Director: Sundar C
Cast: Vishal, Tamannaah, Aishwarya Lekshmi
A little into the first half of Sundar C's Action, a bomb blast wipes out a politician, and a cop tells Subhash (Vishal), "Kadhai vera maadhiri pogudhu…" You could say that about the movie. At first, it looks like your standard potboiler where the hero takes revenge for the wrongs done to his family. But soon, well… Kadhai vera maadhiri pogudhu! Subhash happens to be a Colonel in the Indian Army. He also happens to be Tom Cruise in the Mission: Impossible movies. The revenge storyline is grafted onto the globetrotting-spy template, and the result is surprisingly fun, a sort of high-tech update on the 1996 Arjun-starrer where the actor played an army man. That film's name? Subhash.
It's not just the protagonists' names that are similar. There's also the "I'll get the terrorist" angle, the "my family is into politics" angle. But what we don't have is sentimentality and the chest-thumping patriotism. Subhash may be chasing down international villains who caused him personal harm, but after a brief bit of sorrow at the end of a flabby (and dialogue-heavy) family stretch, he becomes the army man he is. His eyes are only on the mission. It's a job that needs to be done, and it just happens to involve his family. This is not something you expect in a mainstream Tamil movie, especially from the team that gave us… Aambala. You expect love songs. You expect tears and "sentiment". You expect humour breaks. You expect an overlong running time (which, sadly, is the case here, too).
But look at how the songs are used. What threatens to become a love duet between Subhash and Meera (Aishwarya Lekshmi) is grounded by scenes showing their engagement. What threatens to be an out-of-nowhere item number turns out to be the lead-up to a killing. What threatens to be a needless "second heroine pining for the hero" song is intercut with Subhash and fellow-agent Diya (Tamannaah) road-tripping their way into Pakistan. Look, none of this is earth-shatteringly new. I'm just saying that even these could-have-been-done-away-with numbers don't exactly come in the way of the… action.
And that's the film's reason for existence — no false promises there. I knew something was different right from the opening action stretch, which employs a small cave, a scarf, a clothesline… I particularly liked the Biblical move where a man stabs another man in the cheek and the knife pops out through the other cheek. In another set piece, three characters fight on the side of a building, hanging from air-conditioners and such. Even the routine car and motorbike chases have been shot (Dudley) with great panache — and a special mention to the location scouts, who have zeroed in on some eye-popping terrain.
You may have seen such action moves in other films (there's one right out of the first Mission: Impossible movie), but it's one thing to say "let's do something like that scene" and quite another to execute it well. The production values are solid. Unlike in our usual mainstream films, they seem to have spent a lot of money on the action sequences, and the editor (NB Srikanth) takes care of the rest. I usually hate jangly edit patterns where there's a cut every two seconds, but here, it's the right kind of two-second cut. Till the end — and despite the predictability in the second half — there's pace and tension. It makes up for the lack of elegance in the staging.
The only real "audience compromise" is the comedy. Yogi Babu appears as a hacker named Jack. He comes and goes, so this isn't too offensive. The real problem is the track with Sha Ra, which is so tonally off with the rest of the film that a major heist-like sequence in a bank ends up looking like a bit out of Comali. (If I were one of those "woke" people, I suppose I should be saying things like "one of the bits with Sha Ra is both ageist and misogynist".) In any case, I laughed more at the cheesy lines, like this one by the villain: "I am an NRI — Non Reliable Indian." Ooh. I wanted to tell him I am an OCI: Overall Critical Invigilator.
Like any self-respecting popcorn entertainer, there are OTT moments aplenty. Killer mehndi cones? Bring 'em on. But what keeps Action moving is that there's a little surprise around every corner. (Sundar C fleshed out his story idea with Subha and Venkat Ragavan.) I thought Subhash's detergent-clean brother (Ramki) might have a shady secret (like in Subhash). I thought Meera was one of those chirpy things who'd be reduced to asking Subhash to guess where on his body she kissed him. (Because, apparently, the mark still remains. If you can guess, do let me know, because I'm dying here). But these characters turn out very differently. I suppose there will be those who ask why we need something like this when we already have the Mission: Impossible movies. A fair question, I guess. But I was just happy they (mostly) get it right, which makes me think the film should have been titled Wildest Fantasy. I mean, Sundar C pulling off something like this…