Director: RS Durai Senthilkumar
Cast: Dhanush, Sneha, Mehreen Pirzada
RS Durai Senthilkumar has good instincts. Pattas is one of those masala (as opposed to “mass”) movies in the Moondru Mugam/Apoorva Sagotharargal mould: the father dies a Gruesome Death™ and the hitherto-sheltered son (played by the same star) learns about his past and extracts Gruesome Revenge™. There’s usually a scene where the son meets his biological mother, and it’s usually a tearful scene — and yes, the scene in Pattas checks all these boxes. But with a bit of class. The point of the meeting is different. There’s a bit of theft that harks back to an earlier attempt at thieving. There’s a bit of action that harks back to an earlier action moment. There are tears, but they remain in the eyes of the son and the mother. Instead of words, the camera does the communicating — with a quick zoom to the son’s eyes, and then to the mother’s. It’s almost like an invisible, unspoken connection has been forged. It helps that both actors (Sneha as the mother, Dhanush as the son/father) can actually act.
The director’s instincts are evident in the songs, too. Instead of a picturesque romantic track (with Mehreen Pirzada), we get a “situation song”. The woman has been boasting about how much she earns. The Dhanush character vows to deplete her monthly salary. That’s what this song is about. Even the customary opening song for the hero is done with some elegance. The sequence isn’t edited to shreds. A static or slightly moving camera — Om Prakash is the cinematographer — stays on Dhanush and the dancers, so we see and enjoy the “one-take” choreographic moves. (Vivek-Mervin’s rousing, firecrackers-under-your-seat music proves that the “Anirudh genre” is now an actual thing.) Another number is a typical celebration, but the dance moves are adapted from Adimurai, the homegrown martial art that forms the basis of this film’s plot.
These things aren’t enough to make a movie good. But they can make you say… not bad! The heroine is not just a prop and works with the villain (Naveen Chandra) and helps the hero? Not bad! After Kodi (the earlier collaboration between this actor and director), we get another strong female character in a hero-driven movie? Not bad! The first major fight sequence doesn’t belong to the hero? Not bad! The villain’s camp actually has an ethical person, like Vibheeshana? Not bad! Speaking of the epics, a mother instills war-knowledge in her unborn child, the way Abhimanyu learnt about the Chakravyuha while still inside Subhadra? Not bad! Even character writing-wise, a man who is casually referred to as “visham” actually ends up using poison to wipe out his enemies? Not bad at all!
But why stop with a series of… not bad-s? Why not aim high enough that the audience says: Good? If you can add so many small touches and elevate generic moments, is it all that much of a stretch to elevate the whole narrative, the entire screenplay? Or is pace the real problem? Why do today’s films feel like they are on constant fast-forward? Why not linger on the relationship between a martial-arts master and his two protégés, so we feel the friendships and enmities we are supposed to feel? Why don’t we react more strongly to the moment where a dying father (a cool death, by the way) anoints his young son with his blood?
The smaller missteps — like the eternally terrible foreign actors in our films — are not deal-breakers. The biggest problem is the mechanical quality that distances us from everything on screen. When the mother finishes narrating the flashback, you want a beat or two to linger on the son, who has just realised that his entire life-as-he-knew-it is about to change. But even as this scene is unfolding, the editor is already splicing in footage from the next scene. It’s all about speed, speed, speed. Maybe there is a generational change underway, with younger viewers being increasingly impatient with older forms of storytelling. So yes, perhaps, the existing styles have to change. But at what cost? Surely we don’t want the movies reduced to mere video games!