So you are a software engineer. You have, it appears, everything. A pretty wife. A six-year-old son. A well-appointed house. An air-conditioned office. Friends who are like you — people of the same age, from the same stratum of society, making the same kind of money. But when your son goes missing, you find you have to step out of this cocoon.

You step into a police station and a lowlife winks at your wife. You are taken to someone who can possibly offer a clue, and that someone lives in a slum, a lame beggar whose bowl of curd rice is swarming with flies. You then meet a pimp whose first client was his mother. Worse, you follow a trail to a slaughterhouse, stained red with blood from cow carcasses, with animals being butchered in front of your eyes. Something snaps. You find you’re no longer that software engineer. You’re now an animal. You have it in you to kill another man. You’re now one of them.

This is the premise of VZ Dhorai’s 6 Melugu Vathigal, which plays like the Liam Neeson thriller Taken crossed with one of Kamal Haasan’s pan-Indian sagas. A father’s search (or now that he’s an animal, maybe the word is hunt) for a missing child takes him across the country, north and south, east and west, and results in encounters with various languages and cultures and subcultures — it should make for riveting drama, a welcome change from the endless comedies we are subjected to. But a number of factors conspire to derail the narrative, beginning with the cast.

As the father (named Ram), Shaam undergoes dramatic changes in his appearance, but he just cannot sustain the numerous actor-showcase moments, the drawn-out emotional scenes that the director keeps thrusting upon him. As his distraught wife, Poonam Kaur fares no better.

But even better actors would have had trouble making us buy this story stuffed with unconvincing contrivances. When Ram decides to go looking for his son, he doesn’t seem to consult his wife or bother to keep in touch with her. This development would have made sense if we’re shown that something’s hardened in him, that the only thing he cares about is his mission — but outside, we see he’s as soft as ever, shedding tears over every child he encounters (though it’s a good idea to have him run into various children along his journey).

We see him cold enough to extract information from a thug by pointing a gun at the man’s grandson, a boy about the same age as Ram’s son, but afterwards, he begs the boy for forgiveness and kisses him before leaving. Yes, people can be contradictory, but if we are to buy Ram doing what he does — follow slender leads, go from one city to another with little money in hand, track down dangerous criminals and overpower them — then he needed to be like the Neeson character, a tough customer. The film keeps changing its mind on what kind of man Ram has become, and we never get a grip on his means and motivations and, most importantly, his emotions.

The only well-written character is the driver named Rangan (Munnar Ramesh), whose arc has a convincing beginning, middle and end. Why does this man offer to help Ram? We think back, first, to Ram’s generosity. Asked to give Rangan Rs. 200 for services rendered, a grateful Ram gives him Rs. 500. That’s a start, and through the journey, we see Rangan helping Ram in various ways. And at the end, we realise why, exactly, he offered to help.

But while all this looks great on paper, something goes amiss in the translation to screen — the big reveal is weakened with an overdose of sentimentality and dialogue (a general problem with the film). The bad lip-sync makes the verboseness harder to bear — there’s the slightly disorienting sense of watching a dubbed drama. But the glut of tongues does result in some unintentional good. The Tamil censors, who are so conscientious about muting swear words, seem to be unfamiliar with colourful endearments from the North and the East, especially one that refers to doing unsisterly things with a sister. And for a change, an adult movie has been allowed to sound adult.

Genre: Drama

Director: V. Z. Dhorai

Cast: Shaam, Poonam Kaur, Anil Murali

Storyline: A father goes in search of his missing son.

Bottomline: A good premise derailed by a number of factors.