Director: Adhik Ravichandran
Cast: Shriya Saran, Silambarasan, Tamanaah Bhatia, Neetu Chandra
Most star vehicles give you one hero-introduction scene. Perhaps in acknowledgement of the tripartite nature of the title, Anbanavan Asaradhavan Adangadhavan gives us three. The first is the usual fanfare around the reveal of the hero. It's a prison-escape sequence, rather unexcitingly shot. But the end is what you'd call pure "mass." 'Madurai' Michael (STR, aka Silambarasan) clambers over a human pyramid of fellow convicts and reaches the top of the wall, which is when the camera stops to stare at his face, with snapped electric wires crackling in a corner of the frame. Somewhere in between, we get one of the many, many, many, many nods to the star's career: the song, I am a little star.
All of this is in a flashback, and as though alerting us to the chaotic narration that awaits us, we jump into a second flashback, this time with a hero-introduction song (never mind that the hero has already been introduced), with the mandatory Rajinikanth banner in the background. Then, the third, as an old man valorises Michael with each word in the title: anbanavan (the loving one), asaradhavan (the unflinching one), adangadhavan (the uncontrollable one). And then, STR pops into the frame. We await a character, if not a film, that lives up to this tripartite hype. What we get is a title in search of a movie.
The first half is spent in a romance with Selvi (Shriya Saran). Michael is a local gangster's underling, and he goes about killing people — and in a plot point never before encountered in Tamil cinema, Selvi wants him to give up this way of life. She envisions a life in Dubai. It's not clear if Michael is listening, for all he seems to do is flick his hair and say "sirappu" (awesome). After Kabali's magizhchi (happiness), our heroes seem to seeking out punch words instead of punch lines. Michael promises he'll end it all, but goes ahead and commits another murder. He's arrested, and he's not even sung a duet with Selvi.
If you want to be charitable to director Adhik Ravichandran, you could say that he keeps subverting our expectations of this genre. We expect revenge on the man responsible for Michael's prison stint, but that's almost an afterthought. Instead, the second half of the film transports us to Dubai, some 25 years later, where Michael is now a dreaded don named Ashwin Thatha, tossing grains to pigeons in the time-honoured tradition of dreaded dons. I'm glad the film tells us he's a dreaded don, because we wouldn't have caught on otherwise. All Ashwin Thatha (STR again, in a salt-and-pepper get-up) seems to do is hope that the twenty-something Ramya (Tamannaah) will reciprocate his love.
This director has the singular talent of imbuing his women with agency, while at the same time suggesting sluttiness
Or is it lust? It's tough to tell in an Adhik Ravichandran movie. The screenplay keeps throwing things at us: nods to recent political events (jallikattu, a mixture-munching man); a secret agent who goes by "Ruby: Agent 22"; well-intentioned lines about caste. But at the end, it's all about keeping the "virgin pasanga" (virgin boys) in the audience happy. We've heard of movies made with the male gaze. Adhik Ravichandran appears to make movies with male gauze. He bandages the inabilities and insecurities of his target audience with scene after scene that could be subtitled "women are like this only."
Hence this line: Kaadhalikkara ponna kooda vittu kuduppen; uyirukku uyirana nanbana mattum vittu kudukka maaten. (I'll let go of the girl I love, but not my best friend.) This director has the singular talent of imbuing his women with agency, while at the same time suggesting sluttiness. Consider the scene where the character played by 73-year-old actor Vijayakumar declares he's going to marry a woman who looks like his daughter. His reasoning: Instead of shelling out money to spend time with women, it's better to marry a woman and give her all your money. And the wife-to-be chirps, "If young men can find 'aunties' attractive, why can't young women go for 'uncles'?"
Why not, indeed? But the way the scene plays out, it's somewhere between emancipation and exploitation. Or take this other scene where a boy tells his girlfriend that he'd like to take their relationship to "the next level." She says that's going to happen only after they get married. He points out that she had no problem going to "the next level" with her ex. She says, "With him, I felt like it. With you, I don't." But before we can say, "You go, girl!", the boy is preparing to jump off a roof. It's left to Ashwin Thatha to give him sage words of advice and get him down. I don't remember the exact words, but here's an approximation: "Women are like this only."
The film's stance on women makes your head spin. On the one hand, we get Michael saying, "Kaadhalicha ponna adaiyardhu kadhal illa. Kaadhalicha ponnu nalla irukkanum nu nenakkardhu dhaan kadhal." (Love isn't getting the girl you want, but wanting her to be happy.") On the other hand, Ashwin Thatha, after telling his friend Somu (VTV Ganesh, with Wolverine's sideburns) that he loves Ramya, bursts into a song that goes, "Innikku night mattum nee kaadhal panna podhum." (It's enough if you love me tonight.) Does this character ever reflect on Selvi? No, scratch that. The answer is that he doesn't. There's actually a scene where he gets women to "audition" to be his wife. Among the many women who show up in the montage, here's what one says: "What's the guarantee you can 'perform'?"
Adhik Ravichandran appears to make movies with male gauze. He bandages the inabilities and insecurities of his target audience with scene after scene that could be subtitled "women are like this only."
STR seems hampered by the extra weight he's put on for the part. The playfulness is gone. Tamannaah is reduced to wearing a series of miniskirts and tight tees with injunctions like "Eye Contact." I am not getting logical about all this. I am not asking why get so emotional with the Selvi subplot if its only purpose is to deposit Michael in Dubai. But the unapologetic horniness that was the plus of this director's earlier film, Trisha Illana Nayanthara, is mixed up with the mandates of a hero vehicle (don't miss the poster of Manmadhan 2 outside Mayajaal cinemas), and the result is a headache. (There's apparently a sequel!)
There are parts where we see what this film could have been with a non-star. There's a bit about Selvi's father (Y Gee Mahendran) who has a tendency to keep getting electrocuted, and needs mouth-to-mouth resuscitation from the men around. Another bit places us in a panchayat scene, where the accused is… a blouse thief. Yes, he steals blouses from the women in the neighbourhood. When asked why, he gives a mini-Shankar-flashback of a reason. His wife's dream was to wear blouses of different colours, but she died before this could happen. So how can he let the other women around him walk around with blouses. This is so absurd that it made me chuckle. This may not be a gag for all tastes, but at least its tastelessness shows signs of an imagination run riot. The rest of the film has no imagination at all.