Arrambam is a feet-hands-face movie — the kind of hero-centric film made for fans (and you know you’re one if you scream angrily at the screen when a character mocks or insults your idol) who like being teased with their hero’s slow reveal: feet first, then hands, and, finally, to ear-splitting screams and whistles, the face. A lot of filmmakers, when recruited for a feet-hands-face movie, take the easy way out, resorting to fan-appeasing clichés — six songs, five fights, punch lines, the works. Some, like Shankar with his Rajinikanth films, strive for a sensibility midway between that of the rabid fans (who always come first) and those who aren’t especially fans and have showed up just to be entertained.
In Arrambam, Vishnuvardhan manages a reasonable balance. Fans are likely to be delighted with a narrative that pumps up their hero’s strengths (coolness; good comebacks, including a terrific punch line about fingerprints) and downplays his failings (dramatics). And others are likely to come away without feeling too insulted.
For a while, the goings are fairly generic — and in the case of a comedic subplot involving Arjun (Arya) and Anita (Taapsee), downright excruciating. While it’s a relief to be spared of a wisecracking comedian who’s constantly making quips over the hero’s shoulder, Arjun and Anita, after the fiftieth instance of calling each other “baby,” make you wish that one of the numerous firearms in the film had been pointed in their direction.
But once Ashok (Ajith) enlists the services of Arjun, who’s a genius-level hacker, to commit a series of crimes, the film takes off. Ashok’s motives keep us guessing. It’s great to see a big star not worry about his “image” and agree to do scenes like the one where he threatens someone by holding a steam iron over the latter’s infant — and we wonder if he could really be that much of a badass.
Even the heroine (Maya, played by Nayantara) does things you don’t really expect in a feet-hands-face movie. At one point, she shows up in a wet, white shirt thrown over a hot-pink bikini top and micro-mini shorts — none of which would be remarkable if it were a dream scene, a song with the hero, for his eyes only, but here, she attempts to seduce someone else. It’s refreshing to see a non-virginal heroine, even if the part isn’t as well-etched as you’d like it to be.
There’s a sense of Hollywoodian scale in the action sequences (the explosions look cheap and fake, though), and a shootout in a cramped flat is especially well choreographed. And even within the confines of a film where the hero can never be conquered, Arrambam manages, at times, to make Ashok look vulnerable. Arjun manages to outwit Ashok’s hoods, and the cops, too, prove that they aren’t always one step behind.
But once the story brings up a Shankar-style flashback, some of the momentum is lost. The quality that made the first half so different — the coolness, the complete lack of family and tear-jerking emotion — gives way to sentiment, and we’ve seen these scenarios too many times to be really affected. I wished the villains had been better, more worthy of their gory deaths. I wished some of the geographical leaps had been better explained. I wished they’d shown how a character survives what looks like a fatal fall.
But I suppose if these concerns had been addressed it would have eaten into the screen time reserved for hero worship. And if you’re a fan, you’d rather see the hero slip on sunglasses and stride in slo-mo, you’d rather see him whiz through the streets of Dubai on a gleaming Ducati, you’d rather see him — while being tortured by the police, hung upside down and dunked into a vat of water — shake his thala stylishly and send droplets spinning across space. Even when feet and hands are tied, the face cannot be overcome.