God! It was bloody good. I just couldn’t have enough of it. My facial hair felt validated. My adrenalin surge was making my fist pump endlessly into the desk adjoining the PC. The lurking fanboy finally had a reason to resurface with renewed vigour.
The “it” I’m talking about is the trailer of Thoongavanam. Boy was it lip-smacking with Thalaivar in amazing form, kicking some ass. A Taken it was going to be, I thought in Kamal style. Another one to go to the long list of masculinity-for-dummies manual alongside Satya and Vettaiyadu Vilaiyadu, to name a few.
We all revere the mesmerising actor the man is. A rare breed who could own the screen without disturbing the aesthetics of the story movement; towering tall enough to not belittle the movie. His recent Papanasam being a case in point.
Coming back to Thoongavanam, I walked into the first show with great expectations. The promise the tease managed, the reveal couldn’t keep up. Every thing that caught my imagination in the trailer suddenly seemed like red herrings . What with every passing scene, I could palpably feel my fervency falling apart. Was the movie bad? No.
But was it just good enough to just not be bad? This was a Kamal Haasan movie after all. All of us know that the actors would be well casted and they wouldn’t disappoint. Likewise the technical aspects can be taken for granted to be top notch. So Thoongavanam had all these bare minimums fulfilled. But did the fans of the star have anything to root for like a Vedhalam which released alongside? No.
The reviews which floated around were extremely flattering with most calling it a wonderful remake of the French movie, Sleepless Night with major assertions towards the ‘justice’ it had done to the movie.
So, is it enough for a remake to just do ‘justice’ to its original. How relevant would such ardent submission be, if the original’s milieu was diametrically different from the remake’s. Not to mention the difference in sensibilities of the respective viewing demography.
Sleepless Night is a French movie that catered largely to European sensibilities when it released back in 2011.We are a population that adds tandoori chicken to make a pizza sell. If the number of manchurians and fried rice variants that’ve been imagined by our street food industry were to be patented, it would scar the Chinese for a lifetime.
The same holds true for celluloid adaptations of foreign origin movies too. The content clicks when nativity is addressed.
This is where this movie misses the mark by some distance. Taking the culinary metaphor of pizza further, the pizza needed some tandoori sauce and Indian herbs to become palatable on the Indian roads, but continued to be a rich-bland affair that belonged on the ovens of Milan still, but aspired for acceptance in Mylapore.
Let’s take the case of another Kamal classic- Avvaishanmugi which was adapted from an English classic itself, Mrs. Doubtfire. The movie kept the central conceit intact, but had an independent existence without tampering with the core of the original.
The motley product of dispute, reasons, characters & props that the narrative deployed stayed local and relatable, steering it in a direction different from the original, making the movie speak in the language of the hoi polloi.
Mrs. Doubtfire was a classy affair with subtle situational humor. Avvaishanmugi on the other hand was its unabashed masala recreation that relied largely on dialogue based humor and the crowd pulling ability of its lead man. Whether it did justice to the original in its entirety is subjective. But what it managed to do justice to was far more consequential than that. It reached the story to a large audience, in the process seeping into popular culture. No wonder the movie was such a roaring success.
Thoongavanam’s a grim-long-faced affair unfolding in a night club, with grimmer adults on endless loops of hide-n-seek throughout its running time. It didn’t help that it released on Diwali, a festival that makes mincemeat of guilty pleasures. Where movies are expected to be run-of-the-mill escapist affairs in line with the popular mood, it didn’t help that it was a slow movie that had every character operating at a breakneck speed. Every cop and crook in the movie, run for their lives or to save a dependent’s in this convoluted plot involving multiple ratting in either camps. But neither do we connect to their desperation nor to the plot’s urgency to cut to the chase in every sequence.
Throughout the movie we’re shown Diwakar’s(Kamal) endless failed efforts to get to his kidnapped son. He’s head-butted, pushed and punched by stock characters whose names gratuitously roll in the end credits as “Extras”. They obviously wanted to throw some light on the lead man’s masochism, if not vulnerability. But end up celebrating his fallibility to an audience that had gathered in hordes to hoot and whistle, alienating them in the process.
The redemption does come in the end. But it’s too precise to invigorate any celebration and doesn’t even belong to its lead man. In the mainstream format, when a story takes a significant time to vividly paint the struggles of its lead man, but coughs his redemption out like a blemish in the end, it defies the very syntax of movie-making for the masses.
Commercial movie making is largely about making-believe than fact establishing. The leverage of exaggeration and the staging do the trick. Case in point being Emerich’s 2012, an apocalyptic movie that traces John Cusack and his family comfortably escaping from one natural disaster to another with breathtaking ease. The contrived escapes were a bigger spectacle of defiance than the disasters itself; playing the primal battle of man versus nature to the gallery.
A closer case being Liam Neeson’s Taken that resembles the plot of Thoongavanam to a large extent. Just that Neeson’s character is staged as an invincible one-man army. Something that Thoongavanam should’ve done. Something Vettaiyadu Vilaiyadu aced. For who can forget the wolf whistles that went up the roof when Raghavan went,”Chinna Pasangala. Tha..Yaaru Kitta da vilayadringa?”
That was a movie for the masses. A star’s conversation with his fans.