Cast: Vijay Antony, Nivetha Pethuraj
Murugavel (Vijay Antony) is the most earnest cop you’ll find. He doesn’t take bribes (and to the irritation of his colleagues, he won’t let them either). When he sees a sewage-related problem, he wades into the muck and begins a cleanup operation. When his disgusted colleagues, who’ve been roped in, ask him why, he says clogged roads lead to traffic jams and crowds, which makes it easier for pickpockets. Or something. His younger brother is sick of his goodness. We’d be too, if the writer-director Ganesha weren’t so self-aware. At one point, Murugavel explains to a distraught father how his young son is filled with the villain’s (Padma, played by Sai Dheena) influence. As a demo, he fills a glass with water. The glass is the boy. The water is Padma. And it’s up to them to wean the boy away — so Murugavel keeps dropping pebbles into the glass. Slowly, the water begins to spill out. Just as the scene reaches the “Are you kidding me with this?” level, the boy’s father snaps: “I’m asking you for help, and you’re narrating the fable about the crow and the pitcher.” I laughed. Everyone around me did.
Thimiru Pudichavan (The Arrogant Man) is outlandish fun. A lot of the time, I was laughing at it. The OTT stretches are pulp-movie heaven. Like Jason Statham in the Crank instalments, Murugavel needs to keep his heart rate/blood pressure up — so he wears a wristwatch-like indicator that glows red for danger. It’s a sight gag in itself. (It looks like a homing beacon from a William Shatner-era episode of Star Trek.) And an electroshock moment towards the end is glorious — as is a moment involving Lord Muruga’s rooster. Yes. You read that right. Thimiru Pudichavan is like Crank meets a Ramanarayanan movie. That should tell you, right away, if you’re the target audience. Even when his character is possessed by the spirit of the Lord, Vijay Antony’s facial expressions remain frozen. But the film winks at that, too. This time, you are laughing with the proceedings.
At its core, this is a drama about Murugavel’s attempts to bring down Padma, a gangster who hires minors and gets his jobs done. (The logic is explained in a flashback.) Murugavel is haunted by visions of a teenager he gunned down when he refused to surrender. Every night, the boy’s ghost, with a bullet mark in the centre of his forehead, taunts Murugavel: “I won’t let you sleep until you ‘reform’ at least one delinquent.” Hence Murugavel’s insomnia. Hence the attendant medical issues (drop in blood pressure, et cetera). Ganesha’s success is in taking all of this seriously, while simultaneously not taking all of this seriously. When Murugavel arrives to put a bullet into Padma, who’s just begun to tuck into a chicken dinner, the latter looks at his plate and says: “Enakkaaga oru kozhi sethirukku. Adha saapta apparam saavattuma?” The flavour isn’t just in the dish. It’s in the writing, too.
In an ideal world, this is what a Hari movie would be like. Like that director’s films, Thimiru Pudichavan doesn’t exactly dazzle you with technique — but unlike those films, it keeps trying. There’s always a twist, a bit of humour, a nice line (like the one about a street dog and a bone), some low-grade animation or graphics. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t — but the important thing is that the film doesn’t take the audience for granted. The Hari films of late basically coast on the principle that audiences will watch any lazy movie as long as he hires a big star. This film works harder, much harder. For every expected groaner of a lecture or wannabe “mass” moment, there’s something in the form of compensation: a dignified way of looking at sex workers and trans women, or a solid development involving Padma’s father, or a terrific masala moment at the point where a starving Murugavel tears into a plate of biriyani.
And if there aren’t major character arcs — like you’d find in a more “sophisticated” screenplay — you still get character touches. One of the boys Murugavel reforms ends up going back to a life of crime — not because of Padma, but because he doesn’t want to lose his friends who are still with Padma. It’s an accurate reflection of a mind of that age. The biggest surprise is the heroine, played by Nivetha Pethuraj. This is one of the best performances of the year. She’s basically playing a ‘loosu ponnu’, but she doesn’t make the mistake that the Hansikas and the Tamannaahs do. She doesn’t try to play it “cute”, which can become very grating, very quickly. Instead, she brings sass and shades of (again, self-aware) comedy to the part. Thimiru Pudichavan may not be great cinema, but it delivers more bang for the buck than the “mass” movies we usually get from bigger stars and bigger-name directors.