Possibly the year's most anticipated movie has finally released: Gemini Film circuit's Thuppakki, which sees the collaboration of many greats, starting from Kalaippuli S Thanu, to Santhosh Sivan, Harris Jeyaraj and Sreekar Prasad, achievers in their own field. Garnering pride of place among them all, certainly Ilaiya Thalapathi Vijay and director A R Murugadoss, who've joined hands for the first time, and vowed to deliver an action-adventure that would bring us to the edge of our seats.
As to whether they've actually succeeded in accomplishing this lofty aim, especially as this is a genre well-tried and trusted both by them as well as other makers and actors, is something that's open to debate.
The beginning, at any rate, is very intriguing, starting from the opening credits, with beautifully stylized 3D shots of Mumbai in all its glory, and then to the railway station, where a family eagerly awaits the arrival of a much-loved son: Captain Jagdish D (Vijay), of the Indian Army, who's currently on leave from his duties, and is returning to Mumbai.
Jagdish, of course, gives us a charming entry with an impromptu dance while the train is halted for some reason and then reaches home to a rapturous welcome. Almost at once, he's whisked away to a bride-viewing ceremony, where he comes face to face with a saree-clad and demure Nisha (Kajal Aggarwal), and who he's quick to refuse, as they don't 'match,' in his own words. And then he sees her in an entirely different and welcome light, whereupon his sentiments change and the wooing begins in earnest. So far, so romantic but matters take a serious turn when he's riding a bus and stumbles upon the terrible machinations of a terrorist group, determined to wipe out Mumbai.
Here starts a cat-and-mouse game as Jagdish, swift to identify terrorist 'sleeper cells,' devises a plan with his staunch but bumbling SI (Sathyan) and his army friends, to outwit the kingpin (Vidyut Jamal), who seems to possess wit enough to challenge the superior intelligence of Jagdish himself.
The first round goes to Jagdish and a smooth victory it is, thus setting the scene, you hope, for more brilliant twists and turns. And no doubt, the various schemes and counter-schemes sounded fantastic on paper. It's the execution where everything swiftly unravels, and descends into mediocrity.
For one thing, Jagdish, typical of all Tamil cinema heroes, elects to work alone for some reason, except for his friend who apes Holmes's Dr Watson, and provides
all the explanations a seemingly dumb public will want to know. The problem is the audience isn't quite that clueless, and the screenplay goes out of the way to explain events and plot-twists that need no such thing.
The result? Jagdish, without the help of any superior officers either in the army or the police force (who're all running around without any idea about anything, apparently), and enters villain strongholds at will, escapes a hail of machine-gun bullets. Here's the funny thing: this intelligent officer, a man capable of solving a Rubik's Cube at a whim, fails to spot the most blatant traps, and falls headlong into them.
Vijay has, per usual, carried the film on his capable shoulders; this time, he enters the arena as a fit, well-muscled army-man, and certainly relishes the action sequences which he's performed with a whim; he renounces his usual punch-dialogues, dances with zeal and excels during the 'Google Google' number. But there are moments when he looks unsure, and his body language reflects it.
Kajal Aggarwal's character, you're relieved to see, is a departure from the usual but as is usual in a mainstream commercial movie, she goes nowhere beyond duets and romantic looks.
Vidyut Jamwal looks fantastic, and his casual ruggedness fits in very well for most of the movie, until the last, climactic scene.
Sathyan's comic role falls remarkably flat, while Jayaram is utterly wasted.
Santhosh Sivan's camera delivers the goods, as is only expected of a top-notch cinematographer, but a mainstream movie like this offers little space for his talents.
Sreekar Prasad's fluidity ensures that the first half, at any rate, moves at a brisk pace.
Harris Jeyaraj could be said to be one who hasn't performed to his potential; except for one number, the rest barely register.
The tribute to the Indian Army and their Families is a great sentiment; kudos to A R Murugadoss for that, and for showing Vijay without artificial 'punch dialogues.' But having set the scene for a great movie with a charismatic hero, a reasonably sound script and believable characters, he flounders by the end of the first half, where his protagonist becomes a 'mass' hero again, ramming through everything and everyone at will, and escaping tough situations in cinematic fashion.
The hype isn't justified; this hero pushes no boundaries, discovers no new territory.
Vijay fans will find plenty to rejoice in this subdued avatar of their star, but audiences who seek intelligence in their movies will find it rather dull. Go with low expectations.