Director: H Vinoth
Cast: Karthi, Rakul Preet Singh, Abhimanyu Singh
The thing to note about DSP Theeran (Karthi), the protagonist of H Vinoth's Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru (Theeran – Chapter One), is that he's a realistic cop — at least to the extent that a big-budget Tamil film, with a big hero, will allow for realism. He does not get a traditional hero-entry scene. He's introduced quietly, as he's undergoing police training with several others. Of course, he's at the centre of the frame. Of course, he gets the highest marks. Of course, he knows better than anyone else the right way to handle a knife at a crime scene. He makes killer PowerPoint presentations, with killer fonts (no ordinary Times Roman for him). He even intuits the last words of a woman who was murdered, and he wasn't even at the scene.
Karthi is just the right kind of star for this situation — star enough to register a terrific presence, and yet not superstar enough that his character has to be superhuman
And yet, note the stretch where his team is trying to break a witness. His colleagues have failed. Theeran strides in and aims a kick at the witness who's strapped to a chair. The kick topples him, and you think that's it. But the man still won't talk. Or take how the heroine angle (Rakul Preet Singh, as Priya) is handled. It's miles from your average masala-cop movie. This isn't Sethupathi or Saamy, and Karthi is just the right kind of star for this situation — star enough to register a terrific presence, and yet not superstar enough that his character has to be superhuman. You buy him as a hero, putting a shirt on in gratuitous slo-mo. You also buy him as a mere man
When Theeran's boss says he will take him off the case, after Priya has been hospitalised, he argues that he wants to continue — not because he's angry and seeks revenge, but because it's his duty. One of the signs of a good actor is that he can sell a corny speech you've smirked at a thousand times before. And just earlier, we get a small flashback with Theeran and Priya, who's talking about their unborn child. She chatters away. He just holds her, with a distant look of quiet contentment (you sense this even with his face in profile, which also suggests that he's perhaps not fully there, that maybe he's thinking about the case as well). She's doing the "cute" thing. He knows he doesn't have to.
This "realistic" tone is both a plus and a minus. It sets Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru apart from other cop-hero movies. It's also the reason the film isn't quite what it could have been. The villain (a well-cast Abhimanyu Singh, who, while battering down a door, really looks like the wild animal we're told he is) is brutal, the head of a nomadic, Thuggee-like cult. His gang breaks into homes, murders and steals. And it's not just a shot through the head. One victim is thrust, face down, into an aquarium, making her gasp for breath — and then she's shot through the head, the water turning red. These scenes, in the first half, are alternated with the Theeran-Priya romance. How to explain this uneasy combination of nasty and nice? Imagine a mashup of The Silence of the Lambs and Notting Hill. Or closer home, imagine the hitherto homely Jyotika swearing in the Naachiyar teaser.
The dissonance isn't felt in a Sethupathi because the tone is all-out masala. Here, the item number makes you wince — it feels wrong in a film that wears its detailing like a badge of honour. Like Vinoth's previous outing, Sathuranga Vettai, Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru is based on true events. And as in that movie, Vinoth wants to retain all his research — including a long history lesson, rendered through animation, about how the villain's tribe came to be. He still doesn't know how to (or maybe he doesn't want to) streamline all this dense material into a smooth screenplay. The film is overlong (two hours, forty minutes), and still, at several points, we just get data dumps through a voiceover. It's unclear, at times, how this clue led to that capture, especially given that the narrative spans the length and breadth of the country.
Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru is an intense film, but the intensity is less due to the screenplay and staging than the music and ferocious editing. As in most of our movies, the background score is too loud, but here, it actually helps
Vinoth often sacrifices clarity for pace. Scenes that could have been great set pieces — like the one where the villains use trees as camouflage, or the shot from the teaser where Theeran rises from his hiding place in the desert — are reduced to blink-and-miss stunts. There's no sustained buildup, and the elaborate sense of cat-and-mouse that drives the best cop movies is missing. Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru is an intense film, but the intensity is less due to the screenplay and staging than the music (Ghibran) and ferocious editing (Shivanandeeswaran). As in most of our movies, the background score is too loud, but here, it actually helps. An action sequence in a Rajasthani village is set to shredding guitars — it's like a mini heavy-metal concert. It works.
The film works, too, if you're willing to settle for a parts-greater-than-whole experience. There are plenty of sharp, funny lines, and the highlights keep coming, like a superbly choreographed action stretch on a bus. Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru is a vast improvement over Sathuranga Vettai, where one sensed a lot of entertaining writing and little else. Here, there's some solid filmmaking in the quieter scenes, like when we see a cop with sad eyes, and the focus changes just a bit and we see another cop in the space behind, with his hands on his head. We know who's had it worse. Plus, the 1999 setting is a lot of fun, from the antique mobile phones to the ancient methods of fingerprint analysis. Even if it falls short of the standards it sets for itself, Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru gives us more than most action movies do.