Cast: Vijay Sethupathi, Pugazh, Anukreethy Vas
Ponram’s DSP is a revenge drama that involves a cop on the tail of an obnoxious criminal. This might sound a little too familiar for the Tamil thriller viewer. However, the film tries to pack in a little more heft in a genre that is cluttered with vigilante-style heroes who take the law in their own hands. Vijay Sethupathi’s Vasco Da Gama, for instance, is a resolute officer who wants to take down his town’s hoodlum Mutta Ravi (yes, his name comes with a delightful backstory that involves eggs) when his family is wronged. But on this path of predictable redemption, in the place of a self-styled avenger, we get a fatigued hero who needs to battle red tape, before he can crush the bones of his enemy. DSP sits on isolated fresh ideas like this, but often doesn’t know what to do with them.
We’re pulled into Vasco’s origin story through a conversation between him and a biryani master on a bus ride. Vasco is the son of a florist (a sincere Ilavarasu), who only has one dream — for his son to get a government job. And Vasco, on the other hand, however eager he is to get up and work, spends his idle days drinking away with his friends (this includes comedian Pugazh starring as a generic sidekick). But here, we don’t get a hostile dynamic between the hardworking father and a good-for-nothing son. Conversely, his father ever so often advises him, “Vettiya irukardhu varam / it’s a boon to have nothing to do”.
Ponram tries to infuse some freshness into the genre by having a massy intro song that tells boomer uncles to sit down, and a funny romantic track that thankfully steers clear of any glorified stalking. Vasco falls for Annapoorani (Anukreethy Vas in her debut), a sweetmaker’s daughter who is written as a conceited “loosu ponnu'' with an edge. But as sincere as she is, the actress fails to rise above her limitations, rendering the couple’s amusing back and forth tedious.
And once Vasco becomes the titular DSP, there is no place to go but further down. Taking a page out of Doctor’s (2021) stylebook, the film even features a motley gang of misfits, who help Vasco’s newly appointed cop get his revenge. The lineup includes an old diabetic, and a doe-eyed constable (Doctor resident Deepa Shankar finds herself in yet another hackneyed role to provide comedic relief). But the results, unlike in Doctor, are largely catastrophic. The characters, apart from the eternally charming Vijay Sethupathi, have close to zero layers and exist only as caricatures to evoke comedy. Even if a few scenes do manage to evoke some situational humour, all efforts are marred when it resorts to using police brutality as a tool for physical comedy.
At the end of its exhaustive 145-minute runtime, when Vasco and Mutta Ravi butt heads in an anti-climactic fight in an iron factory, they break for a short sulaimani chai break, before resuming their bone-breaking activities. We, in the audience, could’ve done with an unending recess from the film, ourselves.