Post the success of Siva Manasula Shakthi, Vikatan Talkies has come out with the Tamil film Valmiki, directed by G Anantha Narayanan.
Like the sage Valmiki, this one's all about a petty thief/pickpocket Pandi (Akhil, from Kalloori) who steals, snatches and robs with a whim. He's perfectly happy about it, setting up bogus cinema companies, asking a host of gullible "heroes" and "heroines" for movies like "Chellam I love you". It is picturised in such a realistic fashion that you can't help laughing at the general silliness, or wince at the obvious naivete of parents who sacrifice every asset to get a girl into cinema.
In company of mates Tiger and Co, Pandi leads a fairly happy-go-lucky life, popping in and out of prisons, shown very nicely in the song Achadicha Kaasu, until the inevitable happems: he meets Vandana (Meera Nandan, debuting from Malayalam) a sweet-tempered girl. She runs a school for toddlers called Kutti Chellam -- there's a truly hilarious scene involving children who put up a play -- a very cute and realistic depiction of kids.
Pandi and Vandana might have little in common, but find themselves drawn to each other, naturally (!). Meanwhile, there's a flower-seller Kanaka (Devika), a vibrant young girl who dreams everyday of walking into the plush 5-star hotel next door a la Paris Hilton. There's Karuna as well, her brother, and Pandi's great friend.
As is her wont, Vandana, once she knows of Pandi's real occupation, is first horrified, and then tries valiantly to movie him into the straight and narrow. Her platitudes about love and honour and leading a good life are tedious until a flashback explains some of her motivations.
With his rustic and rugged looks, Akhil is perfect as Pandi. His diction and body language too is perfect in the pick-pocket scenes, and his turmoil about Vandana is well-depicted too.
Meera Nandan looks like she's going to be the goody-goody girl which she is, most of the time. But it's Devika, with her lofty dreams which have no hope of ever coming true, rough speech but a heart of gold who makes far greater impact.
Kudos to the art director, cinematographer N Azhagappan and director for setting the scenes for Chennai's underbelly complete with drugs, sewers and language that make it all come alive so well. You can appreciate that a great deal of detail and work has gone into them but you wish the tenor had been maintained throughout.
Though the screenplay is fairly logical, with Pandi's life changing slowly, there are moments when the moralising gets to you. The first half is racy, but post intermission, the pace slackens.
Ennada Pandi? is trademark Ilaiyaraja, and the maestro shines in the background score too. Editing is neat.
The climax might be cliched but despite that and some moments of tedium, this pick-pocket does stand out from the crowd.