Tik Tik Tik: A space film that’s not Indianised right

When filmmakers step into what they believe to be hitherto unchartered territory, they are often fiercely protective of their work. Some, like Kiruthiga Udhayanidhi, aren’t averse to taking criticism of their work head-on. With Tik Tik Tik though, I was constantly defending the film… against myself. It’s hard not to feel a slender sense of pride about a space film made in our industry. And so, for as long as possible, I kept making allowances. I forgave clunky exposition in the name of dialogues. I turned a blind eye to an official discussion about an incoming meteor, which seemed more like a team huddle aimed at identifying the venue of the next office party. I tried not to make a big deal out of paintball being used as a shooting exercise for a space mission sanctioned by the Prime Minister. But eventually, around the time beep-country’s (every mention of the country is beeped out, and so, we are not to know that they are talking about China) astronauts entered the fray, around the time a moon landing occurs, around the time a mass fight scene is staged,  I threw in the towel with a heavy heart full of regret about what could have been.

Before delving into all the issues of Tik Tik Tik – and there are quite a few – let me just register here that it’s an achievement that you never truly feel the urge to laugh out loud at the space shots. The asteroid threat rings real. Jayam Ravi untethered, and momentarily disappearing into the abyss of space, seems plausible. And you never forget how cool it is to have Nivetha Pethuraj discussing the docking of a ship – not Sandra Bullock; how cool it is to have Jayam Ravi crying about his child in the space ship – not Matthew McConaughey. I do think our cinema is on to something with what’s been done in Tik Tik Tik.

In this first step though, it isn’t the Indianising that’s the problem. In fact, Shakti Soundar Rajan even makes a preemptive joke early in the film when a character says, “Space na Hollywood. Local laam work aavaadhu.” But localisation can work, and in some situations in the film, it does. Like when one of the space crew, Venkat (Ramesh Thilak), decides to pray, and wryly comments, “Mela paakanuma, keezha paakanuma nu kooda theriyala.”  The issue here is more about how it’s been Indianised. For one, this marriage between a space film and a masala film feels quite ungainly. The film comes with a natural villain – an asteroid that’s hurtling towards Tamil Nadu – and yet, Shakti can’t resist the temptation of adding two human villains, the corrupt powerful one and the evil foreigner from beep-country. At one point, one of our good guys insults the beep-country man by calling him a ‘sappa mookan’.

The best parts of a space film are those delicate, deep moments in space. With the competent visuals Shakti Soundar Rajan has conjured up, he should have done a lot more with the individual moments. There are shots of tear drops floating away, of a crescent-shaped earth, or – gasp – even the moon’s surface. But it all feels cursory, like Shakti is in tearing hurry to get to the thriller aspects of the film. Much like a masala film, Tik Tik Tik is constantly, urgently, shuffling between the three villains of the film.

There are some missteps in the space ideas too. Dhruva 1, our spaceship, is leaking fuel into outer space, and is teetering. Suddenly, from absolutely nowhere, the ship finds land. And apparently, it is the moon. We are given no indication that the ship was in proximity, or that the crew thought it’d be a good idea to save the ship by crash-landing there. There’s even an amusing bit on the moon about Vasu (Jayam Ravi, who, as always, brings great integrity to his role), and how he accidentally becomes the first Indian to land there. These ideas don’t do much at all. The asteroid, meanwhile, is shown to be flaming, even when in outer space. You’d think it would need oxygen to be flaming? These problems peg away at the immersion.

I quite admired how Shakthi resists the idea of a love angle between Vasu and Swathi (Nivetha Pethuraj), and it’s not for want of single status. However, I’d have quite liked to know more about Swathi – or for that matter, the other members of the space crew. Isn’t that a natural consequence of holing up a bunch of people in a space shuttle? There’s a cursory dialogue about how issues seem small when viewed from space, but then again, Shakthi hurries out of the scene. There are few tender moments of dialogue, and that’s quite unforgivable in a film like this.

There’s just one song, the one to establish the bond between Vasu and his son (Aarav, Jayam Ravi’s son). And Imman, as always, delivers with a melody that lingers well after it’s done playing. I found the background score to be often overbearing though, and was particularly amused by the heroic music as the crew, decked in space gear, walk in slowmo towards the camera.

The comedy of Appu (Arjunan) and Venkat in space – especially the bits that have them coming to terms with zero gravity – would have worked better, had the lives of 4 crore people not been at stake. It’s an issue I had with Tik Tik Tik. The characters express little fright at the prospect of an impending collision. However, the film has done the job of showing that the space genre isn’t so daunting to dream of for filmmakers, given our economics. It will be remembered that Shakti Soundar Rajan executed this dream first, even if a very adulterated version of it.

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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