Thondan: A big basket of moral lectures

If you’re a parent, Thondan’s what you want your kids to see. Every story line is an opportunity for a moral lecture, and every dialogue an excuse to dole out ethical advice. Paavathin sambalam maranam. Mannipadhe dhandanai. Vanmurai edharkum badhil alla. There are references to Gandhi, Thiruvalluvar, Abdul Kalam. Tagging along are the half-a-dozen Thirukkural couplets that a corrupt minister uses at various times in the film. If your kids find your patronising advice hateful, make them watch Thondan. That will show them. The protagonist of the film, played by Samuthirakani, conveys disgust at stalking; he preaches against violence; he promotes doing good; he argues against women treating men as puppets… If this film works for you, make no mistake, you’re walking out a saint.

Genre: Preach-thriller
Director: Samuthirakani
Cast: Samuthirakani, Sunaina
Storyline: An ambulance gets into trouble with politicians, so he can impart moral lessons

But mind you, it’s not all bad. Despite being the pamphlet film that it is, Samuthirakani brings to the ‘genre’ a certain infectious sincerity in writing and performance… at least insofar as the serious bits are concerned. He plays an ambulance driver called Vishnu who has saved 1,362 lives. And Vishnu, as you know, is the protector—saviour if you will—in Hindu mythology. One of his friends is named Vaikuntam. All daughters born in his ambulance generally get named Vishnupriya. The film is layered like that.

In one scene, Vishnu, a chronic do-gooder, motivates his friend to be like him. I liked the line he uses: “Nalladhu panni paaru. Adhu oru bodhai.” There are similar decent punchlines in the film that are quite effective. In another scene, while lamenting the behaviour of stalkers, he provides a spin on the expression, ‘Oru thalai kaadhal’, and calls it, “Oru thalai kaamam”. And for once, a hero who claims to be against violence from the beginning isn’t just saving all his rage for one explosive fight scene (Baashha anybody?). Till the end, he remains as sedate, and even when he threatens to lose it, he gathers himself quickly.

But these effective portions aren’t as many as you’d like. Towards the end, in fact, he gets quite carried away when on an unrelated monologue over the importance of jallikattu, and goes on to recite all the names of the native cattle breeds for an interminably long period of time. The politicians he’s talking to patiently wait for him to finish the gimmick, as he pauses every once in a while and resumes his recital. But I suppose at least this is more amusing than the film’s plot which is replete with coincidences.

Worst of all is the comedy-romance track which seems to be inspired by a Vadivelu track in yesteryear film, Maayi. It’s supposed to be funny that the heroine in disguise scampers across the neighbourhood at great speed, but it only motivates you to do the same from the theatre. It takes a Soori to eventually lend some comic respectability to the proceedings, and makes you wonder if Samuthirakani would end up making more entertaining films, if only he didn’t take the mantle of moral teaching upon himself. But in its present form, Thondan is what you feared would happen once Appa did as well as it did.

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

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