If there's one thing the recent spate of movies have taught us it is that it never pays to be complacent about the kind of movies Tamil cinema keeps churning out. The said rule applies to tried and tested actors as well, and this has never been truer than in Sun Pictures' Thenavattu (loosely translated to mean Gumption), directed by debutant V V Kathir and starring newly titled Ilaiya Nayagan Jeeva.
Right from the title card, as an aruvaal blazes across the screen accompanied by Srikanth Deva's kuthu score, you know what's in store for you. You just don't dare believe it, because this is Jeeva after all -- and you know the lad rarely disappoints.
Well, turns out he's smeared a ton of coal in your face: this is the kind of movie newly minted star-sons usually make their 'entry' in; the kind any actor worth his salt will look back on and remember with acute embarrassment. Someone's obviously advised the character artist to make a dashing commercial film -- and the net result is an unintentional laugh-riot cum yawn-fest that leaves you stunned at its ridiculous treatment.
Not that you expect it to be this bad when Kailasam (Ravi Kale), the somber bigwig is performing the last rites of some one dear to him -- but the appearance of Kottai (Jeeva), first in the chaotic Koovagam festival and later atop a Veeranam pipe, swinging a scythe maniacally sets the tone for the rest of the film.
Cut to the flashback a few months ago: it is with relief that you welcome a rural scene, somewhere in Madurai (they show you four temple towers -- and you've got to assume it is the temple town), where Kottai's mother (Saranya Ponvannan) is cutting down logs, and boasting about her son: he's a god who deserves to see the outside world and derive its benefits.
And so Kottai journeys to big bad Chennai in company with Vellaiyan (Kanja Karuppu), who dances with every karagattam dancer on the roadside, makes lewd jokes and appears to have only one thing on his mind. They end up at the massive home of Kailasam, the local terror who slices up people whenever he can -- only, our heroes are unaware of the fact.
It's a bit endearing when they go on thinking that all Kailasam does is cut up trees, which is why he requires their aruvaal-making skills. And so Kottai goes to work -- but the director needs to show that underneath the rippling muscles and rowdy mannerisms lies a child's heart. So you have Kottai feeding crying children milk, helping men with epileptic seizures and falling in love with the first fair-complexioned, slim beauty he comes across, Gayatri (Poonam Bajwa).
Naturally, Gayatri, as the heroine, is also a wonderfully kind-hearted girl, who wears revealing saris, teaches music to students (though it's obvious she knows nothing about it), and mouths inane dialogues to blind beggars that bore you out of your wits. Kottai's logic for falling in love with her is that she treats him like his own family -- you, as the viewer, know better.
Meantime, there's yet another villain, Santhosh, Kailasam's son, who goes playing musical instruments, mouthing punch lines and raping women left, right and centre. There's also a remarkably stupid and one-dimensionally portrayed minister and a helpless, frustrated cop Surya Prakash (with a terribly dubbed voice) who simply stands like a rock in uniform. Naturally, Santhosh goes on raping women, Surya Prakash goes on standing still; Kottai goes on making aruvaals ... until Santhosh's catches sight of the ravishing Gayatri, touches her inappropriately and all hell breaks loose.
There are two redeeming features in this remarkably silly tale. One is Jeeva himself -- he's incapable of performing badly no matter how stupid the role, and turns the most cliched dialogues into bearable ones. Despite being hampered by commercial masala at every turn, he makes some sort of an impact when he tries to woo Poonam, and later, brandishes his aruvaal.
The other is the short interlude with the transgenders at the Koovagam festival. Instead of dismissing them with Tamil cinema's usual insensitivity, they've been shown as proper human beings. Kudos for that.
Kanja Karuppu is at his lewdest here and needs to capitalise on his post-Subramaniyapuram popularity before everything goes down the drain.
You've seen Poonam Bajwa perform much better than this in Seval and that's the only reason you don't dismiss her as just another mindless heroine. Hopefully, she'll get better roles. The rest have been reduced to cardboard characters who yell, scream, cut people down and promise vengeance every two minutes.
Except for Engu Irunthai, Srikanth Deva's music is largely forgettable. Anal Arasu, the stunt guy has realized the full potential of this action flick and had a blast.
But the culprit clearly is V V Kathir, who's come up with a half-baked script that manages to destroy even Jeeva's credibility. This flick is all aruvaal and no brains.