Director and Writer: R. Ravikumar
Cast: Sivakarthikeyan, Rakul Preet Singh, Karunakaran, Sharad Kelkar, Isha Koppikar
Duration: 155 minutes
Available in: Theatres
Ravikumar’s Ayalaan wastes no time to announce what it’s going to talk about. By introducing a hero named ‘Tamizh’ (Sivakarthikeyan) and by getting him to save a baby elephant that’s stuck in a ditch right next to power lines, the film combines two points it will discuss in detail— the environment and children. In principle, the scene is almost identical to those in any traditional Pongal release—plebeians stuck in a crisis are saved by a hero who arrives right in time, only for this easy resolution to move on to a large, colourful intro song featuring multiple dancers. But by focussing on one demographic alone, Ayalaan remains a Kaapaan that cares only about Pasanga.
Not that there’s anything wrong with this. Unlike older Tamil movies in which the hero plays a farmer almost as though to appeal to his future vote bank, in Ayalaan there’s a reasonable amount of sincerity in the way it’s satisfied to speak directly to its favourite audience. And if those older films spoke about pesticides and corporations ruining farmlands, almost in the tune of propaganda, over here it’s along the lines of a well-prepared social studies class. So why not use Sivakarthikeyan’s PG-13 stardom to get the message across to children about protecting the environment?
A children’s film—that’s perhaps the best way to watch Ayalaan, given how it always feels like it’s talking down to its viewer. An example of this comes in the number of scenes that revolve around Tamizh saving someone. Even if you look past the baby elephant, you may count at least four other scenes that culminate in Tamizh rescuing 10-year-olds from fires and other hazardous environments, even as other adults look the other away. It’s like the film is designed to work like a cartoon rather than a movie because it only wants to rush through to the larger event scenes. Take for instance the segue that leads Tamizh and his team into a school fair. In principle, you get the logic of why he should be there for the story to progress but when this happens, we don’t get a good enough reason to understand how he was allowed in there in the first place.
Just as random is a longish set piece that seems to have been shot in Binny Mills. It introduces bad guys who have nothing to do with the larger picture and the scene is there JUST so Tamizh gets to kick ass in the silliest, cutest way possible. Scenes like these, along with most of the songs, appear out of nowhere and the design seems to have been created around how it will play out on Chutti TV rather than the big screen.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that either. But what feels inorganic is how the film plays out in large stretches like an old-school Shankar movie. Of course the music is by AR Rahman (one of his weaker scores) and it was shot by Nirav Shah, who also shot 2.0 (2018), but you get a sense of deja vu in the way a rose plant explodes to form a shower of petals over its heroine, or in the way a single locust comes face-to-face with Tamizh, almost as though to chide him, or in the manner in which the villains feel so artificial that they have nothing better to do expect plan for world domination.
Instead, where Ayalaan really comes together is the stretch in which it plays out like a regular Sivakarthikeyan film. Yogi Babu is here to rescue him yet again after Maaveeran and some of the most fun you’ll have is when the film isn’t really bothered about saving the world and when it’s just about three friends and their alien buddy hanging. The writing is organic and the alien, voiced by ‘Chitta’ Siddharth, is not just there as a magical problem solver. Tattoo (that’s what the alien is called) genuinely adds to the humour and you feel surprised at how seamlessly we accept a CGI figure to be one among the boys.
The humour keeps it light and you also sort of play along when the film returns with major ambitions. This includes a hero named “Tamizh” having to take on a group of evil corporates who run a company called “Aryan” Industries. This corporate wants to dig into the core of the earth to create a fuel called “Novagas” but it’s best to read into this part of the film as a commentary on a company like Vedanta and how it wanted to open Sterlite Copper in Thoothukudi. There’s nothing inventive about this message but at least the makers have tried to talk about the environment in a way that it remains engaging enough to pay attention to. But even here, because of the cartoon-like quality of the film, we must deal with odd characters (what Isha Kopikkar got to do in the film remains a mystery) that never really sit well during the serious portions. Even the action set pieces, including a series of awkward bike chases feel like they belong in another film from another decade.
But if there’s something that remains consistent throughout is how perfectly well the CGI portions have been worked on. Not for a minute do you feel like there’s an issue in the way the images have come together or in the way the actors have performed in the presence of a non-existent being. The technical polish is evident right from the beginning and it goes on to show how there’s nothing our makers cannot achieve on screen with due support. And if you’re willing to overlook the film’s detour towards a superhero movie later on and its erratic screenplay, there are long enjoyable stretches including a lovely E.T. (1982) tribute set before a Chennai full moon. Whoever thought it would take a UFO to bring to us a clean, woke bromance?