Cast: Vijay, Pooja Hedge, Selvaraghavan, Aparna das, Yogi Babu, Redin Kingsley
A bunch of oddballs thrown in a dire situation led by an over-smart operator — in short, this is Nelson's MO. In both Kolamavu Kokila with Nayanthara and Doctor with Sivakarthikeyan, he pulled off absolute bangers with this format. With his latest outing Beast, he continues to stick to it. Or does he?
Beast is the story of a patriotic sociopath Veeraraghavan (Vijay) who leaves his day job as a RAW agent after a painful betrayal by the establishment. With faith lost and mental health in disarray, he now lives in Chennai. He's taken to a wedding by his shrink, where he has a preposterous meet-cute with Preethi (Pooja Hedge whose job couldn't have been simpler), falls in love, finds a job in mall security, and ends up in a place hijacked by Pakistani terrorists. How he fights the captors, rescues the hostages, saves the day and also redeems himself makes the rest of the film.
Nelson wastes no time in introducing us to Veeraraghavan. We almost immediately learn that he's a smart cookie, treasured asset, heart of gold, but with a worrying tendency to go rogue. AnbAriv stages the action sequences with style and detail that truly elevates the star vehicle. Vijay, for his part, is nimble on his feet, the movements and the landing inch-perfect. Manoj Paramahamsa captures the action gently, without unnecessary fanfare with the camera. The writing of the most important incident, the betrayal, is rather pedestrian. And Vijay's performance in this scene is barely adequate. But it works. In essence, the prologue is efficient.
This is also why the scenes that follow are a test of patience. The conversation with the psychiatrist is a joke — not the good kind. The implication that resolution can only come from redemption defeats the very purpose of admitting mental health issues in the first place. The interaction between Veeraraghavan and Preethi is classic Tamil cinema bagasse. The ageist jokes about security companies only work sporadically. Nelson hurries through these sequences, thank god. Else, the restlessness to get to the point would have burnt up the audience.
When the action truly begins, when the terrorists close down the mall and take people hostage, we expect that the fluff is over and the film will come alive. It somewhat does, but what we get is a lumpy Nelson-lite. The film is so obsessed with Veeraraghavan's larger than life "Indian James Bond" image that it eats into the motley-group-of-misfits MO that Nelson has created for himself.
Pooja Hegde's Preethi has no personality of her own, her existence is merely a means to an end — bringing Veeraraghavan to the mall. Sunil Reddy and Shiva Arvind, who were terrific as the local rowdy and sidekick in Doctor, are ineffective. Yogi Babu and Redin Kingsley come, try and go. Satish as Preethi's smitten fiancé is neither irritating nor funny, no character should be so bland as to evoke no emotion from the audience! VTV Ganesh seems to have got the better deal, yet largely underwhelming as a character.
Selvaraghavan tries his best to bring a dry cynicism to Althaf, the deputy security advisor in charge of handling the hijack. But the writing fails him so much, reducing his existence to spewing unnecessary build-up for Veeraraghavan, almost reminiscent of Vivek Oberoi's character in Vivegam. The villains are lame, never posing any real threat — at one point, they are so easily fooled by Veeraraghavan's lies that I found myself asking "yarra nee?" This makes the standoff weightless and the payoffs joyless.
This uncharacteristic light-handedness is in how Veeraraghavan is written too. The joy of Nelson's previous work, Kolamavu Kokila and Doctor was in not knowing how far the hero will go and what they are really capable of. The disproportionate dialogue-level build-up for Veeraraghavan violently scratches out any element of surprise — we know that he's going to tie up fully grown adults with his bare hands and carry them like a duffle bag (or 'aamai' as the film describes it).
With the writing not powering the film as it should, Beast relies almost entirely on its stunts and set pieces. They work and how! The interval block car chase is delightful. Sparks fly, both literally and figuratively, in every gunfight. Vijay is in top form skating, driving, jumping and flying through a space as confined as a mall. The slow-mos, as repetitive as they seem, are a fan feast. If the energy isn't already pumped, composer Anirudh brings everything he has got to the background score to up the ante.
For a Vijay film — if your scale is let's say, Bairavaa or Bigil — Beast is an absurdly entertaining film. It looks, sounds and behaves like a well-done action movie. The unbelievable is still palatable. At the end of the film and its musical epilogue, you wouldn't leave unsatisfied.
For a Nelson film, though, Beast is a step-down. From the very beginning, it sheds its quirky Nelson-ness for genre-conformation. It becomes rather ordinary pretty soon. It takes a textbook approach to setups and callbacks. It follows an obvious Vijay film template in political dialogues and self-references. It disproportionately worships its hero.
This is perhaps the beginning of the mainstreaming of Nelson. I, for one, am more worried for the path this is taking.