Director: K. Thirugnanam
It’s funny to warn readers about spoilers in Paramapadham Vilayattu because the only real spoiler is that there are no spoilers in the film. Because there’s no suspense, there’s nothing to spoil. For a thriller, the film offers no satisfying challenge—like Garry Kasparov playing against a doorknob, the audience is always ten moves ahead and each scene feels like a depressingly foregone conclusion.
Paramapadham Vilayattu begins with a situation that’s similar to recent political events in Tamil Nadu: a major political leader, Chezhiyan (Vela Ramamoorthy) is fighting for life in a hospital. A succession crisis brews and his aide Kalingan (AL Azhagappan) plots against him. Chezhiyan’s son, Tamizh (Nandha) who lives abroad, comes back to be by his fathers side. Is there anything to mine in this territory, especially after films like Ko or NOTA? Director K. Thirugnanam dreams up interesting what-ifs that never come together.
What if the focus shifts from politics to the doctor, Gayathri (Trisha) treating Chezhiyan? What if her daughter, Suji (Baby Manasvi), who cannot speak, is kidnapped by money-hungry politicians to keep Gayathri quiet about a dangerous political secret? And what if Gayathri and Suji are saved, in an ironic twist, by a petty criminal who is after money, just like the politicians. The film has three identities — a political thriller, a political satire, a kidnapping thriller — all hashed into an unholy mess by the film’s ambitious and unnecessary non-linear narrative technique.
You can imagine a storyteller narrating a story non-linearly to heighten dramatic tension. In Paramapadham Vilayattu it dilutes the suspense so much that when you imagine the scenes in chronological order you see that the film actually has an interesting plot buried under its messy non-linear conceit.
Take the scene where Kalingan meets Gayathri and Suji. He threatens her — with a perfectly casual face — that he will kidnap her child if she doesn’t play along with his plans to murder Chezhiyan. He even uncouthly takes a chip from Suji’s plate. It’s an effective scene, but the film’s comic ambitions spoil it: it ends with a joke that involves Kalingan’s sidekick stealing a chip from the little girl. It cheapens the tension that was built up by Kalingan’s threat to Gayathri; we think that they’re probably just jokers.
Even that serviceable scene is diluted by the non-linear narration. We’ve already seen at the beginning of the film that Suji gets kidnapped. So, all the suspense that the film builds up around whether she would actually go missing or not is moot. Characters scheme, plot, threaten, but none of it seems to matter because we know where things are going. It feels like an asthmatic snail crawling over a freshly-painted wall, meticulously blowing each inch dry.
With a linear narration, at least the usual beats of a political thriller might have worked. But even then, the film is political only in the same sense that Apple Inc. is in the horticultural business. You don’t make a political film by just naming characters Kalingan and Manimozhi or by name-dropping constituencies like RK Nagar and Srirangam.
In a film that’s basically plot loopholes strung along, it seems unfair to point out logical problems. But it’s strange to learn that Suji’s father left the family after he knew that she couldn’t speak, all because he believed that language was the only way to communicate. That just sounds bizarre.
Just like his avant garde attempts at non-linear narration, Thirugnanam also takes a page out of the latest trend in sixteenth century Elizabethan theatre. Tamizh, like some of Shakespeare’s great villains, gets a soul-baring monologue in the end; but it, too, is as depressingly obvious as the rest of the film.