Cast: Harish Kalyan, Shilpa Manjunath, Ma Ka Pa Anandh, Bala Saravanan
Director: Ranjit Jeyakodi
The Arjun Reddy prototype roars into Tamil cinema with Ranjit Jeyakodi's Ispade Rajavum Idhaya Raniyum. The first time we see Gautham (Harish Kalyan), he's on a bike, zooming around… the hairpin bends of life. Or something. He has a big beard and bigger reserves of angst. His soul-rending screams are built into the first song from Sam CS. Like Arjun Reddy, Gautham has rage issues. At a posh party, he makes a comment about Tara's (Shilpa Manjunath) backside. (This upper-class girl was blocking his way to the bar.) She calls him a pervert. He tosses her into a swimming pool. She's humiliated. Translation: She's a few scenes away from falling in love with him.
How would you write a scene to depict Gautham's anger? This is how Ranjit Jeyakodi's mind works. Tara is on a scooter being driven by her friend, and the vehicle hits a car, whose occupants get out and demand compensation. A local man is called to adjudicate the situation. He asks Tara's friend to apologise to the driver. He says he'll take a video of this apology, which both parties will upload on their Facebook page. Because… he wants to see who gets more 'like's. Gautham then crashes the scene and beats the makeshift judge up (among other people). This head-scratching what-the-fuck-ery colours even the important, character-defining stretches. Gautham's rage is a result of his assumption that his mother abandoned him. But when he learns the truth, he acts as though it's a minor annoyance, as though he stepped out of the house and forgot his keys. And just wait for the quasi-philosophical scene where he turns to drugs. I haven't laughed this hard in a while.
Why didn't Gautham's father (Ponvannan) tell him about his mother earlier? Why does this man enter and exit the narrative as he pleases? Why did we need that fake interval point? What is this film, really? Ispade Rajavum opens with a Socrates quote: The hottest love has the coldest end. But the films credited at the end (Kaatru Veliyidai, Tamasha) offer a better clue to what the director was after: a jagged, modern-day romance. (You could add Neethane En Ponvasantham to this list. Also Harish Kalyan's hit, Pyaar Prema Kaadhal.) And at least A Kavin Raj's cinematography follows the brief. It's jagged and modern. Conflicts are covered with handheld shots. An unreliably narrated flashback is soaked in diffused light. The intensity of the present-day portions is emphasised by ultra-saturated, neon-glow colours reminiscent of Wong Kar-wai's work. There's even a vertical 360-degree move. Bravo! Bravo!
But under this surface, there's no inner life. There's no truth. Everything feels fake. Gautham says, "Naan pannadhu love-aa nu enakke sandhegama irukku." (I doubt if what I felt for Tara was really love.) It rings 100 percent true — not in the sense that he means, but because the writing is so immature. Take this scene. Tara's parents are trying to marry her off to some Selvaraghavan Second Hero Type™, and she knows Gautham is worried, insecure. She knows she is fuelling his anger by not telling her parents about him, and by not meeting him for days on end. And what does she do when she finally meets him, on the beach? She says she can only spend an hour with him because she is heading to a screening of The Avengers. It's a Marvel he didn't toss her into the sea the way he tossed her into the swimming pool earlier.
You can forgive the appalling comedy by Ma Ka Pa Anand and Bala Saravanan — it's a commercial compromise. But how can you overlook the thorough mishandling of the Gautham-Tara relationship? It's most unconvincing. You don't feel the intensity of this love and the depth of emotion at the end, which almost involves murder. The characters' psychology is painted through odd-sounding, greeting-card lines about love and trust — and the actors just don't gel. Harish Kalyan isn't bad (he makes the most of an impossible role), but Shilpa Manjunath is extremely awkward. Her scenes come across like rehearsals, and the bad clothes and makeup don't help. I suppose her look was going for "hip" and "cool", like everything else in this utterly misconceived movie. It even takes a misconceived stab at self-awareness, with a conversation about stalking that's not just badly written but not exactly relevant either, given this particular sequence of events. Imagine the irony. The one time Tamil cinema actually acknowledges this subject, it's out of context.