During the 80s and the 90s, a certain line on the bottom of a film's video cassette was a damning indicator of its quality. These films may have been lesser-known sequels to big hits or may even star action heroes such as Jean Claude Van Damme or Steven Segal, but when the line 'direct to video' or 'straight to video' formed a part of its jacket, you knew very well that it was meant to be kept back on the shelf. With films such as The Irishman and Okja getting a Netflix release, one had assumed that this 'direct' approach had finally achieved some prestige and legitimacy. But that's until the likes of Drive and Bhoot started premiering on OTT platforms, at least in India. It's as though the makers had thought 'these are not good enough for the theatre. Let's just dump them on OTT'.
'Dumping' or offloading seems to have been the logic applied to this week's RK Nagar as well. It's a film you'd think twice about watching even when theatres are safe, the wallet is full, popcorn nice and buttery and parking practically free. I mean, the film is such a non-issue that even the happily contentious Tamil Nadu Theatre And Multiplex Owners Association, which raised an issue over the direct release of Pon Magal Vandhal on OTT, didn't have a problem with this film slipping through the cracks for an OTT debut. You can now see why.
But RK Nagar really isn't a film without any redeeming qualities. There are even certain stretches of clever writing. It's just that these elements never really come together convincingly. One of these is the 'reverse Ghajini' love story at its centre. The protagonist Shankar (Vaibhav) gets the identity of two girls working in the same company mixed up. One is the owner and the other, her employee. But for a guy with nothing going for him, he prefers the employee and not the owner. So when he falls for Ranjani (Sana Altaf), he doesn't know that she's the daughter of a powerful politician with loads of money. I don't mean to say that this immediately makes things interesting, but at least it's not the usual lazy love track.
Even the 'falling in love' portions aren't the usual 'hair flying, SloMo' routine. They are a bit more daring. So when the heroine climbs over a shaky stool to reach the top shelf, you know the hero's going to catch her. But in RK Nagar, not only does she fall, she also manages to fall off the first floor of a building, that too right into the hands of Shankar, who is waiting below over a big pile of cushy waste cloth. Top shelf stuff, really.
What about the film's inbuilt Cinderella Story? Not the aspirational kind, but Shankar, a tailor, has stitched a dress with the measurements that will fit his dream lover. So when he goes for a 'penn paarthal', he makes it a point to see if the girl fits into this dress to decide if it's meant to be.
The film even borrows certain aspects from the Shikari Shambhu template. So Shankar is the kind of guy who wants nothing to do with being the hero, even when the occasion presents itself. His character is the kind that hopes for a hartal on the day the Hero's Journey begins. He beats up people without really doing anything. He gets a sword to kill his enemy, but again he does nothing. How does this nobody get entangled in a rivalry between warring politicians is what makes up most of RK Nagar.
And then we get another major subplot involving pervy teens who blackmail women using hidden cameras. How the film manages to connect these two strands is a tiny miracle in itself, but you've given up by then. What follows are parts where you're either too confused or too bored. A few twists and ideas keep popping up that bring you back, but it requires razor-sharp focus to remain invested until then. It requires more than Venkat Prabhu gang inside jokes and the image of Santhana Bharathi in Rajini's 2.0 suit to make a full film engaging.