Director: Rajesh M Selva
Cast: Vikram, Akshara Haasan, Abi Hassan
There’s a hint of promise in the opening stretch of Kadaram Kondan, by writer-director Rajesh Selva. A panoramic view of downtown Kuala Lumpur is backed by a radio announcer talking about an arts festival. It’s a longish announcement, and it’s followed by a programme of Ilayaraja songs. (The Punnagai Mannan theme reminds us of this film’s producer, Kamal Haasan.) Day, slowly, turns into night. The camera keeps zooming in on the Petronas Towers, and Ghibran’s score begins to make itself felt — it’s as though the sounds of the city are giving way to the sounds of this movie. The score becomes louder… louder… louder. Then a window near the top of a Tower splinters open as a man (Vikram) jumps out. A chase ensues. It’s as pure an “action” opening as you’ll see.
And this man is as pure an action hero as you’ll see. We will soon learn that his name is KK, but early on, when he’s hurt and admitted to a hospital, his chart says “Name: Unknown.” This really made me sit up, for we usually don’t get the Man With No Name action movie in Tamil cinema. If you look at the grand-daddies of the genre — Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo / Sergio Leone’s Fistful of Dollars — you’ll see why the namelessness is so important. A name gives a man an identity. It roots him. It tells us he is from this place, he speaks this language, he belongs to this community, this religion… Vikram may look Indian, but that means nothing, these days. Without a name, the character could be from anywhere. He may speak Tamil, but he probably speaks a dozen other languages as well. He’s a spy, a mercenary, a double agent, a gangster, a retired cop — he’s whoever you think him to be, want him to be.
For a film that depends so much on us buying this couple, Abi Hassan and Akshara Haasan are horribly miscast. They look like kids in those Flipkart commercials trying to play grown-ups with sketch-pen beards
How do you fill out a character that’s mostly a blank slate for the audience to fill up? Vikram does this beautifully. It’s the kind of performance you can get only from a star, but it’s not a “star turn”. There are no massy gimmicks, unless you count the way KK rolls around a cigar between his fingers. Massy roles are warm, fun. Vikram plays a man with ice water running through his veins — he gets into character and stays there. It’s the best “I’ve seen it all and nothing can get a rise out of me” performance since Kamal Haasan’s world-weary cop in Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu. Even beside the funeral pyre of a loved one, Vikram’s face is a mask. This is a tricky zone for an actor to inhabit. Play it too cold and you’re a zombie. Turn up the heat a little too much, and the character is no different from your average masala-movie leading man, telegraphing thoughts through emotions. Vikram plays it just right.
But once again, the actor does more for a movie than the movie does for him. (If he put half as much effort into script selection as he puts into his characters, he’d have a career for the ages.) Kadaram Kondan — officially adapted from the 2010 French film, Point Blank — surrounds its star with cops, gangsters and a young couple (Abi Hassan, Akshara Haasan) expecting their first child. None of them make an impression, neither the characters nor the actors playing them. When KK pumps a man full of bullets, it should feel like the end of a journey — or at least, the end of an episode. But the reason this man ends up dead is because “the director told me so”. That’s why a lot of things happen in this movie. My fifth-standard geometry notebook had better arcs.
It’s one thing to have an ice-cold protagonist. It’s quite another to leave the audience with an ice-cold pulse
I haven’t seen Point Blank, so I’m not sure what was lost in translation, but there are at least two major problems. The first is the couple. You don’t want to pick on young, inexperienced actors — but for a film that depends so much on us buying this couple, Abi Hassan and Akshara Haasan are horribly miscast. They look like kids in those Flipkart commercials trying to play grown-ups with sketch-pen beards. (Here, Akshara gets a strap-on pregnant stomach.) And two, the direction. We want a series of set pieces that tumble into one another with wit and elegance and heart-stopping precision. What we get is indifferently staged “scenes” that feel distant and disconnected. (The least you expect in these films is technique.) It’s one thing to have an ice-cold protagonist. It’s quite another to leave the audience with an ice-cold pulse.