‘Pandakkal’ Shomi, ‘Vettoli’ Balan, ‘Kootooran’ Sunny, ‘Pullu’ Giri…these are some of the names of the gangsters who inhabit the deadly town of Thrissur, which is otherwise known as Kerala’s cultural capital, in this film. The idea itself is ambitious. How do you paint red Thrissur, which until recently, was home to the harmless Pranchiettans and the Joy Thakkolkaarans? The Thrissur dialect, too, arguably the most welcoming of them all, has to be tweaked to accommodate ‘menacing’ lines such as, “Avante aattam avan aadi theerkatte, vakille”. Of course, casting can help. Because we’ve come to the point where it has become impossible to set a film in Thrissur without casting the Ravis (TG and his son Sreejith) and Jayaraj Warrier, playing a colourful character. A few rounds around the Vadakkunnathan Temple, preferably during a song montage, and a few street/market names thrown around should suffice to make any film as Thrissur as Innocent’s golden jubba.
But it’s the gangster film cliches that soon overtake the Thrissur cliches. We get ‘Pullu’ Giri (played by Jayasurya trying really hard), named after another iteration of Siva, who gets branded a criminal as a child after he shows great innovation in slashing his mother’s killer with a knife…dipped in a rabid dog’s saliva. After a stint in a juvenile home, he grows up to become the OG of the town, but that’s until he falls in love with a Tamil girl named Veni (Swathi Reddy), who forces him out. What happens after is such a genre-cliché that I can insert a line from Godfather III to fill you in. “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” Suffix an enthutta gadi to Michael Corleone’s line and that’s Pullu Giri’s entire internal conflict, right there.
Like most gangster films, this film’s driven mainly by one emotion, and that’s loyalty. So the second a pretty banal scene gets a force-fitted “You’re like a father to me,” thrown in, you know what’s going to happen to that character. And for all that effort to establish how Pullu Giri has now come clean, we don’t ever see any kind of resistance from his wife or from him when he quickly meanders back in…albeit for the sake of loyalty. Which means that the rest of the film is dependant on the villains and the fight scenes to make it somewhat watchable.
But here’s the deal. None of these really fire. The punchlines (A bus isn’t an anthill for it be buried under the ground) are ridiculous to the point where you only realise that they’re meant to be punchlines once they are followed by some deafeningly loud background score and the film’s millionth slo-mo shot. Even interesting asides, like an attacker gone missing or some secretive information about gold being smuggled, reach the hero so easily and with such little effort that you feel like Pullu Giri is one of the villain’s “close friends” on Instagram. There’s no intrigue, no texture. A “clever” scene involving a KSRTC bus is so poorly staged that it reveals the twist almost 15 minutes before it intends to. The final twist, too, with Indrans playing a teashop owner, is based on logic so far-fetched (how does Pullu Giri know?) that it’s impossible to explain or understand.
Expectedly, Swathi Reddy gets nothing much to do, apart from being bait for revenge. Even Mallika Sukumaran, who plays Pullu Giri’s guardian angel, gets little to do once the film goes into action mode. But we’ve switched off by then, haven’t we? This is 2019’s third thoroughbred ‘mass’ film (after Kalki and Mikhael) to disappoint, and reveals how it’s a genre none of the youngsters has really been able to crack. And, how funny is that idea of a hero introduction scene using an elephant as a prop, just because the film’s set in Thrissur? If this film gets a sequel set in Ernakulam, maybe we’ll see Pullu Giri emerge from a cloud of mosquitoes, in slow motion again, with Ratheesh Vega guaranteeing you some ear-pain the next day.