Director: Anand Shankar
Cast: Vishal, Arya, Thambi Ramaiah, Prakash Raj, Mamta Mohandas, Mrinalini Ravi, Karunakaran
If you’re seen any of Anand Shankar’s previous work, especially his debut Arima Nambi and sophomore effort Iru Mugan, you would have specific and somewhat subdued expectations from his recent outing Enemy. If you do, you might just return satisfied.
Enemy is the story of Chozhan (Vishal), a departmental store owner by day and maverick vigilante do-gooder by night. The film spends over 30 minutes establishing his childhood, his father’s (Thambi Ramaiah) risk-averse nature, his relationship with retired CBI officer neighbour Paari (Prakash Raj) and his son Rajiv (Arya). These parts are rudimentary. It moves fast, and in annotated milestones.
Sometimes, the annotations are insulting. For instance, to test the “photographic memory” skills of Chozhan and Rajiv, Paari asks a policeman to pretend to be a pickpocket. This police officer, on arrival promptly salutes Paari, stomping his feet on the ground and all, before asking, “how is my civilian clothes, sir?” Paari could have simply laughed this idiocy off. But no. Enemy is the kind of film that forces a dialogue that the get up is fine, but the over-enthusiastic salute is not, an explanation so stale that Prakash Raj himself was part of one such scene in Anniyan over 15 years ago.
Thankfully, the film moves to the present day and to a zone where writer-director Anand Shankar finds himself more comfortable in: Action. Vishal gets a loud, traditionally-mass intro, standing on top of Singapore high-rises, jumping through glass walls, breaking high-security safes and feeding people biriyani for good measure. Cinematographer R. D. Rajasekhar makes the action sequences, with tall glass buildings, colourful night clubs, big cranes, highway chases and what not, perfectly engaging, even if not entirely innovative.
That’s all there is to the film, though. The half-interesting butterfly effect-inspired trick — of setting up an apparently unrelated incident to change the course of action for something more sensitive — is rehashed so often, it feels ordinary. The boardroom discussions among Chinese businessmen about killing the Indian foreign minister is almost worse than its 7 Aum Arivu counterpart. When one Indian businessman suggests that they resort to murder, a Chinese businessman responds with “wait, we need to put this decision to vote!” There must be a joke somewhere there about democracy, China and crime.
After introducing Rajiv, the film stops taking any interest in suspense and resorts entirely to action. As a result, a lot of clues fall into Chozhan’s lap. At one point, a child traces fluorescent tire marks to solve a crime! Chozhan just taps on laptops and finds dark-web account details of an assassin — code name: bounty hunter — who has been paid in bitcoins. They keep talking about the sophisticated nature of a wanted criminal who is never even known to have committed a crime. But on screen, you see Chozhan just trip and fall into clues!
Soon, the film gets highly predictable. So much so that the gentleman next to me in the theatre couldn’t stop himself from predicting what’ll happen next despite my stern glances. There is little that we haven’t already seen. The film doesn’t do much to hide its plot points either. But to Anand Shankar’s credit, he uses this predictability to fuel anticipation. For instance, we know that Chozhan is going to show up to save the kidnapped kids, but we can hardly wait (or is it just me?).
Mrinalini Ravi, as Chozhan’s love interest, gets 1-2 tangential scenes and duet songs, in which she does the bare minimum. Mamta Mohandas, as Anisha, Rajiv’s love interest, gets more screen space and has immense potential, to say nothing of how stunning she looks. But the film squanders it by fashioning her as your ordinary damsel in distress. Enemy doesn’t know how to write its women at all — sexual violence, pregnancy, motherhood and needing-to-be-saved is all it can think of (even as a revolutionary dead mother is referred to a couple of times)!
Nor is it sure how to treat its audience. Karunakaran, who plays Vishal’s friend, is the voice of the viewer. The hero is expected to explain his grand plans to him, so we lesser beings can understand what he intends. But, most often, his character ends up being the irritating idiot who only prolongs the scene unnecessarily. Enemy also tries to milk the Tamil diaspora sentiment, and fails miserably. There is nothing in the film to substantiate the jingoism, but hey, every film needs a cause, right!
Vishal as Chozhan is adequate. His best parts are the stunts. He is believable as the guy who makes those huge jumps and heavy punches. His weakest moments are emotional scenes and dance sequences. At one point, his discomfort transfers to the audience through the screen. Arya, for his part, gives him a tough fight at being terrible at emotional scenes. Their lack is over-compensated by Sam CS’s background score.
The least effective part about Enemy is how it fashions itself as a high-concept film. “Anger is blinding you,” “you were always egoistic” and “you’re emotionally unstable” are thrown around to explain to us the actions of the hero and the villain. But on screen, they are rather lame. In the climax, this interaction between the two people in the middle of a grandly executed fight is laughable.
Yet, as a mass masala film, Enemy entertains. It keeps the momentum going and comes to a reasonable end. In a way, Enemy is like Vishal’s dance — full-bodied, hard-working, energetic, confident, but entirely devoid of knack for the art. That doesn’t make it unwatchable though.