Director: R. S. Durai Senthilkumar
Cast: Dhanush, Sneha, Mehreen Pirzada, Naveen Chandra, KPY Satish
You go to a masala film because you already know what is going to happen in the end — the hero wins. Say, like in Pattas, you have Thiraviyaperumaal (Dhanush), a virtuous father wrongfully slain; a valorous mother Kanyakumari (Sneha), who has lost their toddler and wants to avenge her husband’s death through him; and, of course, the eponymous wastrel Pattas (Dhanush), who has powers he does not know of as yet. This three-piece jigsaw, if left on the floor with a piece of sugar, would be solved overnight by a colony of ants. But, what can be interesting is the how.
Take Pattas meeting Kanyakumari. Here is a mother who has lost her son, who has been in prison for 14 years. And here is a guy who has basically been an orphan through that time. So, when they do meet each other, you want something deeper than what you get in the film. Perhaps their natures are such that they don’t believe in demonstrations of affection. But our nature is such that we can’t feel the affection these characters feel unless they somehow put it out on display for us, either through the performance, or the writing. For such a rousing premise, one would have expected this moment to be a mini-catharsis for the hero, setting off a cascade of cathartic moments, adding heft to the narrative, now that two pieces of the jigsaw fit. Instead, when they meet, it feels like they were friends who went to college together and ran into each other during a car accident. This is not asking for melodrama, this is asking for writing that hits both the narrative and emotional beats. The narrative beats in a masala story are trivially worked out beforehand by the viewer, anyway.
The film does justify some of these muted emotional beats by telling us that Pattas is unemotional. Such verbal justification is yet another problem with the film’s how. A lot of information is given out through dialogue. For instance, we don’t really see anything that drives Nilan (Naveen Chandra) to villainy. He tells us about his humiliations, his anger towards his father, his jealousy… but we don’t really see why he would go to the extent of killing Thiraviyaperumaal. Of course, when he finally kills him, we expect it because the broader beats have been set up, but we don’t feel it. So, we aren’t invested in the hero’s journey to avenge his father’s death. We are merely talking a humour-filled walk with him.
The film must surely subscribe to the Lingaa school of overlong flashbacks that leave nothing for the hero but one last bout with the villain before the film ends. In a film about Pattas discovering his father’s greatness, and channelling it to avenge him, one would expect a flashback that is a sharp, emotional sketch of Thiraviyaperumaal, something that swiftly adds narrative pace to Pattas’ story and pushes him towards the climax stretch. Instead, it comes with mandatory reading of The Lost Most Ancient Art of Adimurai. This martial art form does deserve a tribute, especially because it manages to give the narrative a straight left to the chin. The film hovers over the Sangamam-meets-Mortal Kombat zone in the flashback. There’s a nice touch here where Kanyakumari spars with Dhanush before putting a knife to his neck and letting him know that she loves him. A typical Tamil heroine tells the hero that her life is in his hands; it’s the reverse here.
Overwhelmed with enthusiasm for Adimurai, the rest of the film excavates itself out of the flashback but still carries it forward, till Pattas completes his pontification. The film briefly hovers over the M Kumaran S/o Mahalakshmi-meets-7aum Arivu zone here. It sets itself up with two climaxes, like Ghilli — Pattas winning an international Mixed Martial Arts competition, and Pattas avenging his father’s death by killing Nilan. The first climax has an interesting conceit to do with handedness. The second super-brief, unsatisfying climax is merely used as a prelude to the above-mentioned pontification.
Director Durai Senthilkumar’s conceit with three archetypal characters is rousing on paper because we know what will eventually happen. The how is what we are curious about; that is what makes us emotionally invested in his archetypes. He lets us feel hollow through the film, leaving us searching for reasons why we don’t feel what we think we must be feeling.