It’s really Vijay Sethupathi’s fault if you think about it. He’s spoiled us all by doing films like Iraivi and Aandavan Kattalai after attaining superstardom. Junga, after his last film, Oru Nalla Naal Paathu Solren, is further reminder that he’s quite fallible. This film that he is also the producer of, is at least a lot funnier — but it’s also scarier because it shows Vijay Sethupathi pandering to the sort of lazy song placements and mundane stunt choreography that are such a striking and frustrating part of routine ‘mass entertainers’. Two duets in Junga, in particular, are baffling. The first one, Amma Mela Sathiyam, you could forgive as an attempt to set the mood of the film — or better, as an allowance for latecomers like the one who sat next to me and said, “Paatu dhaane. Idhuvaraikkum enna nadandhuchu nu sollungalen?” It’s a song that has so much Telugu that a popular comment under its YouTube video is a person asking when the song’s Tamil version will be released. The lyrics aren’t without reason though. Apparently, Madonna Sebastian’s character, who features in the song, is a Telugu girl from Nellore. It’s only when her character gets dispensed off soon after that you wake up to Junga being the sort of alarming film to give its cameo character a song.
Cast: Vijay Sethupathi, Sayyeshaa, Yogi Babu
It’s the second duet that’s the real killer thogh. It’s placed in the final act, and by then, Junga (Vijay Sethupathi, obviously) is in love with a different girl, Yazhini (Sayyeshaa) – which curiously enough is the name of the lead female character in his earlier film, Kadhalum Kadandhu Pogum. Both are somewhere on an icy landscape in France, and the camera glides over them like a bird; you instantly realise with trepidation that a duet is about to be detonated. Sure enough, you get Koottippo Koodave, a song in which the hero stands and walks around, as Yazhini performs a mating ritual dance near him. I suppose it’s my fault that I thought this hero was above such filmmaking.
But Junga isn’t always this uninspired. There’s a point in the first half when there’s genuine assurance from director Gokul that he’s in control of this comedy, which uses material from Tamil cinema itself. There’s a spoof of the famous Mouna Raagam bike-in-front-of-bus scene. There’s a dig at the success meet-culture in our industry. The story from Junga’s mum (Saranya) about how he got his name is hilarious too. Another joke I enjoyed is about the Qualis-Sumo gangster culture from our masala cinema. Even when Junga becomes a don, it happens over a single song — much like the many times we have seen it happen in our films. At that time, it feels like a self-aware dig. Slowly though, you see that Gokul ends up prey to those very same stale and tired ideas. In a scene rather reminiscent of Annamalai — the film has quite a few references to Baasha too — Junga stops short of slapping his thigh as he delivers a passionate monologue at the villain’s mansion. Much like in Annamalai, here too, the hero’s big aim is to reclaim property that he believes has been unfairly wrenched away from his family.
The good bits are all in the first half, and mostly concern the jokes around his stinginess. Junga’s definitive trait is his miserliness. He’s the sort to walk into a gathering of dons and frown about the number of ceiling fans running. He’s the sort to get his phone charged at a crime scene. These bits are when Gokul’s at his best. A particular highpoint is when Junga lets out a throaty wail upon realising he’s got to spend a bomb to get to France, and Gokul intersperses this with an Opera performance in Paris. You totally get what Vijay Sethupathi must have been attracted to when he accepted this project.
The fall of the film begins halfway, and coincides with the entrance of Yazhini. Before you know it, you’re getting strange villains, inexplicable car chases, needless duets… Dimly around the two-hour-mark (and there’s still a further 30 minutes to go), you realise that this story of a stingy don in Chennai has transformed into a ‘thriller’ about a don being caught in the crossfire between the French police and the Italian mafia. What?! An Italian curly-haired villain — and that’s as much detailing you get about him — comes into the picture from nowhere. Suddenly, Junga’s fighting off thugs with an umbrella, and by this time, it’s hard not to submit yourself to the whims of the film. My interest was piqued only for the small moment when Junga himself seemed to have figured out one of the problems of this film. He says: “Don daavadikka koodadhu.” And the crowd delivered thunderous applause.
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.