Director: Shakti Soundar Rajan
Cast: Jayam Ravi, Nivetha Pethuraj, Aaron Aziz
Shakti Soundar Rajan’s Miruthan was billed “Tamil cinema’s first zombie movie.” In Tik Tik Tik, the director dreams bigger. It’s being promoted as “the first Indian space film.” The claim may not hold in a court of law, for we’ve had the MGR-starring Kalai Arasi (1963), where aliens fell for Bhanumathi’s singing and carted her off to a faraway planet. We’ve also had TP Sundaram’s fabulously trippy Chand Par Chadayee (1967), with Dara Singh, as Astronaut Anand, battling lunar wrestlers, space gorillas, and at least one Martian warlord. But Tik Tik Tik is certainly the first Indian film set in space as we know it from Hollywood adventures, with spaceships and docking stations and zero-gravity visual effects and a giant asteroid that, if not blown to smithereens, will crash-land in the Bay of Bengal and wipe out the south-eastern part of the country. What? No more Kovilpatti Kadalai Mittai? It’s a catastrophe, alright.
Enter Vasu (Jayam Ravi). He is an escape artist (a snooty character dismisses him as “a petty thief from North Madras”), and only his Houdini-like talents can save the day. The good news first. For a while, the screenplay mimics the ticking-clock rhythms of the title. We cut right to an emergency meeting of the defence department, where the Lieutenant General and Lieutenant Colonel are both women. The latter, Swathi, is played by Nivetha Pethuraj, and it’s a pleasure to see a heroine with practically no “heroine duties.” Swathi doesn’t sing or dance or wave around chiffon dupattas on Norwegian landscapes. There is a duet-type situation, sure – but it’s between Vasu and his cute kid (Jayam Ravi’s son, Aarav). In its own small way, Tik Tik Tik empowers its heroine all the way to the end, when she receives this order: “Load the missile, Swathi.” It’s enough to make you wonder if an asteroid has hit Kollywood as we know it. Whatever next? No romantic subplot?
That too, as it turns out – though we do get some ill-advised comedy, in the form of Vasu’s sidekicks, played by Arjunan and Ramesh Thilak. The best bit imagines Tamil cinema’s indispensable sarakku scene in outer space. (The visual effects are functional — nothing special, but nothing that makes you wince either.) But after a while, you may begin to wish for better writing. I didn’t mind that the mission chief’s (Jayaprakash) method of evaluating Vasu’s appropriateness for the ginormous task at hand was so… random. It’s a given that Vasu is going to be chosen. That’s not exactly nail-biting stuff. I didn’t mind the hastily put together training scenes, either. What really matters is how Vasu and his team accomplish the job. That’s where we want the nails to be bitten, to the accompaniment of Imman’s dynamic score.
But the film lacks attitude and tension – the former, because of how the hero is written. The screenplay tells us right at the beginning that Vasu is a good guy, a nice guy, a Jayam Ravi kind of guy – so his subsequent attempts to convince us about his conflicted loyalties are laughable. Jayam Ravi keeps signalling the audience with red-herring reaction shots that are not true to character – they’re not saying “this is what I’m thinking” but “this is what I want you to think I’m thinking.” (The reaction shots all around, actually, are pretty clumsy.) And the big reveal about the traitor in the midst doesn’t carry the punch it should. What should have been a sleek cat-and-mouse game, set in space, becomes a predictable (though passable) tick-all-the-genre-boxes exercise. That’s the thing about solid screenwriting. Without it, even a film set in space tends to remain earthbound.