Vijay Sethupathy is not a great actor. Or to be fair, he hasn’t yet been offered meaty roles to showcase his talent. But what is commendable is his choice of films. Much like the earlier version of Abhay Deol in Hindi films, Vijay Sethupathy tries to punch above his weight with the quirkiness of first time directors and their interesting – even if lacking in execution – subjects. Pizza, Naduvala Konjam Pakkatha Kanum weren’t great films but they had the novelty factor and an earnest indie blood within them and Soodhu Kavvum joins that very list.
Soodhu Kavvum directed by Nalan Kumarasamy is about three slackers and a self-confessed small time kidnapper and his imaginary friend. If there is one thing that Soodhu Kavvum gets right, it is the depiction of these slackers, their daily tedium and attempted misadventures. There is a thin line between making the audience abhor such characterization and making them invest in them and this film does the latter admirably with great staging and conversation (and some TR posters). Now this is the kind of talent that Rajesh (of Siva Manasula Sakthi and Boss Engira Bhaskaran fame) should kill to possess. But then that’s another debate.
In addition to being a slacker film, Soodhu Kavvum also dips it legs briefly across genres. It has noir undertones with all the stylized crime and background score (which was terrific), a B-movie feel with tons of unexplained acts and a deus ex machina resolution with even the yellowish natural lighting for the interiors and the bright colors of cars and clothes contributing to the look and feel of the film. Not everything is done well or in a complete manner though. It gets inconsistent after a point and most of second half is directionless and just a sequence of montages put together lazily but the leads keep you interested enough.
The seeming twist with the imaginary girlfriend plays out only for two scenes and regrettably so. The way it is introduced, with her sort of squatting behind Das and therefore eclipsed is one of the many commendable visual gags in the film. It’s a brilliantly sly conceit, to treat that character as the motivator and/or the conscience keeper. There is wonderful potential here to keep it going at least till the interval point. I admit I haven’t thought this through but that just sounds like a better film. Another wasted potential is as much as the character was intriguing and did not come across needless, once she is done away with there is no hole whatsoever. It’s almost like she did not exist [sic]. Well. I expected some sort of a change in the thoughts and actions of Das (Vijay Sethupathi) after her jettison. This should have been huge and if it was intended, it lacked a bomb in execution.
True to its title, every character – good or bad – is sucked into a web of evil one way or another. The reluctant participant who loses his job joins in due to desperation. The politician’s son cannot stand his do-gooder dad and devises his own plans to eliminate the latter. The small time kidnapping syndicate, ill-advised, goes in for retirement plans when they are on top. The psycho cop who does his job in questionable ways is delivered his comeuppance. Pack into this some not-so-heady messages (they thankfully don’t come across like that) about politics not being a field for the good. Also note how the good minister walks through the metal detector at the party office entrance three times in all – it beeps twice when he is empty-handed but does not when passing with crores of money in hand. Must check this.
One sure winner here is Santosh Narayan with his music and background score. The songs are also used intelligently and the background score is simply outstanding in several scenes. The superb scene where Das takes the cash from the banker dad and walks out is a standout. Ellam Kadandhu Pogumada is a bonafide masterpiece and the kidnapping and chase montages won’t work without a score of this quality.
Soodhu Kavvum may not be the zeitgeist force it is touted to be but it is one solid debut. More than stifling the modest achievements of the film it’ll prove to be more prudent to celebrate it as an indie success and a sign of better things to come for the love of cinema. I may not be looking forward to the sophomore effort from the NKPK stables but Nalan Kumarasamy’s, I will.