Director: S.U. Arun Kumar

Cast: Vijay Sethupathi, Anjali, Vivek Prasanna

After Pannaiyaarum Padminiyum and Sethupathi, director SU Arun Kumar and star Vijay Sethupathi team up again in Sindhubaadh, an action-drama about a man who has dangerous adventures in distant lands. Yes, like that Sindbad — but with the moral-outrage angle so beloved to Tamil filmmakers. We’ve seen villains in the flesh trade, as organ traffickers, as drug peddlers, as heartless corporates who pollute the earth with chemicals. Here, the “issue” is the skin trade. Women with a healthy complexion are kidnapped and their skin sold to plastic surgeons. Or something. We get a moment where the skin comes off the back of a woman like the peel off a potato. Will Thiru (Vijay Sethupathi) be able to prevent his wife, Venba (Anjali), from suffering a similar fate? Do you really need an answer?

It’s a good idea, in theory, to shape a Die Hard-like, wife-saving, Everyman hero from the low-key Vijay Sethupathi persona. In an early scene, set in Thenkasi, Thiru is playing carrom while sucking on an ice-cream stick. That’s the character. That’s also the Vijay Sethupathi persona. It’s interesting to imagine this lethargic man evolving into an action hero who whips ass across Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia. (That’s where Venba is when she is kidnapped.) An extended set piece towards the end, superbly shot by Vijay Karthik Kannan, almost makes good on this premise. Thiru is attempting to shepherd several women to safety. (He’s rescued them.) At one point, we see these women swarming into the claustrophobic frame — it’s only then that we realise just how many women there are. Thinking about their plight, the moral outrage really bursts through.

But the rest of the film struggles to find its feet. The opening stretch throws a bunch of names at us — an “underground beat club” in Malaysia; someplace in the Cambodia-Thailand border — and it all goes by in a blur. That sets the tone. The events, the characters, the action scenes — everything’s a blur. The bits between Thiru and his young sidekick (named Super, and played by the actor’s real-life son, Surya) are fun, but I kept waiting for Thiru’s hearing issues or Venba’s penchant for talking loudly or Thiru’s talent for robbery — he’s a petty thief — to build into something meaningful, but it all comes and goes. I thought Thiru’s condition would put him in danger at some point (say, someone is creeping up on him with a knife and he can’t hear the footsteps) — but you could remove this trait from the character and very little would change.

There’s no spatial continuity, no sense of a sequence building gradually. Suddenly, we are in a bunch of alleys. Suddenly, we are in the hills

But that’s fine. Not every development has to be meaningful. Sometimes, it’s just a trigger for some comedy. Even if the scenes between Venba and Thiru don’t have the lived-in intimacy of the couple in Sethupathi, they’re still fun to watch. The bigger problem is how randomly things happen in the screenplay. (There’s a nod to the butterfly effect.) It’s hard to say why we spend so much time on Thiru’s act of revenge on a local politician, when there are more important developments that need fleshing out. The way Thiru runs into a Tamilian in Malaysia, the way he sets eyes on Super after losing the boy, the way someone comes up to him and says he knows where Venba is — it’s all so disconnected. As is the action. There’s no spatial continuity, no sense of a sequence building gradually. Suddenly, we are in a bunch of alleys. Suddenly, we are in the hills, and Super is overturning cars with a… catapult. The Far East looks like someone’s backyard, with people constantly running into (or knowing where to find) each other. Yuvan Shankar Raja keeps trying to pump adrenaline into these scenes, but there’s only so much a score can do.

Maybe the director wanted to play with our memories of absurd (yet fun) movies like Priya, where Rajinikanth goes to Singapore and finds the abducted Sridevi by singing a song on the streets. But that was 1978. Four decades on, we need more. When Thiru lands up at the site where the women are being held captive, the radio plays Rasaathi unna kaanadha nenju, a song about a man who misses his wife. This is the kind of direct emotional connect that Sindhubaadh sorely needs. The scene where we discover that a character we met earlier (she’s identified by a prominent birthmark) has become a sex worker should have been devastating — but this, too, passes by in a blur. But I liked it when Thiru fell at her feet. It’s not something you see other heroes doing, and it’s these oddly endearing touches that make us await each Vijay Sethupathi outing. But it takes more than touches to make a movie.

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