Richie: The whole lesser than the sum of the parts

Say what you will about Richie, but there’s no denying that it is a product of much deliberation, much thought. The most obvious talking point is how it’s a treasure trove of Biblical references. The film begins with the narration of a mythical story of two friends. One betrays the other, and eventually seeks repentance by turning into a messiah figure, and for his troubles, ends up getting crucified. The important detail here is that he gets crucified upside down, which, of course, is the story of St Peter, one of the twelve apostles of Christ. One of the main characters (played by Elango Kumaravel) is called Peter, and in one scene, is even shown to be be hanging upside down as he gets punished for his ‘betrayal’. A figurine of St Peter also features prominently in the film, with the central figure, Richie (Nivin Pauly, who you generally see in slow motion), carrying it along with him. More Biblical imagery comes in the form of Richie’s father, Sagayam (Prakash Raj, who doesn’t have much to do), who introduces a painting of The Last Supper to a bunch of tourists. The don, the only person Richie is said to care for, is named Isaac, after — don’t you still know — the Biblical character, who’s also an old leader thought of as a father figure.

So, the big question is, does Richie play Jesus? The film certainly hints at that. One shot, for instance, shows him with his back turned at you. In the foreground is a cross. Much like Jesus himself, Richie gets betrayed, and pays for the sin of another man. Eventually, he turns out to be quite misunderstood and almost an epitome of forgiveness too. If he be Jesus, then his friend (Raj Bharath) could be said to play Judas, who betrays him not once but twice for fear and avarice, respectively. I couldn’t quite place the other main characters, Selva (Natty, whose screen presence I’m a big admirer of), and Filomena (Lakshmi Priyaa). But even here, it’s not a random name that the director has a fondness for — like SJ Suriya and his love for naming male characters Shiva. It actually means something here. Filomena, the Greek word, means ‘loved one’, which is an accurate character description for her in Richie.

Director: Gautham Ramachandran
Cast: Nivin Pauly, Shraddha Srinath, Natty, Prakash Raj, Lakshmi Priyaa

There are some really nifty touches I liked in Richie. When we first see Richie — after quite some teasing — he’s wearing a holster belt à la a policeman. At first sight, it seems rather strange for a character like him to be wearing that, but eventually, you get a flashback scene (and there are quite a few of them) that establishes his childhood trauma, and the likelihood that this holster belt is a trophy of a revenge kill. In another scene, Selva and Filomena are doing the hero-heroine thing by a seashore — you know, where he walks behind her and she keeps pacing forward, while blushing furiously. Selva’s wearing something aquamarine, and Filomena’s wearing blue. In the wide shot, behind them, you see the sea and the sky, which bear those exact colours. I’m a sucker sometimes for such saccharine touches. On a more serious note, there’s also the running theme of people’s separation from their hometown. Selva is forced to make his living in Manapad, a strange land for him. Filomena, meanwhile, can’t wait to leave Manapad. There’s also Richie’s friend, who’s forced to flee the town as a child, and despite making a brief return, has to flee again.

I wish Richie had been a dense novel instead. There would have been more time to do justice to all the characters, more time to invest emotionally into their arcs. So many questions could have been answered satisfactorily. How did Richie get his revenge against the abusive policeman? Why does Megha care so much about this case? How does Selva deal with his inability to save his friend from being murdered, and what was his friendship with him like? How does Sagayam reconcile with the pain of seeing his little boy sent to juvenile detention? Almost all the characters in Richie are flawed. Richie inflicts violence. Isaac causes it. Peter doesn’t pay debts. Richie’s friend is an opportunist. It’s almost a bunch of predators attempting to prey on each other to satiate their emotional appetites. That’s probably why puliyattam figures so prominently in the film.

There’s quite a bit I didn’t care for. The stylised chapter names, the dash dash-dash conceit, the one-too-many slo-mo shots of Richie that are, I suspect, targetted at his fan base here who showed much Premam in the theatre. Gautham Ramachandran even gives him a lengthy dance bit, with the words ‘Welcome to Tamil cinema’ scribbled on the wall behind him. The songs he dances to? Ennoda raasi nalla raasi from Maapillai. Annathe aaduraar from Aboorva Sagotharargal. And finally, Kaatu kuyilu from Thalapathy. Two Rajini songs and a Kamal song signal enough star intent. Before he can become a true star here though, I imagine there’s a fair bit of work to be done on the accent, which is a tad distracting. Also jarring is the constant shift in the style of music — the melody accompanying the return of Richie’s friend didn’t do much for me for this reason. But even if the whole doesn’t come together as efficiently as Gautham would’ve liked, quite a few of the parts make Richie quite worthwhile. In one scene, Richie throws a weary glance at his friend and says, “En kooda iru nu sonna, odi pogara. Odi po nu sonna, pakkathlaye irukka.” It’s that sort of self-awareness that makes me feel quite a bit of love for Richie.

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.

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