Director: Rajkumar Periasamy
Cast: Gautham Karthik, Sana Makbul, Siddique, Daniel Annie Pope, Lallu
Film is a kind of fiction, but first-time director Rajkumar Periasamy – a former associate of A. R. Murugadoss, who is the producer here – fills Rangoon with the factual density of non-fiction. He has done his research, and it's all up there on screen. The film begins with the arrest of Venkatesan (Gautham Karthik) in 2004, and he narrates a story that takes us back to Burma, 1988. He was born there. His father moved to Chennai. Soon, his mother took Venkatesan and his sister and joined her husband. When they reach the city, on-screen text tells us its name: not Chennai, but Madras. And the place they settle down in? It's the Burmese Tamils Residential Quarters.
No member of the audience is going to bat an eyelid if Venkatesan did not have roots in Burma or if the family settled down in, say, Saidapet — but this specificity gives the story a unique character. The fact that someone hails from Madhavaram KKR Town or that a government hospital is located in Ponneri. The fact that the gold traders in Sowcarpet belong to an Association. The fact that money (in rupees) is given to the owner of a small shop here and picked up as dollars in Singapore. The fact that gold biscuits are smuggled in gas cylinders and milk sweets. The fact that Venkatesan is stopped by cops on the Rangoon-Mandalay highway. It's like reading an account in the New Yorker.
Where the director falters for a while is in channeling this non-fiction into the fictional needs of mainstream cinema. Rajkumar Periasamy may be a Martin Scorsese fan. He gives us a Casino-like documentary-eye-view of how the Sowcarpet ecosystem operates, and he gives us a GoodFellas-like scenario where Venkatesan in taken under the wing of someone who knows the ropes (Gunaseelan, played by a quietly intense Siddique). But the characters don't stick. When Venkatesan starts earning big money, he says he's begun to respect himself. ("Enakku en meleye oru mariyadhai. Sambaadhichaley oru gethu.") At what point, then, did he begin to realise he should renounce this life of crime?
Perhaps it's the influence of Natasha (Sana Makbul), but it's hard to say. The girlfriend character is a waste of time, a waste of screen space. Here, too, we get details. She's a singer. She has her eyes on a contest named Voice of India. But that dimension is hardly explored, and Natasha is reduced to scenes like the one over the phone where she tells Venkatesan she has a gift for him and he asks what and she plants a big wet kiss on the receiver. And is there a clause that every film has to feature an Ajith-Vijay reference?
If the characters don't register more, it's because the performances aren't strong enough. So it helps when the director puts a foot to the pedal and decides to concentrate more on the plot mechanics
There are bigger problems. The reaction shots of Gunaseelan's sidekick (he's been sidelined after Venkatesan's arrival) suggest a betrayal, and then we find out the whole thing is a cheat, a cheap rug-pulling device. There's no urgency in the fact that the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence is out to capture Gunaseelan. The attempts at philosophy feel redundant, like when Venkatesan says none of them is good or bad, merely unlucky people in search of luck. ("Adhirshtathai thedi alayara duradhirshtasaligal.") And some scenes aren't allowed to breathe enough. Like when Venkatesan and his pals rush to the rescue of a girl being harassed at the beach and we cut to a wedding. These goons will make a comeback later, and it's in the context of the groom from that wedding. But the emotional payoff just isn't there.
If the characters don't register more, it's because the performances aren't strong enough. So it helps when the director puts a foot to the pedal and decides to concentrate more on the plot mechanics. The latter portions – a wayward dog, a double-cross, a kidnap — make the movie. I left with a mild sense of satisfaction not just because of a not-bad thriller but due to the film's loveliest touch, an offhand acknowledgement of a widow's remarriage. Where a Samuthirakani would have stopped the film in its tracks and given us a lecture, Rajkumar Periasamy gives us just a visual. He may not have made the most perfect film, but he leaves us with the thought that maybe he's a genuine filmmaker.
Watch the trailer here: