Director: M Muthaiah
Cast: Vikram Prabhu, Lakshmi Menon, Samuthirakani
"A film by M Muthaiah" carries the same cachet as, say, "a film by Quentin Tarantino". The two directors may exist at the opposite ends of the artistry continuum, but you know exactly what you're going to get. You know you are going to get a Komban, a Kutti Puli, a Marudhu: a crude mix of action and romance and comedy and sentiment. Pulikkuthi Pandi, though, springs a small surprise. The film is not great. It's not even good. But it's not all bad. I actually liked the opening. The ruthless villain (Sannasi, played by Vela Ramamurthy) and his ruthless son (Saravedi, played by RK Suresh) are established in a ruthless stretch where a woman is decapitated. The son tells the father: "Periya Karuppu koil-la aada nee vettu, avala naan vettaren." Blood flows in this film like milk on the cut-outs of big stars during FDFS shows.
Had this been the tone throughout, we'd have had a solid twist on the Thevar Magan thesis: that however much we try to resist violence, it is all around us and it will slowly pull us into its vicious circle and bathe us with bloodlust. But Pulikkuthi Pandi takes too long to get there, and we are left with a most generic film for about an hour and a half. The hero-intro is generic, with Pandi (Vikram Prabhu) singing "Venaam madhu pazhakkam" in a local drinking establishment. (The setting is Sivagangai.) The comedy is generic, with the hero's uncle falling into a pile of dung and someone commenting, "Idhu dhaan nejamana sanitiser." The screenwriting, such as it is, is generic, too: the hero-intro song is followed immediately by an action sequence, and the heroine-intro occurs soon after.
Muthaiah has a good head for plot, but his screenwriting – the way he fleshes out these plot points – is like what you'd find in a TV serial. Take the bit that tells us how Pechi's (Lakshmi Menon) father is connected to Pandi. It's a great idea, which shows us just how forgiving and peace-loving Pandi is, despite his tendency to get into fights. But it becomes another aspect of the film that's… generic. Staging may be too much to ask for in a Muthaiah movie, but even the basics are barely there. There's no flavour in the lines. There's no life in the performances. Everyone (including Muthaiah) treats the whole thing like a job you have to grit your teeth and get done with, so you can collect your pay cheque at the end of the day.
But the last hour made me sit up. The hero-villain confrontations keep escalating, and what's nice is how Pechi is dragged into a lot of these scenarios, along with the extended family. This togetherness makes sense given what happens ultimately: it's revenge with a twist. We also realise how surprising a film can be when it doesn't have to orbit around a big star. The things that happen – you cannot even imagine them elsewhere, given our hero-worship culture. Again, I don't want to oversell Pulikkuthi Pandi, for we are still talking about interesting plot points rather than a proper screenplay. But for "a film by M Muthaiah", the fact that you have stopped looking at your phone for about an hour is a huge achievement. The man clearly thinks well. Now, if he could only learn how to write.