Cast: Kreshna, Anandhi, Nithin Sathya, Black Pandi, Saravanan
Pandigai, directed by Feroz, has a ton of pluses and two minuses: the heroine (Kavya, played by Anandhi), and the hero’s wisecracking best friend (Thirupathi, played by Black Pandi). Is it not time to let go of these “must-haves”, especially at a time we’re making proper genre films, with zombies and heists and sci-fi premises, which need a single-mindedness of vision and execution? Kavya asks Velu (Kreshna) to buy her a couple of bottles of strong beer – she’s heard it’s a good shampoo. Then, while showering, she swallows some beer, becomes tipsy… This belongs in a Hansika movie (though one would struggle to tell the pre-drunk portions from the post-drunk ones), not in something that’s part boxing drama, part heist thriller.
But the rest of Pandigai packs a wallop. The film begins with the down-on-his-luck Muni (Saravanan, who’s very good) discovering that Velu can really punch his way out of a brawl – so he convinces Velu to participate in underground fighting matches. This is the advantage of making a movie with a not-yet-star like Kreshna. It’s not just Velu’s story. It’s also Muni’s. Both need cash badly. They team up, and the filmmaking takes over. The fights are excitingly choreographed, presented in balletic slo-mo – the bloodletting is beautiful.
Midway, Pandigai changes genre. It becomes a heist movie. Instead of settling down with the (oft-told) story of a fighter, why not give us the (oft-shown) mechanics of a heist? Double the genre and halve the clichés.
Feroz orchestrates mood superbly. The high-pitched trumpet blasts (score by RH Vikram), the saturated colours (Aravind), and especially the music-video editing (Prabaahar) – in a more “serious” movie, this mix would be too flashy, but here it’s perfectly in sync. My favourite part of the film is when Velu spurns Muni’s offer, early on, and Muni says he knows the kind of man Velu is from the scar on his face. This taunt launches Velu’s flashback, even as he keeps walking. We slip into scenes from Velu’s life as a boy, and when he gets into a fight, we segue – mid-fight – to Velu as an adolescent. The film is in constant motion.
Midway, Pandigai changes genre. It becomes a heist movie. The shift took me a few minutes to get used to (the idea for the heist is dropped in Velu’s lap a little too conveniently, and the heist itself could have used more tension) – but it’s a clever idea. Instead of settling down with the (oft-told) story of a fighter, why not give us the (oft-shown) mechanics of a heist? Double the genre and halve the clichés. Speaking of double, the identity of the person whose number is stored under the name “Two” is a deliciously pulpy twist. At first, I thought I was really seeing two.
But it’s not all style. I groaned when a duet got going late in the film, but it’s used to show Velu’s state of mind. That’s when you know the writing is solid, when even a “must-have” is laced with some relevance. Even Velu’s decision about what to do with the heist money is foreshadowed by his actions in the supermarket (when he first meets Kavya), and what he does with his first winnings (at a hospital). Instead of the popcorn amorality of the Ocean’s Eleven films, we get a moral universe that feels a little more… real. I was pleasantly surprised.