Cast: Karthik, Gautham Karthik, Regina Cassandra, Varalaxmi Sarathkumar, J Mahendran, Santhosh Prathap
Karthik fans looking for some nostalgia will probably enjoy Mr. Chandramouli a little more than others. There’s that title, first. And the lyrics of a club song, tuned by Sam CS, include phrases like “panivizhum malarvanam” and “rajadhi raja.” The actor’s performance, too, is reminiscent of the times he’d show up on screen, trying to be cool and funny and casual, and the audience would find it all wincingly painful. The character, after whom the film is named, is painful too. He has a Premier Padmini that’s clearly seen better days, though he says it was driven, in the eighties, by Al Pacino, Marlon Brando and Meryl Streep. I think we’re meant to laugh, as with this other line, uttered during breakfast, when he hands a visiting card to his son, Raghav (Gautam Karthik), and says, “Dosai nu nenachu saaptudaadhey.”
Is this a nod to the Agni Natchatiram scene where Karthik played the job-seeking son, and got a visiting card from his father? Hard to say. That could be your response to most questions in this loud, dreary film, written and directed by Thiru, along the lines of his much-better Naan Sigappu Manidhan. Is Raghav a boxer because the sport actually shapes the character in a meaningful way? Hard to say. There’s an action scene towards the end, but it doesn’t really depend on the hero’s boxing expertise. Maybe they thought it would sound cool to say “the hero is a boxer,” just as they thought it would be cool to say “the hero’s friend (Sathish) is named Padmini” or “the heroine (Regina Cassandra) is basically in the film because of a song in which she appears in a swimsuit.”
The real villain in this story is the interval
The screenplay works like this. Raghav and the Regina Cassandra character (named Madhu) fall in love. Cut to song. Raghav gets someone to sponsor his participation in a boxing tournament in Bengaluru. Cut to song (and fly Madhu to Bengaluru, so we get some romance in the midst of all the sweaty training). Chandramouli and Bhairavi (Varalaxmi Sarathkumar, a spunky actress now seemingly relegated to “character roles”) become friends. Cut to song. Someone dies. Cut to song. In the middle of all these breaks, we slowly realise Mr. Chandramouli is actually a conspiracy thriller, a murderous game being played by corporate rivals. But for that angle to take off, we have to wait for the second half. In other words, the real villain in this story is the interval.
Now that Tamil filmmakers are toying with Hollywoodian ideas (the space adventure in Tik Tik Tik, the conspiracy thriller here), it may be time to learn something else from Hollywood: that the intermission concept kills certain kinds of narratives. Or at least, the writers must find ways to work in this interval point in a more elegant manner. In the search for a powerful interval block, the entire first half is a write-off, filled with useless filler, and we have to twiddle our thumbs till the real story kicks off in the second half. As a thought experiment, imagine Inception, with a flashback song between the Leonardo DiCaprio and Marion Cotillard characters, or a Vetri nichayam-type number as the team prepares for a big dream invasion. No? I thought so.
There’s one nice chase where Raghav uses the rear-view mirror of a bike. (The reason he uses this mirror is something I will leave for you to find out, because it’s one of the few interesting aspects of the film.) But the infantile writing and staging makes everything else insufferable. I left the theatre wondering what was funnier: the close-ups of killers (the actors are asked to give “evil looks”) before each crime, or the bedside manner of the doctor who tends to Raghav, after an accident. The doctor gives Raghav terrible news about his condition, and without waiting even a moment for Raghav to process it, he tells his colleagues, “Shall we go?” He seemed in a bigger hurry to leave the film than I was.