Director: Vijay Chandar
Cast: Vijay Sethupathi, Raashi Khanna, Nivetha Pethuraj
Sometimes, I want to be a fly on the wall of Vijay Sethupathi’s mind. I want to be there when he reads the script of Vijay Chandar‘s Sangathamizhan. What goes on in his mind when he comes to the scene where the heroine (Raashi Khanna, named Yazhini… no wait, Kamalini) says “I love you” while he looks more interested in the bit of butter biscuit that has fallen into his tea? What does he think about the following scene, where Yazhini… no wait, Kamalini is drunk on vodka and he takes a call from her while cradling a mosquito coil in his other hand? And what about the song that follows, where men in drag pretend they are ballet dancers, with tutus in all shades of the rainbow?
Yes, I get it. You can’t be waiting around forever for the next Super Deluxe. I also get that it’s every male actor’s dream to be the next MGR or Rajinikanth. So you can see the appeal in the opening section of the script, which has the hero (named Murugan) shatter a door open, stand in silhouette, then move into the light and place his hand on a gold statue of a tiger, then don a police uniform where the name tag says ‘MG Ramachandran’… Sidekick Soori even says, “Ippo opening song vainga!” But is this the only alternative?
Sangathamizhan — about a villager battling a copper corporation that wants to set up a plant that will pollute the ecosystem — is a disaster at every conceivable level. Even with Velraj behind the camera, this is an ugly film (You can easily make out the talent of the director by how much he inspires his collaborators). The ugliest aspect is the writing, which comes in two flavours: “painful” and “clichéd”. This is not about ‘Mottai’ Rajendran as a godman whose head emits steam after every palm reading. This is about Yazhini… sorry, Kamalini calling the hero up because her friend needs an abortion. The advice-heavy stretch that follows is less about the plight of the poor girl than giving one more reason for Yazhini… sorry, Kamalini to fall for the hero.
Sangathamizhan wants to be a “mass” movie. But it can’t be bothered to even cook up good punch lines as Murugan walks away in slow motion. Plus, I hate to break this to Vijay Sethupathi, but he is less of a star, more of an actor. Watch him in the scene where the villain orders him to run away. His face is bloody. His eyes are bloodshot. Without saying a word, and with the slightest of smiles, he says, “Are you effing kidding me?” He can do wonders with a masala movie like Sethupathi. But the “mass” movie, which is less about storytelling than hero worship, is a very different beast. It’s about charisma and a few hundred other things that are not (yet) in this actor’s bag of tricks.
So on and on the movie goes. With a scene where a man is accused of ogling a dancing couple, only for us to realise that the woman is his wife. (Ha ha). With a scene where the heroine’s father (a Bad Man™, in case you hadn’t guessed) is playing the piano — because that is how you depict wealthy Bad Men™ in these films, by having them playing the piano. With scenes where Nivetha Pethuraj, someone who can actually speak Tamil, is relegated to a thankless second heroine. But I must admit that knowing Tamil, when it comes to this particular film, is a major handicap. I wistfully imagined what it must feel like, being a North Indian who doesn’t understand a word of what’s going on, and being able to smile serenely through it all, plus walk away with some good money. I went into Sangathamizhan for the love of Vijay Sethupathi. I walked out wanting to be Raashi Khanna.