Movies centering on sports are considered pretty risky propositions in Tamil, but Imagine Creations Vennila Kabaddi Kuzhu (Vennila Kabaddi Team) have actually managed to break several moulds to bring alive the colourful yet troubled lives of seven earnest kabaddi players, on screen. The riveting screenplay is supposedly based on a true story.
The opening credits are in themselves interesting with crowds of players and artists filling up a window on the screen; there are so many of them that it's mind-boggling, almost. And in fact, the whole village of Kanakkanpatti, down in the Pazhani district, has gone to town, putting up a convincing and heartening display of rural Tamil Nadu.
Our heroes number seven, the principal of them being K Marimuthu (Vishnu), a gangly, scruffy lad who loses his father at a young age, and is put to work as a goat-herd to the village's landlord. The others comprise Sekar, a rather well-to-do mill-owner's son; Appukkuti, a bedraggled tea-stall owner as well as others from various walks of life. What unites all these young lads right from the time they were all scraggy school-boys is a game -- kabaddi.
Of course, they have never won games except against even worse losers from the village of Eruma Nayakkanpatti but even that proves a disaster as they hire pros to beat our guys at the annual festival. And that's where Mari meets the heroine with no name (Saranya Mohan) for the first time. With love blossoming for the first time as they speak with their eyes, shy smiles and secret trysts, there's the spectre of kabaddi looming up, and they suffer a resounding defeat. Watching is a spectator whom they'd spurned earlier -- Savalai Muthu (Kishore) and who turns out to be a renowned kabaddi coach.
Inspired a bit by Hindi films like Lagaan and Chak De! India in turns, the movie does manage to have its own special flavour, as our boys slowly go from being under-dogs to a force to contend with.
Bhaskar Sakthi's dialogues hit the mark every time: each character barring perhaps Mari's is well-defined, with their own families, distinctive backgrounds and playing quirks. Iyappan, for example, is a remarkably loveable guy with a penchant for stuffing himself with food but looks scrawny as a lamp-post.
Director Susindran's screenplay is the real hero here: with the right (if sometimes cliched) situations, cast of characters and the inclusion of factors that really do determine kabaddi matches (it takes some gumption to highlight the caste-card, and sponsorship problems).
The first half could have done with some editing, as there's too much emphasis on the romance angle but you don't remember these minor irritants in the second half. You only wish you knew more about the technicalities of kabaddi to really appreciate the nuances.
V Selvaganesh looks like a promising music director. On the other hand, the background score isn't very impressive (though it should have been for a movie that thrives on adrenaline rush like this one).
Saranya Mohan has managed to get it a bit right after half a dozen half baked romances as the girl who falls in love without even revealing her name.
Vishnu, as the protagonist looks the part but its the rest of the cast that brings on the cheers every time. Kishore actually sets your pulse racing as the dour coach who sees the potential in a ragamuffin team. His strength and soft-heart are a delight to watch. Here's yet another artist bringing cool shades to his character.
Despite the rather deux ex machina situations that crop up now and then, their individual characters make an indelible mark. And the climax hits you with a shocker. Who knew kabaddi matches could be this fun? With its superb ensemble cast and script, Vennila Kabaddi Kuzhu scores the match-point.