Cast: Rajinikanth, Keerthy Suresh, Nayanathara, Meena, Kushboo, Prakash Raj, Jagapathi Babu
With director Siva, it’s never really a scarcity of great masala ideas that work against him. Even in the immensely forgettable Vivegam, he has a way of tossing around seemingly unimportant details (like how Morse Code works), only for its application to be brought back at the most unexpected moment. In Viswasam, a more cohesive mix of a fan-service mass film and father-daughter drama, he pitted the hero (Ajith) against another father (Jagapathi Babu) who is just as determined to regain his daughter’s love as the hero is. In Annaatthe, we get the same ideas appearing again but the result is different.
For instance, we’re told right from the beginning that Thangam (Keerthy Suresh) needs to merely think of her brother Kalai/Annaatthe (Rajini) for him to appear before her. This concept is basically a cocktail of telepathy with a wedge of sentimentality, but when he brings it back later to a shot of Thangam feeling her brother’s presence in faraway Kolkata, you see what Siva is trying to do. It’s the same with the way he introduces the villain. In a film about a brother looking out for his sister, he pits Annaatthe against another older brother who wants to avenge his sibling’s murder.
Concepts like these are everywhere, especially the larger one that includes a group of villagers storming the big city to teach its jacket-wearing gangsters a lesson in rural justice. The weapons, his methods, even the hero’s clothes don’t change as he moves to Kolkata in what’s a mix of a fish-out-of-water comedy and a lawless Western. The other large arc sounds just as compelling. Siva tries to bring in the Savitri-Satyavan story into a film that includes a powerful God-like older brother for the Savitri character. Which is perhaps why we see Jagapathi Babu’s character being portrayed as a contemporary take on Yama.
But these feel like good ideas only when you think of them in hindsight. In another sense, Siva is better at coming up with isolated ideas than he is at the skill of coalescing those into one organic story. Take for instance the recurring concept of Thangam not knowing that his brother has reached Kolkata. The bad guys have no clue either. In one sense, it sounds great that Rajini appears as a guardian angel to one person and a faceless phantom to the villains. But like everything else, Siva seldom knows when to stop with these ideas and more importantly, the awareness to realize how much is too much?
It’s this overkill and the notion that bigger means better that waters down Annaatthe. Starting out as a really enjoyable 90’s family drama, we get glimpses of a joyful Rajini having a lot of fun doing the silliest of things. He’s goofy, charming and there’s genuine warmth in the portions set in the village. But this too doesn’t last long when certain jokes are worked too hard. So it isn’t just enough that we get both Meena and Kushbu playing old flames of Annaatthe’s, but we also have to endure the same jokes repeating twice, one for each of them.
Which seem enjoyable compared to how many times we’re made to listen to the greatness of thangachi paasam or the endless love between the two siblings. With a cliched flashback to establish their bond, the film switches multiple times from a violent action block featuring aruvals to an over-emotional tearjerker going on and on about how love conquers all. At first, we feel invested because the first half manages to make us feel something for this brother and sister. But as we go along, these genre switches get more and more comical with the sentimental bits struggling to co-exist with the massy scenes from just before or right after.
In these portions, the film comprises its self-awareness and the actors start to overdo the emotional bits. The crying scenes look and sound odd, further adding to the soap-opera aesthetics. It feels like Thangam has nothing else to do but talk about but her love for her brother, even though she should be out looking for her husband. And to think only Thangam does not feel the presence of Annaatthe in her city, even though questions about him are being raised all over the news, only adds to the silliness.
By this point, Imman’s score begins to sound jarring and the mix of loud colours and louder music starts to tire you out. The bigger action blocks feel redundant and repetitive. A sub-plot featuring the bad guys lack the clarity to add any value. With a sense of déjà vu taking over from Siva’s own older films, we get neither the satisfaction of having watched a 90’s era Rajini film, nor the guilty pleasure sob-fest that was Viswasam. Like Thangam, we too feel suffocated with all this talk of sibling love. Given that the film is a veiled cautionary tale about what happens to a woman when she doesn’t listen to her caring brother, the film isn’t as innocent as it appears to be. The film’s mostly an overlong ‘guilt trip’ disguised as something pure and divine. But like too many ideas, too much paasam can be a dangerous thing too.