Cast: Chaaruhaasan, Janagaraj, Anand Pandi, Sri Pallavi
Director: Vijay Sri G
One goes to a movie with a certain kind of expectation. Not just that you expect the film to either be good or bad but you also expect it to be somewhat close to what its posters, trailers, songs and title promises. But the deceptively marketed and promoted Dha Dha 87, I assure you, is nothing like the film you thought it would be. For starters, the ‘Dha Dha’ or Sathya (played by ‘Ageing Superstar’ Charuhaasan) is present in the film for all of 15 minutes. When there’s an issue between two caste politicians, the octogenarian makes an entry, stops them, grins and leaves. There are drugs being peddled in his area with youngsters taking to them. Sathya makes a return, stops the seller, grins and leaves. And when there’s a guy who threatens to pour acid on a woman, he returns again, grins and leaves. Given the man’s cheerful smile, grandpa-like speech and rare visits, you might as well have called the film Santa Claus.
I should have known better because even the math of the film doesn’t really add up. Sathya was a contemporary film set in 1988, which means that the lead character should only be in his 60s in a film set in 2019. But no, he’s 87 in this film and we can’t ask why. While he is away, what we’re actually watching is a film about ‘Jail’ Pandi (Anand Pandi) who falls in love with Jeni (Sri Pallavi). I assume that he is the film’s actual hero, because only he gets multiple songs, fights, a love angle, a sidekick, TASMAC scenes and a “character arc”. A parallel plot runs along which involves politicians, sex workers, child molesters and the issue of caste but even the director doesn’t really know what that’s about.
A lot of the time is spent telling us about Jail Pandi and how he pursues Jeni. A lot is also said and done in the name of comedy. One such scene happens on a bus with a bunch of low-lives molesting a transwoman. When no one steps up to save her, she quotes Nirbhaya and the Nungambakkam Railway Station incident to find a helper. And when Jail Pandi finally steps up, it’s not to play up his heroism. The whole set up is all for a joke.
Which is why we find it repulsive when the film tries to be woke, narrating a story of how love is blind, even when it comes to gender. The film thinks it can do justice to a plot which involves the hero falling in love with a transwoman. Even so, this is a film with an unbelievable amount of transphobic comedy. When Pandi discovers that his lover isn’t really a woman, a whole two minutes is spent to show him gargle, even with phenol, to wash away the disgust of kissing a ‘man’. A delicate idea requires great writing which then needs to be handled with kid gloves. But Dha Dha has no time to take any of that seriously.
Also, why would anyone want to pick characters from a classic like Sathya and reduce it to nothing? It takes a special film to make you squirm, even when ‘Valai Osai’ is playing on screen.