Director: Ranjit Jeyakodi
Cast: Vijay Sethupathi, Sundeep Kishan, Gautham Vasudev Menon, Varalaxmi Sarathkumar
It’s odd to notice how quickly we start comparing Michael to the two KGF films, even though the basic plot line bears few similarities. At the outset, both films are set partly in Mumbai and show the rise in ranks of an orphan who is as fearless as he is reckless. Both films also depend heavily on the emotions of this boy’s unending love for his mother and hopes that this will create vulnerability in a character who is as indestructible as a tank. But beyond this basic framework, it's Michael’s lack of visual originality that leaves you with the feeling that you’re watching a pirated theatre print of the Kannada blockbuster, that too on a broken mobile phone screen.
To begin with, it's impossible to look at Michael as an original Tamil film. Agreed that it was always sold as a bi-lingual, but you expect better from a film in which most members of the cast and crew belong to the Tamil industry. You find glaring mismatches in the dialogue delivery and this is made worse when the film itself lacks any kind of demographic specificity. Apart from the establishing shots, we are forced to believe that a scene is set in Bombay only because a title card tells you it is. The locations, the extras or the production design never achieve authenticity and you have to keep reminding yourself that the story has shifted from Bombay to Delhi and then back to Bombay again.
The world the film is trying to build feels equally gimmicky with several distracting visuals that struggle to remain one step below the events on screen. In this pursuit of style in every frame, we get anachronistic imagery that stick out, like the repeated shots of Guru (Gautham Menon) walking around in elaborate satin dressing gowns smoking cigars or pipes or the consistently confusing costumes that look 70s but are supposed to evoke the 90s. Choices like showing a dreaded gangster holding copies of novels like The Godfather or The Old Man And The Sea may have been interesting on paper but on screen, it only feels like the makers are trying too hard.
A particularly jarring episode right at the heart of the first half is a romance that evokes the 90s a tad too perfectly. This is the part, apart from the mother angle much later, that is supposed to turn Michael into a real person from the monster he is until then. But the writing, especially the dialogues (“I like to slap before I kiss”) here are so corny that you not only stop caring for Michael but also the woman he wants to protect. Which means that for the most part, you’re simply waiting for major events to turn things around, which also includes a much-publicised Vijay Sethupathi cameo.
But the lack of imagination continues into these scenes as well. Apart from the high you get during his introduction, the film falls right back into the track with an unconvincing subplot that is far too convenient to be believable. With the bigger scenes that follow, each of which reminds you of visuals of films like Scarface, Kaithi and those mentioned in its filmography, Michael is one long déjà vu that gets undone by its obsession with style.