Director: Ashok Kumar
Cast: Vikram Prabhu, Nikki Galrani, Vincent Asokan, Madhusudhan Rao
In the opening scenes, Ashok Kumar's Neruppu Da (Fire!) lives up to that title. A carelessly tossed matchstick results in a blaze that begins to consume several houses. Guru (Vikram Prabhu) and his four friends — as children, they vowed to become firefighters — jump into a fire engine, reach the disaster site and begin rescue operations. There is, inevitably, a trapped child, and the hero, inevitably, performs a dashing save. A cop asks him later, why he put his life at risk. Guru replies, "You have to risk a life to save a life."
I found the stretch a little distasteful, staging an all-too-real tragedy just so we can have a whistle-worthy hero-introduction scene, replete with a punch line — but Guru is just doing what a "mass" hero would do in another film. My response, I guess, had to do with the pre-release spin that the film was about the lives of firefighters. It is, and it isn't. It does feature men fighting a fire, but the narrative quickly changes tracks to become a generic hero-versus-villain tale. In other words, Guru could have been a guy who simply hung around the heroine (Nikki Galrani's Vasumathi, who says "I love you" in, like, two seconds), and things wouldn't have played out all that differently.
Some more skill in the making would have helped — but the sheer unpredictability keeps you watching
Viewed in this masala mode then, Neruppu Da turns out to have a few surprises in store. The plot gets going when Guru's friend gets involved with a gangster, Sadha (Vincent Asokan), who happens to be best buddies with a bigger gangster, Pulianthope Ravi (Madhusudhan Rao). We expect a straightforward showdown, but cheeky twists begin to pile up. One especially enjoyable stretch involves Pulianthope Ravi coming face-to-face with Guru in a manner you don't expect. And just when we think the issue is resolved, Guru's friends do something stupid, and it's time for another face-to-face. Tension, release, tension, release — that's the pattern.
I don't want to oversell Neruppu Da, which is little more than a modest entertainer. (And maybe it doesn't want to be anything more.) Some more skill in the making would have helped — but the sheer unpredictability keeps you watching. Even the ending comes out of nowhere. I suspect some people are going to find it politically incorrect — and these portions are laughably overwrought, even for a movie of this kind — but at least, the director keeps trying. It's nice to be two steps behind for a change.
Watch the trailer of Neruppuda here: