Cast: Arun Vijay, Tania Hope, Sonia Agarwal
Director: Magizh Thirumeni
In Thadam, writer-director Magizh Thirumeni puts a new spin on one of the oldest masala-cinema tropes: the double role. Whether with Sivaji Ganesan (Uthamaputhiran) or MGR (Ninaithathai Mudippavan) or Rajinikanth (Billa) or Kamal Haasan (Aalavandhan), the twin performances have hinged on a difference: one is good, the other is evil. Also, sometimes, one is rich, the other is poor. There's definitely an economic disparity between the two characters Arun Vijay plays here, Ezhil and Kavin. The former drives a BMW. The latter robs ATMs with his sidekick Suruli (Yogi Babu, once again mocked for his unconventional looks and made to do "I am B.Com. Literature"-type comedy). But there's no good/evil demarcation. Neither Kavin nor Ezhil is exactly a moral person, but they're both treated sympathetically, painted in "circumstances made me this way" shades.
The film takes a while to get going. Owing to the focused second half, a lot of the romance — between Ezhil and Deepika (Tanya Hope) — is packed into the early portions. (Deepika seems to be a film critic. Her line about quitting her job because she's tired of reviewing six films a week made me smile wistfully.) But as we slowly discover, this isn't just throwing the audience a duet because "they demand it and we need a song for the promos". What looks like a minor romantic track turns out to be the crux of the narrative, which really gets going after a murder. In the usual "twins story", one of the two would have committed the crime, and the other one would end up the suspect, being chased by the police. But what are the odds that Kavin and Ezhil end up suspects! The premise is pulp pleasure.
Arun Vijay gives a muscular performance, though at first I felt he wasn't doing enough to make Kavin and Ezhil distinct — but slowly, we realise that this is the point. (I'm trying not to give away too much.) This results in the director resorting to some clumsy spoon-feeding, with the names "Kavin" and "Ezhil" appearing on screen to tell us who's who. But the visual touches work better. For a while, Ezhil is shot mostly in daylight, while Kavin is bathed in the orange glow of night-time street lights. (Even in a scene in prison, he's hit by this shade of light.) And the cinematographer Gopinath keeps throwing in slightly angled frames, which give the sense of a dual reality: one normal, one skewed. We think we know whodunit — but do we?
The real low points are very few. I found it offensive that the removal of a crucial piece of evidence is relegated to what appears to be a "comedy" scene — this is pandering of the lowest kind. You say you're respecting the audience, giving them what they want, but what you're really doing is disrespecting the material. The film could have used a better actress (than Sonia Aggarwal) and better writing in the flashback. The enmity between Ezhil and a top cop doesn't add as much menace as you'd hope. And the motive behind the murder is too hastily explained away. But as keep-you-guessing thrillers go, Thadam isn't bad at all. The reveal is everything, and I enjoyed the present-day portions with the policewoman named Malar (Vidya Pradeep, who makes you want to see what she'll do in a role with more definition). That this useful supporting character has more footage than either heroine is a sign that the film has at least some of its priorities right.