Very rarely do movies leave you with a sense of loss, of great talent wasted.
When, just before the credits roll in Mediaone Global Entertainment's Dhaam Dhoom, the late director Jeeva's last film, and his image appears onscreen, cheers and whistles erupted in the theatre I was, showing just how appreciated he was and is.
The Tamil film certainly showcases the cinematographer-turned-director's larger than life ambitions, and his talent for storytelling. Right from frame one, where the titles race across a magical graphic-style map of Russian cities, you sit up with eagerness.
And when Gautam Subramaniam (Jeyam Ravi), a successful doctor, prepares to leave for Russia on a five-day conference, the screenplay moves up a notch. He's happy, carefree, backed up by a loving family and is depressed at leaving behind his fiancee, whom he will wed in a few days.
Enter Shenba (Kangana Ranaut) -- actually the movie begins with her slowly sashaying across a field, phone numbers floating all around her -- who is deeply in love with Gautam, and vows that she'll appear to him when she wishes. Cue for a romantic song, in which she looks incredibly sexy.
Pretty soon, Gautam is ensconced in Russia, attending conferences and bumping (literally) into a model, Anna, who can speak nothing but Russian, but who seems delighted to see him. She leads him to night clubs, pours him strange drinks, falls into his hotel room with him, and in the morning, is dead in a pool of blood, her neck slit open.
From then on, the nightmare begins. Gautam is on the run, hunted by the police, mobs and random people who have it in for him. The Indian embassy's representative (Jayaram) promises him help, but is helpless in the face of the hail of bullets.
Gautam's only ally is Arthi Chinnappa (Lakshmi Rai) who acts as his interpreter, and is his lawyer (though she seems to do little of this.) Together, the two run from one point to another, trying desperately to search for a few clues; back home, Gautam's family runs itself ragged.
And as Gautam alternately runs, dodges bullets (thankfully, he even gets shot once), his love story emerges in his memory -- when a happy, pixie-like Shenba runs into him at her village. The two narratives blend again and again, as Gautam switches from the present to the past, using it as a good luck talisman to escape his present horrors. You're not very sure if a Russian prison is a lot like an Indian one, but you go along with it anyway.
And right until the intermission, the suspense keeps on. Post that, though, the film falls a bit, trying to close in on the story, throwing in more twists and turns until the endgame plays itself out. To reveal any more would be give to away integral parts of the story itself.
The movie undoubtedly belongs to Jeyam Ravi. He's done the chocolate hero act before, looking scrumptious in designer-wear; this time, he's required to do a lot more. He's fun and light-hearted in the romantic scenes, anguished and puzzled in court, and the slam-bang action hero later on proving that here's a guy who can come up with good performances, with the right script. Since 90 percent of the movie has him, that's a good thing.
Kangana is a breath of sex appeal, surreal angelic quality and fresh air all of which make you wish she had more screen time. The audience went nuts whenever she appeared, and she positively sizzles in the Anbe En Anbe song. Meantime, this very rural girl wears low slung saris, fitted salwars, beating girls in the metropolis fair and square when it comes to fashion. Still, her dialogues (mercifully well-dubbed) make sure that she has an air of charm about her that makes you forgive any breach in acting.
By contrast, Lakshmi Rai appears in sober coats and suits that depict her as the serious lawyer. On the other hand, there's precious little that she actually does, in getting Ravi out of his predicament which, considering her expertise, ought to be more. She leaves him in the lurch more than he deserves; but she does translate Russian well. That must surely be a good point.
Jayaram's role is a surprise package in more ways than one and you're impressed by his versatility. More space for him would have been good.
Sundry characters like the Model Maria, Anu Haasan and others provide a good backdrop to the whole movie, and retire gracefully when their part is done.
The star, however, is Jeeva's screenplay, which manages to sustain your interest pretty much throughout. The stunt scenes remind you of Superman, and sure, Kangana drawing a feather to her hand from the air (a la Rajini's Baba) are a bit too fantastic -- but hey, everyone knows that romance allows pretty much everything. Also, Gautam wandering about with not a care in the world when the whole police force is hunting him, is a bit too much to swallow.
The dialogues in Russia are painstakingly conducted in Russian (instead of flipping to English or worse, Tamil, as has happened in various movies), Russian artists are given as much screen-space as Indian, complete with night clubs and pole-dancers, who give you an eyeful.
In the climax, the final suspense element works well. Russia, in all its winter beauty, is as much a star here and the chase scenes where Ravi jumps from building to building earn points for the stunt director.
Harris Jeyaraj's music wins in the background score; and the Anbe En Anbe song is an undoubted favourite. Others serve the purpose well, considering that a large part of the movie happens in Russia. V T Vijayan's editing recognizes the emotional, suspenseful roller-coaster ride of the movie -- and does a neat job.
You know by the silence in the theatre, as the movie unfolds, that this film more or less delivers what it promised to do. And though there are some gaps; some places where the screenplay doesn't gel, and looks like its been hastily covered up the seams hold up; the plotline still works. Had Jeeva lived, he would have been satisfied with Anees's (his wife) work.
With logic, good performances and sound music, Dhaam Dhoom is definitely worth a watch.