Stars like Vijay can do no wrong on the screen, and those who direct them get them to perform incredibly farfetched roles.
The world over, film actors, actresses and directors are cheered, hailed and even worshipped. If I have seen men, women and children wait for hours to catch just a glimpse of their favourite stars at Cannes, Venice and Berlin – arguably the most important movie festivals in the world – I have seen an equally crazy fan following in India.
But Tamil Nadu takes the cake.
On Deepavali day early this week, “Ilayadalapathy” Vijay’s Thuppakki or Gun in Tamil opened to a frenzied atmosphere in Chennai. The actor with a high sounding title that translates into English as “Young Commander” is extremely popular in Tamil Nadu. He may not be in the same league as Rajnikanth or Kamal, but Vijay is also not as old as them.
For days before the film began its roll across continents, theatre managers in Chennai (as perhaps elsewhere) were swamped with requests for tickets for Thuppakki. I saw how a top ranking executive of Satyam Cinemas in Chennai was surrounded by a dozen people at any given hour, each asking (sometimes begging) for tickets to watch Vijay’s antics on Deepavali day. The executive in Inox, otherwise genial and approachable, stopped taking calls on his mobile.
However, when I walked into an early morning screening of the movie at Satyam’s Escape in Chennai’s swanky Express Avenue Mall, there were hordes of people all right. But then there were also hordes of empty seats despite the house-full sign outside.
Obviously, a lot many had failed to turn up, and a possible reason could have been that many of Vijay’s fan clubs could have distributed tickets to their members, who did not eventually turn up. Possibly, the tickets were given away free of cost.
This is a pity, for I know that a lot many who were keen on watching Thuppakki on Deepavali day were unable to find tickets!
However, those inside the auditorium along with me that morning – it was an eight o clock show – must have foregone much to be there. I could see many among the crowd armed with tubs of popcorn and cans of coke. What a poor substitute these were for Deepavali’s traditional idly-sambar-baji breakfast, washed down with rich, aromatic filter coffee.
Was all this effort and sacrifice worth the time one spent with Vijay? I would not think so.
In recent years, Tamil cinema has been swinging between novel themes and unintelligent execution, between refreshing stories and unbelievable scripts.
Director AR Murugadoss – who gave us the Aamir Khan-starrer Ghajini in Hindi and later a science fiction in 7aam Arivu (Seventh Sense) – plots a terror tale in his latest Thuppakki with actor Vijay. Stars like Vijay can do no wrong on the screen, and those who direct them get them to perform incredibly farfetched roles.
Vijay gave almost three hours of relentless show of gun fights and wrestling bouts, tempered with daredevilry and, well, love on the Swiss Alps with Kajal Aggarwal, a Punjabi who probably cannot speak Tamil to save her life. This is another of Tamil cinema’s “highlights” of roping in north Indian actresses –or better still foreigners (Amy Jackson is a classic example) – to play leads.
Thuppakki begins with Aggarwal’s Nisha demurely waiting for the boy, whom she hopes will marry her, while his parents and sisters are anxiously pacing the platform at Mumbai’s Central Station. The auspicious hour is ticking away, while Vijay’s Captain Jagdish and his Army mates are frolicking through the lyrics of a song on a picturesque locale, where their train’s engine is being repaired. Well the train finally arrives, and the dishevelled boy does meet the girl with a just a few minutes to go before the golden hour disappears.
The movie’s first minutes are misleading. Thuppakki is no Romeo and Juliet stuff.
Thuppakki is about terrorism, the kingpin essayed superbly by Vidyut Jamal, who operates out of Kashmir to wipe out Mumbai. He has tens of sleeper cells and big shots in the Indian administration to carry out his orders, and as he sets off the first explosions in the megalopolis, Jagdish gets cracking – working alone, as most Tamil heroes do.
Heading the Indian Army’s intelligence wing, Jagdish does not take the help of his bosses, preferring to rely on his junior officers and a cop friend of his (Satyan), perfectly willing to be Dr Watson to Mumbai’s Sherlock Holmes. The policeman is so explanatory that it seems outdated and boring in the context of modern cinema.
After reels of a cat-and-mouse game between Jagdish and the villain – when friends and relatives of our hero are thrown into death-defying situations – Thuppakki ends with tame predictability. Not, though before the girl and the boy have had their costume drama staged in picture postcard places.
Sadly, a subject as significant as terror has been made to run as some kind of cheap comedy with an army officer taking law into his own hands and the police sleeping in the shadows. A bomb goes off in a bus, another in a shopping mall and tens of people are killed or hurt while Jagdish goes about trying to nab the terrorist – all by himself.
Obviously, for he has to be a super hero.
Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at [email protected] He is an FMT columnist.