Imaikaa Nodigal: A strong cast packs a punch in this largely enjoyable thriller

Imaikaa Nodigal is an exercise in duality — even in something like the portrayal of gender roles, for instance. For a vast majority of the film, director Ajay Gnanamuthu shows admirable enthusiasm in countering the norm. When Arjun (Atharvaa) falls in love, it’s the girl, Krithika (Raashi Khanna), who makes the first move. She even asks, “Yen? Pasanga mattum dhaan sight adikkalaamanaanga sight adikka koodadha?” There’s another relationship that’s even more powerful. It’s one in which the woman is the breadwinner of the family, and the one who pays the bills when the couple goes on dates. She’s even the one to enforce marriage, and is the assertive one in the relationship. Eventually, the man lands a job, and even then, it’s not because he wants to take charge, but because he would like to buy something for his family from his own pocket. “Adhukkapprom aambalaya geththa serial pakkaren,” he says. Vijay Sethupathi sells this scene so beautifully in a cameo that props up the entire film. A minor misstep in delivery could easily have turned this sentence into a dig on women, but he somehow normalises it, by not lacing it with too much self-deprecation. Imaikaa Nodigal is all the wiser and  more sensitive for these touches.

But then again, it’s the same film that has the man instantly falling in love. And you could argue that’s quite all right, and indeed, it’s not a crime to fall in love at first sight — even if rather unwise. But he also flavours his proclamation of love with, “Paatha udane fix aiten, as though he were talking about a curved television. Even there, it would be rather unwise I think. It’s also a film which has a TASMAC song that does not belong at all (does it anywhere?) — a song that’s armed with words like ‘figure’ and ‘correct’, as the hero wallows in self-pity and sings about the folly of falling in love. Well, take a bit longer than two minutes next time maybe? It’s hard to believe that the brain behind the sensitive portions, also came up with the idea of such a song. This duality is an issue, but there’s duality of a more admirable sort pervading this film’s universe.

Director: Ajay Gnanamuthu

Cast: Nayanthara, Anurag Kashyap, Atharvaa, Raashi Khanna

Characters aren’t what they seem to be, especially Anjali (Nayanthara) and Rudra (Anurag Kashyap), whose identities are rather fluid. Fascinatingly, the characters themselves have incorrect evaluations of each other, with some carrying the burden of mistakes done by others. This was, of course, hinted at in the poster of the film which had the characters holding masks of the other. The much-used visual of Rudra constantly hiding his face from CCTV cameras also ties in with this idea, and goes beyond simply being the obvious action of a criminal. When Arjun falls in love with Krithika, what’s she wearing? A disguise, of course. The story itself wears a mask in a sense, as you slowly realise who’s the hero and the villain.

The role of the almost impassive CBI officer, Anjali, is right up Nayanthara’s alley, and starkly different from the role she played in her last release, Kolamaavu Kokila. Kokila was a dark character too, sure, but wore a pretence of innocence. Here, there’s pretence of a different sort, and thankfully, a more enjoyable sort. She’s utterly convincing in selling the strength of her character. Anjali’s not the type to shed tears, as her husband reveals. Even in a scene when she’s suffering through pregnancy-caused abdominal pain, she notices that her husband’s in tears, and begins to console him. It’s a fleeting scene in a montage but beautifully establishes their respective strengths. One is almost stoic, the other is sensitive to a fault. Later, during a moment of profound sadness and unimaginable pain, she still has the streetsmarts to notice a CCTV camera on the road. A CBI officer at work is one at home too.

Imaikaa Nodigal is a film that pays attention to such details in a story that’s shuffled about a bit for intrigue value. There are a number of flashbacks: one of Arjun’s love story, one of Anjali’s, and there’s another love story — but of a different kind. It’s between a man and his all-consuming addiction for excellence. It’s a love for self, which explains the character’s constant smugness and self-aggrandising gestures. There’s at least one shot that has him looking at the mirror, almost in admiration of self, as he outwits his adversary. Love’s the driver of this film and each of the three main characters is fuelled by it. Towards the end, the narrator suggests that at the heart of every change, at the heart of every good and bad, there’s some love. The weakest in this film, of course, is Arjun’s, which lasts far longer than it should have.

Ajay Gnanamuthu presents the film as a thriller, as a race against time. There’s an urgency about Hiphop Tamizha’s all-pervasive music, and the body count keeps increasing. The director also doesn’t shirk from showing violence and gore, even if quite a bit gets blurred out. Jugular veins get cut and people injected with anti-coagulants are made to bleed out. In almost Virumaandi style, someone’s jugular notch gets fatally dented. In Ghajini style, an innocent person’s skull is clubbed with a wheel wrench — even if the scene itself ends rather abruptly. But in this thriller, it’s the emotional core and its echoes I liked better. A recording Anjali’s child listens to becomes more poignant. The reason for the spat between Anjali and her brother assumes great relevance once you learn more about the former. Even the reason for Anjali’s child being foul-mouthed and loud gets justified — despite my distaste for children being forced to speak adult language.

The performances go a great way in making this film as enjoyable. Nayanthara’s steel, Anurag Kashyap’s impish glee, Atharvaa’s involvement in the love portions… they are all equally crucial. And of course, when Vijay Sethupathi steps in — even if late in the film — to such devastating effect, you almost forget that Imaikaa Nodigal is longer than it needs to be. I also had the niggling problem about police frameups getting romanticised. In both times you’re shown cops framing someone, it’s established that this is to counter horrible people who deserve what’s coming their way. Many a tragedy has occurred on account of the notion that the end justifies the means, and Imaikaa Nodigal not taking cognisance of this is a blip in an otherwise largely enjoyable film.

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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