Cast: Karthi, Rakul Preet Singh, Amrutha Srinivasan, RJ Vignesh, Prakash Raj
Director: Rajath Ravishankar
The first thing I did after stepping out of first-time director Rajath Ravishankar’s Dev was to Google to check if he was one of director Gautham Menon’s assistants (he is not). Menon’s signature is all over this film, starting from the first scene. It begins on Mount Everest where a rescue operation is underway after an avalanche. Many have gone missing, trapped under the snow. Dev (Karthi), on a mission to scale the peak, struggles to inch closer when a second avalanche throws him off, grounding him. We cut to a close-up where we see Dev mumbling something. He’s not crying in pain. He’s not begging for help either. He’s not fully conscious but he keeps repeating a name. A woman’s name. I sit up, trying to listen in and it almost sounds like he’s saying Maya (like Jyothika in Kaakha Khaakha?).
But no, the name he mutters isn’t Maya, though I didn’t get it totally wrong. It is Meghna, the name of another Gautham Menon heroine (even Dev is one half of Satyadev no?). The setting too is unabashedly urban. For Dev and his buddies Nisha and “Samusa”, a night out means a drive around the city as they munch on take-out food and potato chips. And when they’re not, they’re holidaying/studying engineering in Ukraine while also finding time to go cliffdiving in the name of adventure. As Dev sees it, life isn’t about earning a lot or stressing about the future. He says it is all about living in the moment or some such cliché.
You respect Dev for this attitude and how he urges his friends to seek what they love and to pursue it. But that’s until he returns to India and we see how rich he is. What he was actually saying earlier was “live the moment, don’t worry about savings and careers when you have a Rolls Royce and a millionaire daddy.” I’m not kidding…he has more motorbikes than I have t-shirts. But that’s ok because the ultra-rich too can be the basis of a moving story. After a lot of “youthful banter”, where the three buddies discuss Facebook, Tinder and one-night hookups, we’re introduced to the aforementioned Meghna (Rakul Preet). At 25, she has scaled more peaks in the business world than Dev has in the Himalayas. Abandoned by her father when she was a child, Meghna has not only developed a hip new technology startup but also a feisty work ethic.
She is driven and committed and for her, a casual conversation is all about what she reads in the Economic Times that morning and how it predicts another recession. So when Dev meets Meghna, what we’re witnessing is a reversal of gender roles, at least in the scheme of Tamil film romances. She is the passionate entrepreneur who is seeking support (and some fun) when she takes Dev along on business trips. And when they’ve set a time for a meeting, it is she who offers to pick him up. If you watch closely, apart from the two pointless fight scenes, Dev isn’t much of a “manly man”. Which is what makes the film interesting. Dev isn’t prudish about this power structure nor is it overtly calling attention to the fact that both Dev and Meghna are spending nights together. Even Meghna’s abandonment issues, echoed earlier by Dev’s friend Nisha, are addressed even though they are never given any real time or emotions.
I feel a lot of what goes missing from their dynamic is because of the casting of Rakul Preet, who plays Meghna. It’s a layered character with some dense writing and it obviously requires a more able actor to bring out that complexity. Karthi, though, is charming and likable even though a lot of what makes Dev free and impulsive is his money. But even these pluses are tossed aside when the film starts balancing the power structure by showcasing Dev’s abilities. From nowhere, we’re asked to believe that he can suggest brilliant design ideas that stump even experienced architects. Even his bid to climb the Everest, in a sense, is to “defeat” the stubborn Meghna. And why does Meghna suddenly switch from pantsuits to sarees and kurtas the moment she has confessed her love?
All these add up to make the film extremely disjointed, especially when it starts messing around with the only thing that was going for it. Then there’s the AYM déjà vu with a bike trip which culminates in a recreation of its sunrise scene. Even Dev’s father (a wasted Prakash Raj) is a figure of endless support and generosity, the kind you only see among father roles in Gautham Menon films. And then you have Harris Jayaraj, who has become an excellent imitation of a great music composer of the 2000s called Harris Jayaraj. But that’s not all. I have this theory that the Meghna character, despite the similarities, isn’t what you’d call a Gautham Menon heroine. But what about Dev? Am I totally off or is Dev a variation of Nithya, the character Samantha plays in Neethane En Ponvasantham? If Dev was tolerable, I may have watched it a second time to make sure.