Sree Vishnu in Thipparaa Meesam

Director: Krishna Vijay

Cast: Sree Vishnu, Rohini, Benerjee, Nikki Tamboli

Thipparaa Meesam literally translates to ‘curl your moustache’. Something men — because they are the ones with moustaches thick enough and egos fragile enough to turn everything into a display of masculinity — say while encouraging other men to bring out their magathanam/paurusham. Here though, the protagonist is the one encouraging himself to roll up his moustache. We are told he does that every time he is about to defeat his opponents — he plays illegal games to make quick bucks.

Telugu cinema is never good at or keen on reading the room. It doesn’t care that we are tired of angsty men whose reasonless anger is as boring as it is frustrating. This defiance would’ve been admirable if it knew how to create good cinema around such people, but it doesn’t. This is particularly disappointing because writer-director Krishna Vijay’s film has enough going for it to be something different than what it eventually turns out to be. It begins with the protagonist getting beaten to pulp. We are shown his bloody face and someone shaving off his moustache. Immediately after this, the screen reads Thipparaa Meesam. Amusive, dare I say subversive, enough.

Sree Vishnu in Thipparaa Meesam
Sree Vishnu in Thipparaa Meesam

The plot is relatively unique as well. As a teenager, Mani Shankar (Sree Vishnu) gets addicted to drugs unbeknownst to him, and his widowed mother Lalitha (Rohini) admits him in a rehabilitation centre. That turns him into a bitter person who hates and completely blocks his family from his life. Recovery isn’t a linear or fair process, and a film discussing its effects on the family dealing with it would’ve added something important to the culture of conversation pertaining to addiction. But nothing like that happens, and the spark dies barely 10 minutes into it. This film is either intentionally uninterested or highly ineffective, because the complexity that is warranted with a subject like this never gets communicated.

Even though the people populating the film are allowed to be better than the protagonist — a mother who is a National Award-winning writer (Rohini isn’t given much to do but look helpless), a sister who plays basketball at the State level, an uncle who is a police officer (Benerjee is adequate), and a girlfriend who is going to be a Sub Inspector — we don’t see them doing anything but trying to mend bridges with this disgruntled piece of meat, muscles and moustache. Especially, the girlfriend (Nikki Tamboli), who jogs with full makeup and lip gloss that could blind the sun, and whose character has no relevance to the film’s screenplay. In fact, the woman who fawns on Mani — who can resist a rather hairy, sweaty, and angry man? — does more to move the film forward than the so-called female lead.

Even this would have been fine — the film is about the man, after all, if there was something genuine going on with this man. His anger is understandable when he was a teenager, but at least at age 30, he has to understand why his mother did what she did. Yes, he hates his mother, but shouldn’t he flinch before dragging her to court? Shouldn’t he show a hint of remorse when his actions force his mother to take a loan pledging their home? I am not sure if it is Sree Vishnu’s inability to carry taxing roles or if the script that’s lacking, but his face stays blank. Which is painful, because he can be such fun to watch when the role is right — the few minutes of laughter the film manages to evoke involves him making a fool of himself. In fact, that’s what the film should be about. People laughing at, not with, a man-child who thinks his pain is the only pain that’s worth investing in.

That said, I was still willing to accept that this is a troubled man who can’t get past his pain, but then the film does something really unimpressive to tie the loose ends. I cannot reveal the reason that finally changes the man — even though you can see it coming from a mile, but it is thoroughly underwhelming and does not warrant the long ordeal we are made to sit through. And the way the film uses Mani’s sister to bring in the redemption arc is so unoriginal and insulting, it undoes all that’s good about the film. Speaking of which, Sid’s cinematography is thoroughly impressive. The “risky games” played by our hero in the film are silly, but they provide Sid with the opportunity to showcase his skill. The way his camera captures the light and the way he frames some of the shots are worth noting.

Mani also acts as the film’s narrator, and he is unreliable. This unreliability isn’t to be confused with the cinematic tool used by filmmakers to keep their audiences guessing. This unreliability is a result of inconsistent, bad writing. In the end, that is what it trickles down to.
The music and BGM that try to lend the hero some sheen, the detail-oriented production design, the Arjun-Reddy-esque humor, and Dharmendra Kakarala’s clean editing — none of these matter. The film could’ve been cut an hour, and it’d still be longer than it needed to be. I know this sentence is going to lose its meaning soon, but until it does, I am going to have to use it because that is what it is. ‘It could have been better, but it is not’.

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