Director: Sarjun KM
Cast: Sathyaraj, Varalakshmi Sarath Kumar, Kishore, Vivek Rajagopal, Yogi Babu
The trailer of Echcharikkai – Idhu Manidhargal Nadamaadum Idam (Warning — Beware of Humans) reveals what the plot is about: a kidnapping. You'd think the film, therefore, would set up this development quickly, so there's more time to spend on the thrills associated with this genre – but the opening stretch is unexpectedly emotional. It's about two boys named David and Thomas (played as grown-ups by Kishore and Vivek Rajgopal), whose kite-flying innocence is cut short when tragedy strikes. This stretch is wonderful (and wonderfully staged; the cinematographer is Sudarshan Srinivasan). Without revealing too much, it's something I've never seen in a Tamil film: the negotiation between two children, which, in the climax, is echoed as a face-off between the grown-ups. The payoff hits you like a ton of bricks. I wished it had been five tons. I wish it had moved me to the extent the characters are moved. But it kinda-sorta works. That's something you could say about the film as well.
The writer-director, Sarjun KM, acknowledges the DNA of his movie: two grindhousey kidnap thrillers (The Disappearance of Alice Creed and La Orca) and, oddly, Kadal. (Sarjun assisted Mani Ratnam for a while, and another homage comes in a song's refrain borrowed from Nayakan's item number: "Odura nariyila oru nari kulla nari dhaan."). He attempts to skirt past the commercial compromises as non-intrusively as possible. Yogi Babu appears as an Anglo-Indian who advertises his Anglo-Indianness by calling everyone "child." It's painful, but it's also just a couple of scenes. The songs incorporate bits of narrative. What looks like the heroine-introduction number (Varalaxmi plays a richie-rich named Swetha) gives way to preparations for the kidnapping. What looks, in the second half, like a random duet, incorporates a line that points to Swetha's actions at the end.
The problem is that Echcharikkai is a tad apologetic about its grindhouse roots. David and Thomas aren't allowed to remain gleeful scums. They are… humanised. Kishore is his usual solid/stolid self, but newcomer Vivek Rajgopal is electric, and I wondered how much more fun he'd have had in a less "Indianised" film. Other Indianisations include the character played by Sathyaraj, as a retired cop named Natraj. He has a little girl who's seriously ill, which results in a change of mind. This development is so sudden (and so underdeveloped) that it seems less a result of circumstances than the fact that it's what was there in the screenplay. It's always nice to see Sathyaraj – few actors own the screen like he does – but we realise what's missing when he refers to his 24 Mani Neram line: "En character-aye purinjikka maatengaraye." Bad guys have more fun. As a result, so does the audience.
I could have lived without the moralistic streak around Natraj (it goes back to the title song, and its refrain: Karma is a bitch!), but the twists and psycho games keep you guessing, and the film does feel very different from what we usually get. I liked the cop named Ravi, who's a complete cynic. I liked the flavour in the lines. When Thomas suggests a bank job, David replies, "Maattina lump-a oru varusham un calendar lendhu kaanama poyidum." The composer, Sundaramurthy KS, chips in with a really interesting and unusual score, where "all over the place" is actually a compliment. He's the one who takes the cue from the premise and really cuts loose. Still, it's strange that the heroine-oriented Kolamavu Kokila feels grittier and blacker and edgier than this film with two badass leading men. These are interesting times for Tamil cinema.