Cast: GV Prakash Kumar, Yogi Babu, Samyuktha Hedge
Watchman is a thriller, and it runs a mere 90-something minutes. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but a clever script and clever direction can work wonders in this running time, paring away the fat (say, character-building) and concentrating on the more bone-chilling aspects. Steven Spielberg’s Duel is a classic example. You don’t know why things are happening, or whom they are happening to. The only thing that matters is what is happening. (Not knowing adds to our disorientation.) But will Tamil audiences accept that kind of spareness, that level of “pure cinema”? That seems to have been the question on writer-director AL Vijay’s mind, for he fills the entire first half with flab. Bala (GV Prakash Kumar) is being harassed by a loan shark, and meanwhile, he has to get engaged to Anita (Samyuktha Hegde), and meanwhile, someone has to crack a joke about Yogi Babu’s looks…
The writing is all over the place. The film spends so much time detailing Bala’s efforts to raise the money he owes that I half-thought we were in for a new genre: the neorealistic GV Prakash drama. Even more time is spent in showing Bala trying to break into a bungalow. And for some strange reason, the narration isn’t linear — there’s no need because the goings-on are so generic. All we need to know is that Bala somehow ends up in a bungalow which spells even more trouble than that loan shark. Why complicate this with back-and-forth events, with timestamps like “10.48.36 pm, Anna Nagar” to clue us in? Would you want to know, for instance, that this point struck me at “10.35.24 am, Koyambedu”? I thought not.
Only brief flashes in the second half make good on the premise, thanks to some inventive staging and the low-light cinematography by Nirav Shah and Saravanan Ramasamy. The big USP of Watchman is Bruno, the golden retriever Bala runs into in that bungalow. I have always felt we need more dogs in the movies (we end up more with movies that are dogs) — though Bruno is practically half-human. His eyes pool with tears when his master is hurt and when terrorists (yes, you heard that right) invade his home, he presses himself against the wall without making a sound. But this broad Benji-style cuteness is completely at odds with the claustrophobic Panic Room-style thriller the director is going for. The soundtrack keeps saying “Bite your nails!” but my mind voice kept saying “Who’s a good boy”!