If you were someone who was born in the 90s or early 2000s, you would have certainly enjoyed the ‘Anbenum’ single from Leo. Not only is the third single a pleasant rendering amidst the bloody sweet posters and trailer of Leo, but it also serves as a pleasant nostalgic ride. It is as if the lives of Vijay and Trisha’s characters from Ghilli (2004) have come a full circle, with the relationship of Velu and Dhanalakshmi maturing over the years as we all grew up. ‘Anbenum’ might as well be only the third or fourth mellifluous song featuring Vijay and Trisha, for all of their other duets — like ‘Appadi Podu’ — have always been energetic and colourful dance numbers.
In the lyrical video, we get a glimpse of Vijay’s Parthiban and Trisha’s Sathya celebrating the latter’s birthday. Perfectly fitting the 20-year challenge, the cake-cutting sequence instantly reminds us of a similar celebration in Ghilli, which is followed by a peppy ‘Kokkara Kokkara Ko’. Just days before her birthday, Dhanalaskhmi’s life turns upside down. But this small gesture of Velu goes a long way in reassuring her about life and makes her realise the feelings she has slowly developed for him in the past few days. It is also here that we probably get the first and biggest fan of Vijay and Trisha’s romances - Velu’s sister Bhuvi, who roots for them even when they take time to understand their relationship.
Love Amidst Action
Billed as an out-and-out Lokesh Kanagaraj film, Leo is not going to be short on any action, violence or bloodshed. But a look at the previous films starring the leading pair reveals that this is nothing new to them. In fact, their on-screen rendezvous in Ghilli was set amidst a lot of tumultuous action and chaos even before Vijay gets to introduce himself. In Ghilli, Velu goes on his usual jog near the Madurai Meenakshi Temple when he first meets Trisha, struggling to escape from Prakash Raj’s Muthupandi. When the whole city helplessly stands still and mute, witnessing Dhanalakshmi's plight, Velu stands up for her, and this immediately lays the foundation for their relationship, one that’s built on trust and belief. Although it's presented as a mass masala entertainer, at the heart of it, Ghilli has an undercurrent theme of survival. If you think about it, the entire narrative of Ghilli might’ve captured only five-six days in the lives of the characters played by Vijay and Trisha, but it feels like the most wholesome film featuring this pair to date.
Thirupaachi (2005) sees Vijay scheme plans to take down three prominent criminals in Chennai city, while Vijay and Trisha are out to seek vengeance in Aathi (2006) and the protagonist fights against a big rowdy in Kadapa who has enslaved his father in Kuruvi (2008). Therefore, every time the actors met on the reel, they saw a lot of blood. Nestled amidst all these is their romance, which was sometimes aided by strong characterisation and depth in the writing, but often benefitted from the pair’s crackling chemistry.
On The Move
In Leo, Parthiban is living in Himachal Pradesh with his family, probably owning a small chocolate shop. However, by the looks of it, he seems to be running away from his past, situated in a different place. The change in place has been another common phenomenon observed in the other four films. While his little trip to Madurai is what changes his life in Ghilli, Thirupaachi is based on the concept of “unknown dangers in moving to a bigger city like Chennai from a rather quiet village” even though the storytelling is decidedly over-the-top. Likewise, Vijay travels from New Delhi to Chennai in Aathi and goes to Malaysia and Kadappa in search of his father in Kuruvi. He was running towards the problem in all of these films unlike Leo, where the problems seem to chase him.
As a kid, I remember rewatching Aathi so many times that the CDs ended up with countless scratches, and eventually, all I could see was the garbled screen. And there's a reason for that. The speciality of this Athanokkade-remake is that after Ghilli, it was Aathi that had the best characterisation of the lead characters. It does take a templated route in the second half, but up until then Vijay has no action sequences and we see Trisha in action, often scheming revenge against those who destroyed her family. The intro sequence of her, decked in whites like an angel, with a twist you don’t see coming in the form of a murder has a rich rewatch value. Even when the film surrenders completely to the hero, it doesn’t suddenly make Trisha a damsel in distress in need of a saviour. She still gets to attack an antagonist and fume with years of suppressed anger.
Trisha is equally angry and upset in Ghilli but once Vijay enters the picture, she turns to him even to decide whether she should escape or not. That said, she is the McGuffin in the film and her arc is a layered one. For instance, when Vijay and Trisha are escaping from Muthupandi for the first time, Vijay's eyes are focused on the road, but Trisha’s eyes keep darting around in fear. However, there is so much she goes through in the next few days that on the bus ride to the airport, Vijay keeps looking around, while Trisha keeps her eyes glued on him. It is not just that she is not scared because Vijay is there to protect her, but that she doesn’t want to keep running away anymore. Now that she knows what she wants, she is no longer in flight mode but wants to fight for it. It is what Dharani fails to recreate in Kuruvi, reducing her to a typical heroine written for comic relief and romantic songs. In fact, even if there is a nice Tom and Jerry angle in Thirupaachi, we see Trisha only for three songs in the second half, which lets us take breaks from its racy killings.
Vijay, His Eyes and The Family Emotions
While rewatching Ghilli, I realised how much Vijay could convey through his eyes, especially during a montage sequence in ‘Arjunaru Villu’. As Trisha explains the tragic events in muted voices aided by the adrenaline-rushing song, his firm eyes suddenly soften and he simply conveys the whole conversation even without the need for voices. And it looks like even the directors of Thirupaachi, Kuruvi and Aathi found his eye-talk special. In Kuruvi, all that Trisha remembers are his eyes while he covers his entire face in turmeric with only his raging eyes standing out as he kills several gangsters in Thirupaachi. Aathi goes onto perfectly capture the anger his eyes can emote, creating a mass moment. There is a power cut when Vijay meets RDX, the main antagonist, and threatens him. But immediately the colour lights in the club are back and RDX gets to see only the terrifying eyes for a second which haunts him ever since then. Surprised and taken aback by his powerful eyes and daring attitude, RDX says, “Avan saadhaarana aal illa da, Singam, Singam. (He is not an ordinary man, he is a lion... aka Leo.)
Another common factor in all of these films is the family sentiment and his relationship with his sisters. While Thirupaachi outdoes the other three, the brother-sister magic is a pleasure to watch in others as well. Family and their tragedies were also central to these films. If it was Trisha’s brothers in Ghilli, it is their whole family in Aathi and Vijay’s father in Kuruvi. As much as it was central to the plot, there was also equal fun in watching the banters between Vijay’s characters and their fathers (played by Ashish Vidyarthi and Manivannan). The family sentiment seems to be crucial in Leo as well. But now that we have fast-forwarded 14 years and they have moved on from their angry yet playful youth era; they are no longer the kids but middle-aged parents and it should be interesting to see them as mature adults dealing with everything life throws at them.