting needed to be much more convincing in taking us from A to G to K to C. But at a generic level (and sometimes, a bit more), it's not bad at all. I stopped watching trailers sometime last year, so the fact that Siddharth and Kallis are con men came as a huge surprise. (Some friends told me they guessed this from the trailer.) This revelation made me sit up for another reason: because with Meera and Shreya, I smelt a rat, and I was right. I thought they would be the ones pulling the con over the two men, but…
The biggest problem I had was with the Kallis character. He does make you laugh — I'll give him that. But these laughs really cut into the mood of this genre. You understand why the director felt Kallis was necessary. You are making a cool and classy heist movie that's more than a tad Hollywood-y, so you want to Kollywood-ise it a little. You want to serve a fine single malt, but you also want a side dish of pickle. Kallis is that spice. He keeps cracking jokes to (supposedly) make this all go down easier, without alienating the audience. But the flavour of his humour belongs in a different movie. He keeps TASMAC-ing a restobar experience.
Another annoyance is the relentless attempt to be "cool". Consider the scene where Kallis and Siddharth steal a really cool car — I mean, it's a really cool car. And the way they do it is really cool, too. But once they get the car, the music turns triumphant. It tells us how "cool" this moment is, when it should really be telling us that there's a lot more left to be done because Meera is in danger, and these guys should be thinking about her instead of whooping it up in that cool car… So, yes! Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadithaal is not perfect. But it does many interesting (and funny) things. For instance, it reminds us of what can happen when a man — especially a married man — starts thinking with his dick. The consequences can get really hard on him.
Oh, I almost forgot the second best thing about the film: the cop played by Gautham Vasudev Menon. He gets an "intro shot" that's the kind of "cool" you wish the rest of the movie had. It's such an effortless display of machismo (and for a character actor), it made me wonder how Desingh Periyasamy might write "intro" scenes for bigger heroes. As for this film's hero, Dulquer is, well, Dulquer — he's not required to be much more. There's a stupid scene where Siddharth and Kallis try to divert the Gautham Vasudev Menon character. The fact that it doesn't ruin the rest of the film says a lot about how much you are rooting for Siddharth and Meera. That's the thing about charming, good-looking actors. We let them get away with bloody murder. Or, at least, with a series of con jobs.