With each film, Udhayanidhi Stalin is making himself more and more qualified to provide advice to actors on how to pick scripts to suit their strengths. Fascinatingly enough, on first glance, it’s hard to say what the strengths of Udhayanidhi himself truly are. Relatable looks, sure. And he does seem to be getting more and more comfortable being in front of the camera. But perhaps most importantly, he doesn’t ever seem too scared of being made fun of; he doesn’t ever seem insistent on projecting a heroic image on screen — likely on account of an awareness of his own limitations. This awareness, I’d argue, is his greatest strength. And this is what helps him not look out of place in Nimir, the Tamil remake of the Malayalam film, Maheshinte Prathikaram that starred the immensely talented Fahadh Faasil.
Cast: Udhayanidhi Stalin, Parvatii Nair, Namitha Pramod
All Udhayanidhi is trying to do is keep things simple, as he plays Selvam. And this suits the universe of Nimir, which is defined by its simplicity. It’s a town with simple people and their simple aspirations. Selvam’s happy to run his studio, his father’s (Mahendran) happy with his camera, his friend’s (MS Bhaskar) happy running his small shop that sells framed pictures of deities… everybody’s seemingly happy with their lives. There’s no great struggle between good and evil here. It’s just a bunch of everyday people going along with their lives, and trying to make the most of it. Not even that most dramatic of tragedies to occur to a Tamil film hero — love failure — results in anything extreme. It gets resolved over a couple of sedate conversations. It’s like they are all Canadian.
Nimir’s the casual story about the lives of such simple people, but the problem though is, it doesn’t feel as native, as real as it should. For one, it doesn’t help that much of the opening portions feature Selvam’s girlfriend, Valli (Parvati Nair, who’s extraordinarily caked in makeup). It’s almost hilarious how different Valli looks from the child who features in her flashback portions. It’s like sometime around teenage, she went through the Rajinikanth fairness routine in Sivaji. In contrast, I found Namitha Pramod so much more likeable as Malar. She reminded me a lot of actor Seetha, after whom I can’t think of too many actors who have done justice to playing the chirpy-but-feisty Tamil girl.
Also intriguing is Selvam’s father, who Mahendran plays quietly and mysteriously. He’s a reticent photographer, a man who is more interested in art than in family, it seems. He’s an artist of the traditional mould, and is outdoorsy. Even when working out of his photo studio, he’s often found longingly looking outside the window. Selvam, meanwhile, is content being inside, and thinks of his workplace as a ‘kadai’. “Kadai illa, studio,” his father corrects him. Nimir’s the story of a simple man in a simple place finding happiness, and in the meantime, quietly making a man out of himself. It’s a story of how great depth can be found in simplicity.
But for Nimir to be a truly great remake, the setting needed to feel more real, its characters more alive. Here, you never truly feel the spirit of what it is like to be part of such a languorous village. Perhaps it’s because Malar’s brother (Samuthirakani) simply comes across as a violent caricature. Perhaps it’s because director Priyadarshan tries to keep milking the story for humour, even if it feels inorganic — MS Bhaskar’s character, for instance, doing one flatulent humour bit. Perhaps it’s because one of the heroines looks like she’s walked into the town fresh from contesting in a beauty pageant. Perhaps it’s because of how the climax fight feels more like a cinematic device than an organic consequence of previous events. Or perhaps it’s because of how suddenly, rather cinematically, Selvam seems to turn into a terrific photographer. Or perhaps it’s all of the above. But Udhayanidhi Stalin won’t be too perturbed. Nimir’s clearly another addition to a growing list of respectable films in his career.
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.