Director: Milind Rau
Cast: Nayanthara, Ajmal Ameer, Manikandan, Saran Shakthi
The opening credits say Lady Superstar Nayanthara and the film is named after a title from the original Superstar: Netrikkann. And Nayanthara gets a full-on heroine-intro shot: the camera focuses on her back first, and only later do we see the face. But what's most impressive about Milind Rau's thriller is how believable the heroism is. Sorry, how believable the heroine-ism is.
One reason is because of Nayanthara herself. This is easily her most committed performance in ages. Usually, she is dressed and made up to look like a queen — and she has a naturally regal look. So even when she sheds tears, she doesn't look vulnerable. But here, her makeup is minimal. Her clothes are ordinary. And she looks totally vulnerable as a visually impaired cop named Durga. She makes every moment work.
There's one scene where she has to break down after a tragedy. She really goes for it. She lets her face get all screwed up and conveys that tragedy to us. In another scene, someone else reminds her of a different tragedy from the past. She doesn't get sad. She gets angry and walks away. She's angry with herself and we get a hint of that anger. Even when she's talking feminism — that a woman cannot be judged by what she wears or how she behaves (ava enna pannalum adhu avaloda vazhkai) — it does not come across like a lecture. It looks like it's coming from deep inside her.
The second reason the film works is because of the source material, a Korean thriller named Blind. I have not seen it but I believe it's on YouTube with subtitles. But there are many innovative touches in this story that follow the typical genre beats. Saran Shakthi and Manikandan offer solid support and really make us care for their characters — they are not reduced to the "hero's (or heroine's) sidekicks". They come across as real people to the extent these genres allow. And the man who plays an abortion agent does a nicely quirky little cameo.
There are some issues I had with the film. One, the dialogues are very ordinary and worse, super-explanatory. The first big dialogue stretch Nayanthara has, in a jeep, reveals everything about her. It's not dialogue. It's an information dump. But luckily, whenever Netrikann is in action mode, it totally works. Milind uses his camera beautifully (RD Rajasekhar is the cinematographer) — and my favorite scene isn't a chase. It's when Nayanthara is trying to cross the road and her guide dog runs away. The traffic piles up around her and you expect a wide shot to convey how lost she is and for us to see the chaos she is caught in. But instead, the camera moves real close and stays just with Nayanthara's face: because she cannot see what is happening around her, we don't either. Of course, this logic cannot be applied to all scenes, but it shows a director and cinematographer in thoughtful sync.
Apart from the dialogues, another aspect that could have been better is the villain. I didn't quite buy Ajmal and I wish his character — especially the way he behaves with his victims — had been fleshed out in a less generic way. A third issue I had is that there's way too much background music. But that's a problem with almost all our films, so I guess we'll let that one go.
After a while, the emotional angles begin to cohere well and when someone dies in a totally sadistic way, you really feel the death. The arc of the closing scenes is predictable — but again, the "believable heroism" makes it interesting to sit through. You know nothing will happen to Nayanthara, but the way she gets out of the situation is not amped up and stays at that believable level. And best of all, not one scene asks us to pity Nayanthara — either because she is a woman, or because she is visually impaired. We feel tense for her at times, but there's never a play for cheap sympathy. After a long time, we get a thriller that gets it mostly right, and a heroine-oriented film that gets it mostly right.