Somewhere within H Vinoth’s third film with Ajith Kumar lies a somewhat clever one-liner. When explained broadly, this plot-line tries to subvert the bank heist movie while also flipping the moral compass of its protagonist as it goes along. There are smart ideas that get planted early on to insert the notion that a bank is essentially for the good of the people. You see innocent customers at this bank along with a set of normal, everyday tellers when we first enter. Yet the cleverness of this setup is in understanding how it operates like a see-saw, with the intentions of the bank only becoming clearer as we keep going up the chain of command, working our way up to top management.
This love for grey characters is just as evident as we keep cutting back to people outside the bank as well. It works reasonably well as it gets you to see human behaviour of the outsiders, especially when a bank robbery is taking place. The nobodies approach this situation voyeuristically, choosing first to take out their phones for a minute of social media fame. The media too, which works pretty much like the middle management of the bank, is a little more culpable in their involvement. They look at what’s most beneficial to them and what helps them advance in their career and then choose to let out the bit of information they’re able to leak into public domain. The stand-in for the upper management among these outsiders are the top police officers and politicians, equally corrupt, equally unjust.
This is the one real aspect of Thunivu that works well because there’s barely any room for any basic goodness. Everyone in the film is a little selfish and it’s the degree of selfishness that separates the light greys from the dark greys. What this does is make even the paavams in the film a tad more alive. In the usual Shankar film or Atlee film, a pensioner who puts their entire life savings into a bank will come across as a saint who is probably doing that for his grandchildren to go to school. But in Thunivu, even this pensioner just doesn’t want to miss out on a get-rich-quick scheme, even if it is in the form of a mutual funds plan.
And you really have to respect this decision because a) this is a more accurate picture of the world because everyone is a little corrupt and b) Vinoth cannot write a real, well-meaning character to save his life. To elaborate on the second point, we get a sequence that become the film’s first flashback. This is when we learn a little bit more about “Michael Jackson” (Ajith Kumar doing his thing very well) and his gang of power brokers. In simpler terms, he is the leader of a group you call when you cannot think of anyone else to do a certain kind of job. This includes taking down entire gangs in Bangkok or to help plan your next heists. But besides a song and a rushed action sequence, you barely know any members of this group or their interpersonal dynamics. So when two of these “close” members are attacked just as we first meet them, they are only as good as cloth hangers to us. For a revenge angle to be written based on this felt a little too obvious and flat.
You may find a similar amount of convenience in the way Jackson and his partner Kanmani (Manju Warrier) simply walk into a house that ties things up neatly into the screenplay. It’s super important that this happens because this is the point where a personal tragedy gets tied up with the central issue the film wants to address. But this double-coincidence is just plain uninspired writing. What makes this detour even more jarring is how it feels like all the meat was stuffed to fit into the second half alone.
This is where it transforms into a film about banking and how the sector takes advantage of its customers by hiding the truth rather than lying blatantly. But even this point is arrived at by using a second flashback that features one of the driest bits of writing, only to explain how a bank employee must transform himself to fit into the bank’s unethical modus operandi. The overall silliness of this scene is such that it reminded me of those films in the 70s where all the villains laugh heartily after explaining their plans for world domination to each other.
Yet what was most crushing as a fan of Vinoth’s previous movies was just how boring the fight sequences were. Barring a thrilling two-minute stretch inside the bank where the camera runs laps around Ajith and his guns, there’s almost nothing that came with an idea or an sub-story. One in particular, which tries to use flares as an element to turn a pitch dark action sequence into something colourful and inventive, gets totally lost as an idea in a poorly choreographed mess. This could even be said about the climatic sequences which just tries to fix the lack of ideas with a lot of money. So why have one speed boat when you can have three dozens, a handful of helicopters and a full cargo ship. With awkwardly stitched together reaction shots and noticeable CG work, it doesn’t even work as a fun over-the-top blow out.
The only stretch that feels like the perfect mix of a clever idea fitting into the mould of a Shankar film is when the sarcasm of the protagonist is used to teach some real lessons to the top management using the same techniques banks use against us. What makes up the rest of the movie is large chunks of air written around Ajith’s star charisma alone. That’s not just what you expect from a filmmaker like Vinoth, who in the very least can give you a solid informercial and a few cool fights scenes before and after it. With very little of either, Thunivu isn’t really the film one was banking on.