There’s a beautiful idea at the heart of Thupparivalan. What if something as innocent and beautiful as a child’s love for a dog results in the nabbing—no, scratch that—the gory decimation of a sizeable criminal gang? His last film, Pisaasu too had such a beautiful what-if premise at its heart. What if the ghost of a woman fell in love with the man who killed her in the first place? But there, that’s all the story was. Thupparivalan, however, isn’t so contained, and that’s a big problem, for once it bloats into a case about an evil money-obsessed gang of hitmen, it gets reduced to a series of kills—even if devised enterprisingly—you increasingly stop becoming invested in.
Mysskin begins the film with a dedication to Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes, and with reason, considering how his protagonist, Kaniyan Poongundran (a refurbished Vishal), is modelled after the Baker Street detective. He’s a recluse, has more books than he can count, and gets restless when devoid of a mental challenge. He also uses a fair bit of English, even if it doesn’t flow naturally (perhaps because he’s self-taught by books?). “Then what it is?” he says, for example, when he means to say, “Then what is it?” A policeman constantly speaks English with the same unease. A boy says, “pomerian”, when he means, “pomeranian”. It’s a running thing.
Cast: Vishal, Prasanna, Bhagyaraj, Vinay, Anu Emmanuel
There’s Watson, of course—called Mano (Prasanna) here—who he is very thick with. Unlike Watson though, Mano isn’t ever of any ostensible use. Even in the one scene he saves Kaniyan, he’s fumbling and merely following instructions, as if from a manual. I really think Mysskin missed a plot by not establishing Mano as at least an emotional crutch of Kaniyan. Very much like Sherlock, Kaniyan is awkward with social interaction. For example, when he’s trying to threaten his maid/love interest, Malliga (Anu Emmanuel), he uses a line from Baasha—perhaps because he finds it easier to regurgitate a line from a film than think of something original?
But that’s the kindest he is to her. He’s otherwise seemingly misogynistic, which is perhaps a deliberate ploy to accentuate the homo-erotic undertones between Kaniyan and Mano. He’s constantly yelling: “Endhirichu podi!” This rudeness (a mask for awkwardness?) makes for an interesting scene when, failing to express his affection in words, he awkwardly kisses the back of her palm instead. For a man who’s as stone-faced, it’s rather preposterous when he later breaks into a Nayagan-like lament. Kaniyan would have been the sort to stare without blinking, perhaps well up a bit, and maybe… lose his footing. But to launch himself into a full-fledged lament…
Also, much like Mano, Malliga too, I felt, could have done with more chutzpah and self-respect. Kaniyan, after all, likes Malliga originally for her smarts. But from being a potential Irene Adler, she gets reduced to your average damsel in distress who puts up with disrespect because Kanian is a “nallavan”. I wish there were at least one scene with her fighting back. Kaniyan seems the sort to admire fight in a person; not meekness in a woman who blushes furiously after getting pushed into his home by a man after he forces a broom into her hand. Wonder what the director of the other release of the week, Magalir Mattum, makes of that scene.
Among the most satisfying aspects of the Holmesian universe is learning how the detective draws inferences. But after a hint of how Kaniyan does that in the beginning, we are simply expected to trust his seemingly sudden conclusions. Mysskin simply expects us to be Watsons in a theatre, awestruck by this man’s inexplicable powers of deduction. You could forgive the film for that conceit maybe, but the variety of villains—the father figure with smarts, the femme fatale, the ruthless assassin—failing to evoke any real intrigue is the real problem. You never understand the dynamics of their relationship. This is a group (family?) that casually has dinner while a corpse rots in their refrigerator, but you never get a sense of the people they are and their motivation for evil. It’s then tough to feel any real gratification when they get taken out.
There’s all the gratification to be had from the film’s music, however. The violins take charge of this film. One minute, they are playful, almost like in a Tom and Jerry episode, and in another, the bass violin kicks in, and suddenly, it’s all ominous. Also gratifying for the most part are the stunt sequences, even if the occasional misstep sticks out like a sore thumb and threatens to ruin the whole sequence. This occasional misstep being so serious as to derail the whole enjoyment is a recurring issue in Thupparivalan. In an otherwise enterprisingly choreographed fight scene, Kaniyan’s enemies suddenly form a weird-and-funny team huddle, only for one of them to say, “Avana kollanum.” Really? As opposed to what exactly? Another chase sequence ends with two culprits getting cornered. While one, perhaps on account of Mysskin’s fascination for samurai films, dies by committing harakiri (the Samurai practice of tearing one’s own gut to die honorably), the other coolly escapes without a single person in pursuit. It’s just too easy.
Eventually, it takes the return of the small case of the boy and his dog to remind you of the contained, gripping, emotionally satisfying thriller Thupparivalan could have been. The universe, with Vishal playing Holmes and Prasanna playing Watson, is really all right. It’s the case that ruins it this time. Perhaps, hopefully, they will make a sequel, and maybe, perhaps, it will have fewer villains whose motivation isn’t just crores and gold biscuits. Kaniyan, after all, is the sort to reject a case even he’s offered Rs. 50 lakhs, in favour of an interesting case, even if he’s only getting Rs. 837. His film could learn a thing or two from him.
This review was written for Cinema Express, the cinema division of The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to its page if you’d like to share it.