Director: Mani Karthi
Cast: Linga, Vijay Anand TR
Thadayam, directed by Mani Karthi, is more showreel, less compelling cinema. Set in a hill station with a serial killer infestation (after Penguin and Pon Magal Vandhal), this 44-minute short’s primary objective is to create atmosphere. It’s no easy task to make you feel an ominous unpredictability in a place as pretty as Ooty or Kodaikanal. But debut director Mani Karthi, with the help of his able cinematographer, succeeds in making you feel an uncomfortable chill a few minutes into the set-up.
A killer is on the loose and police officer Mathivanan (an able Linga), a Noble Bachelor if you will, expects another victim soon. He has, what one may call the “Mathivannan Instinct”, an ability to put together clues and visualise events as though he himself is a part of them. We too become a part of this piecing together, with the film’s challenging non-linear format keeping us on our toes about the proceedings. A surgical knife, a misdialled phone number and ashes on the fireplace, everything demands our attention.
The film’s frustratingly slow pace is understandable, but only in hindsight. In the stylised red frames (is it a study in scarlet?) and the clever use of shadows, we see a maker who wants us to pause and admire his film’s beauty, even if it’s at the cost of distancing the viewer.
But the murder case in question isn’t as compelling as the film makes it out to be. It does well in taking up a locked room mystery approach, but waters down the inherent tension of the format by adding a series of cliches. What was the killer looking for? Some evidence the victim was hiding. Why does the protagonist behave oddly? Because he’s supposed to be a Sherlock Holmes-like eccentric.
Even the big surprise twist, given the limited number of underdeveloped characters, is hardly the shock it aspires to be. As the first film of a three-part series, the underwhelming ending is perhaps excusable. But it works better when you look at it as more a film to set-up a character than one with a juicy mystery. Look past the distractions and you can see talent in there somewhere, but the fact that this film is too rough around the edges is no big mystery.