Bogan: Arvind Swamy in full form in an all-right potboiler

There’s a moment early on in Bogan when Jayam Ravi, playing an honest cop called Vikram, finally figures out the identity of the mystery man who has been robbing banks and ATMs in the city. He peers into the photograph in the man’s ID, and sees Arvind Swamy, the man’s swagger somehow radiating from even an unflattering thumbnail. I almost laughed out aloud imagining Ravi’s character going, “What! You again?!”

Director: Lakshman
Cast: Arvind Swamy, Jayam Ravi, Hansika Motwani
Storyline: A man puts his ability to body swap to nefarious means

Much like in Thani Oruvan, the characters they play, Vikram and Aditya, represent polar moral opposites. Vikram, a moralistic cop, plays the underwhelming foil to the hearteningly entertaining evil of Aditya. Arvind Swamy really plays to the gallery with his portrayal, and seems to revel in the character’s hedonism. He brings a sophisticated charisma to the role that Tamil villains have long lacked, a certain swag that some heroes would die for. The Maserati-driving, orgy-partaking, beach house-owning Aditya believes in living life to the fullest, and by live, he means an endless supply of alcohol, drugs, and women. As he charmingly puts it, “Bodhai la dhaan thelivaa iruppen.” In a song that deifies him, or should I say demonises him, he talks of how little respect he has for people who remember the women they sleep with and who examine the price tags of products.

For a while, this contrast between Aditya’s hedonism and Vikram’s righteousness keeps Bogan going. Arvind Swamy especially makes it impossible to take your eyes off the screen. Yet, after their initial face-off, pun never more intended, the intensity tapers off. It’s like director Lakshman runs out of ways to milk entertainment out of the body-swapping that occurs between Aditya and Vikram. A belaboured sub-plot with Nasser adds little to the proceedings, and ends up being a needless distraction. While on distractions, the mandatory love angle exists between Vikram and Mahalakshmi (Hansika Motwani), who despite that surprising opening scene that shows her actually drinking alcohol (gasp!), is every bit your quintessential Tamil heroine. She falls in love before you can finish saying Bogan, and her reason for finding Vikram likeable is, “Un kannula poi illa.” Maha is gullible and rather dull, but that is very much in keeping with the nature of female leads in our potboilers.

It doesn’t help that a vast portion of the film involves Aditya being in Vikram’s body. Jayam Ravi being ruthless isn’t half as much fun. It also doesn’t help that director Lakshman plays it safe. The material needed somebody braver, somebody ready to dig their head into emotional complexities. Take the scene when Aditya, in the body of Vikram, tries to get Mahalakshmi to sleep with him. The scene cuts to a song that suggests that Vikram and Maha have done the unthinkable, but sure as an unintelligent female lead in a Tamil masala movie, the song ends and Vikram is shown to have dreamt this encounter. This is the sort of cheap deception Mohan Raja admirably avoided in Thani Oruvan. It’s one thing to not risk venturing into emotionally complex zones, but quite another to pretend to be getting in before backing out spectacularly.

Arvind Swamy though appears to be stretching the boundaries of what villains have traditionally done. Aditya doesn’t refrain from showing his finger to the hero, he doesn’t shirk from expressing his maniacal craving for drugs and promiscuity… hell, in one scene, when the female cop handcuffs him and threatens to assault him, he toys with her by making an S and M joke. And for this, and for this alone, Bogan may be worth watching. You could say he’s the only person that makes the film work, the… er, Thani Oruvan.

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