Director: Anand Shankar
Cast: Vishal, Arya, Thambi Ramaiah, Prakash Raj, Mamta Mohandas, Mrinalini Ravi, Karunakaran
Enemy, directed by Anand Shankar, stars Vishal and Arya battling it out as sworn enemies. Of all the genres, a thriller is most difficult to pull off in mainstream Tamil cinema. Traditionally, you are expected to have a romance track, songs, comedy track, so on and so forth. All this comes in the way of the nail-bitingness of a thriller.
When Anand Shankar debuted with Arima Nambi, I was pleasantly surprised. There was no flashy cutting or mood killing romance. The atmosphere was tense and had a real mood there. I don’t know how that movie did in the box office but since then, Anand Shankar has become more mainstream with films like Iru Mugan and NOTA which were underwhelming compared to Arima Nambi.
The big relief about Enemy is that it is a return to form for this filmmaker. Yes, the film is too long and there is a mood-killing romance but it is not allowed to go on for too long. The slick Anand Shankar sensibility that we saw in Arima Nambi is back. I don’t want to make it sound like a revolutionary movie. It is a pretty formulaic, Hollywood-y outing but even that, when done well, has its own kind of pleasures. This is that kind of a movie. When this is done with nice sensibilities, it also feels like Tamil cinema can absorb these aspects while still retaining its soul.
I won’t give away too much of the story because a lot of the film happens with you trying not to out-guess it. But, take for instance, this one romance track where the details are revealed slowly and they turn out to be connected to childhood events which we see at the beginning of the film. I really like that. Despite some really flabby dialogue, and there’s a lot of talking, the basic writing of the film is pretty solid. There are several concepts like photographic memory, seafood allergy, a line when two people are playing chess where one guy says, “Yen rani ya nee thodave mudiyaadu” (You cannot touch my queen) and there is the entirely accidental way in which Arya and Vishal’s characters meet in childhood. All of these come back at least once in the screenplay. They’re not just cool things or events that are being thrown about but they actually play a function in the overall story and structure.
Refreshingly, as Arya and Vishal battle each other, there is serious collateral damage. The hero may save the day but he also loses a lot. It’s not just physical fighting and there is brain work and strategic thinking involved, at least compared to normal masala or mass movies that we usually get.
Despite all this, why don’t we get that nail-biting feeling like in the Hollywood films? One reason is the length which is two hours and forty minutes! It is simply too long for this kind of a movie. Another reason is the songs, especially one really idiotically placed song right at the time when there is a murder being attempted. I wish the time devoted to these songs was instead used to flesh out Vishal’s actions better. For example, how he locates the fact that there is a bounty hunter.
Then again, as I said in the beginning, thrillers are very difficult to pull off in Tamil cinema. Especially, the kind of thrillers that retain a sense of something continuous, interesting and different happening, even within the predictable framework. In that sense, Enemy delivers. It is stylishly shot and the action scenes are fairly different from what we usually see. It’s not just about one guy punching another guy who then lands three feet away. Some of the stunts are pretty preposterous with a level of fun which almost makes you say, “oh my god, seriously?”
Vishal and Arya are perfectly cast in the sense that they are needed more for their physicality than for their acting abilities. Except for one really embarrassing scene at the end, both of them aren’t required to act at all. That suits this movie just fine. At the end, you do come away with a “that wasn’t a bad at all” feeling.