Sawaari: Not enough thrills, not enough laughs

It’s becoming increasingly evident that a lot of our new filmmakers have been raised on Western cinema. The visual treatment of the opening scene of Sawaari reminds you of the neo-noir visuals of Sin City. It’s all black and white, except for a burning cigarette. There are slo-mo shots of the smoke. There’s much darkness inside the car, with the faces of its passengers mainly being illuminated by lights from the outside. Suddenly, shots get fired. I sat up. The eeriness of this opening portion perfectly sets it up for the edge-of-the-seat thriller you hope it will be. But alas.

In many ways, the film reminded me of Jil Jung Juk. It’s apparent that there are plenty of global influences, like Sawaari’s use of the now-legendary trunk shot in Tarantino films. There’s ubiquitous music by Vishal Chandrasekhar like in Jil… It also does away with a love angle. In fact, the only mention of a woman in Sawaari’s male-dominated universe arrives when ACP Solomon (Benito Franklin) talks to his fiance (Sanam Shetty) over the phone. And just like Jil…, despite the film’s best efforts, you’re never truly convinced that it’s happening in your neighbourhood. It lacks a certain rootedness. If a pink vintage car occupied prominence of position in Jil…, it’s a 1990 Contessa here. But it’s not so much the car that’s important here — even if the owner of the car, an MLA named Ponmala, feels otherwise — as it is the people inside it. Sawaari is the road trip that Solomon has to take with the car’s driver (the impressive Karthik Yogi) in order to catch the man who’s been terrorising people on the highway, a serial killer (T. M. Karthik). Or as a character in the movie says, “psychiatric serial killer”. I’m not sure what that means.

Trees are being smuggled, a serial killer is on the prowl, a politician needs his car back, a wastrel needs to do the job he’s entrusted with and redeem himself, a cop doesn’t just need to solve the case, but needs to solve it urgently enough to make it on time for his engagement… it’s almost Snatch-like, what with so many characters and their respective motivations. And there’s the attempt at organic humour throughout the film too — again, like Jil… But I wasn’t chuckling here either.

The real problem is tonal consistency. At times, you’re encouraged to look at the serial killer as a man who means business, as a dangerous threat — like in that opening scene. But then, later, you’re encouraged to laugh at him. Oh look, he’s just a funny psycho. Throughout the film, you have a psychiatrist being interviewed on radio, trying to explain the motivations of a serial killer. Well, for the purposes of this film, he could have simply said: “They’re just mental.” Because that’s all this film’s killer seems to be at the end.

It also doesn’t help that the cop is among the stupidest I’ve seen in Tamil cinema. Solomon’s reaction to any perceived threat is to whip out his gun and threaten to shoot. Like when a car on the highway doesn’t stop to help him. I wish I were joking. In another scene, he’s in hot pursuit of the serial killer, who he knows is holding a passer hostage. When he catches up and sees the car burning, he doesn’t investigate. He simply rescues who he deems to be the victim and goes on. Whoever made him the ACP.

The same problems with consistency creep in here too. Solomon is a serious cop, who has a job to do urgently. At the end, he’s reduced to a parody — just like the villain — who’s on the road, begging passerbys to help him. Towards the end, many people die and there’s a lot of commotion, but none of it seems to matter as Sawaari suffers from the same problem as Solomon’s gun for a major part of the film. It never really fires.

This review was written for The Hindu. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share this review.

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