Cast: Kathir, Roshni, Kishore, Yogi Babu
With the exception of romance, we get very few “pure genre” films (recent exceptions like Kaithi and Helen notwithstanding). Our action movies have full-fledged love stories. Our horror films come with full-fledged comedy tracks. So when Kumaran’s Jada, which starts out like an underdog sports drama, turned midway into a scary ghost story, I did a quick mental WTF and quickly recalibrated that setting of the brain that makes us respond to these things. A tonal shift is, at least, better than watching Yogi Babu mouth a few more lame lines because… comedy. He does, however, get to body-shame someone else — for a change, he isn’t the object of ridicule.
The first half hits all the expected beats. Jada (Kathir) is a good football player. His coach wants him to play in an elevens team — it will help him get a job. (There’s a selection match in two months.) But Jada wants to play the rougher version, with only seven players, none of whom follows any rules. There’s a reason, and it has to do with Sethu (Kishore), a player Jada hero-worshipped as a boy. Sethu gets the best line, when he says he coaches kids because the game should live on after his time. The line made me want to watch a movie about this man, instead.
Around intermission point, the genre shift happens. Jada and his teammates visit a village with a haunted house and a dog that never barks (but if it barks, then something really bad will happen). It all sounds more interesting than it is. There is very little sense of time and place, and the characters have no colour — except the heroine (Roshni Prakash), who wears red. Jada asks her to meet him at the temple and she does not show up, so he’s angry. But that night she turns up and says she couldn’t come because she had her period. A song ensues, because… romance.
Whether pure genre or a mix, what matters is the writing. And that’s all over the place. We are meant to feel for a father-son bond that involves a deaf-mute who’s so angry with the world that he hits his girlfriend after grabbing her money. This sounds like a huge plot point, but the character is soon reduced to a nobody, placed in frames just so we won’t forget he’s still there. Some North Chennai gangster-types make threatening noises, but they, too, are reduced to nobodies in the larger scheme of things. The football itself is reduced to a lesser version of the game we saw in the first half, where it seemed like a win-or-die deal. Kathir is perhaps not yet at a point where he can keep waiting for the perfect script, but I’m afraid a few more films like Jada might leave him benched.