A timid young man turns angry young man when a villain harms his family - Pandiya Naadu film review

Suseenthiran, in his short career, has proved that he does better work on a small scale, with smaller stars (or sometimes without any stars, as in the terrific Aadhalal Kadhal Seiveer, earlier this year), so I must say I approached Pandiya Naadu with some scepticism. And the pre-interval stretch didn’t exactly allay my doubts.

This portion plays out in two fairly conventional tracks. In the first, we see the rise of the gangster Ravi (the very well-cast Sharath Lohithaswa, who’s a looming physical presence). In the second, we witness events built around the timid Shiva (Vishal), the second son in a happy joint family. And soon after, Malar (Lakshmi Menon) enters the story — she’s the heroine, and of course, she has to make her appearance while shepherding a group of children (she’s a schoolteacher) — and the clichés begin to pile up. There’s the love-at-first-sight song. There are the scenes where Shiva goes up to Malar and tries to make an impression. The film begins to feel contrived, cinematic.

Not for long, luckily. After a story twist that harks back to Suseenthiran’s Naan Mahaan Alla, Shiva is filled with bloodlust. He wants to kill Ravi — and Pandiya Naadu really takes off. (I wish our filmmakers would sometimes sit down and question the need for two-and-a-half hour narratives, when losing thirty minutes can make a pretty-decent movie a truly great one.)

Earlier, we saw that Shiva was a very ordinary kind of leading man, and this ordinariness becomes the film’s USP. During his quest, he does nothing extraordinary — just basic things, ordinary things, like following his quarry (on that scooter), tapping a phone, and fighting back with a brick or a bottle or whatever else is at hand. These action sequences aren’t super-choreographed wire-fu items, but just a collection of... ordinary moves. The suspense, too, stems from Shiva’s ordinariness. How, we wonder, will a man so untrained, so raw manage to outwit these savage gangsters, especially Ravi, who’s such a menace? Even at the end, there is no triumphalism — just a small, ordinary smile that things (thankfully) have worked out.

Barring one terrible intrusion — an uncharacteristically lusty overture by Malar, resulting in a mood-killing song situation — the latter portions work beautifully, and they’re imbued with a surprising (at least for this kind of film) dash of existentialism, the acknowledgment that we can make all the plans we want, but life’s always going to throw googlies at us.

You could be in the middle of a nerve-racking mission and the family may insist on putting you through an engagement ceremony. You think you’re the only one after the villain who’s put your loved ones through hell, and you find that someone else has similar ideas, which makes your work that much more difficult. You could fall for a girl that a gangster falls for, and the resulting events can cause their own kind of chaos. You can track the villain’s whereabouts and make plans that this is where you’re going to kill him, but you may find that that is not how things will play out — you’re going to have to improvise, on the spot.

Suseenthiran stages the genre staples well enough — the fight in a bus station; the suspense around an assassination attempt in a theatre — but what he does around these generic scenarios is this movie’s secret strength. That’s what shows that he’s no... ordinary filmmaker.

Pandiya Naadu

Genre: Action

Director: Suseenthiran

Cast: Vishal, Lakshmi Menon, Bharathiraja

Storyline: A timid young man turns angry young man when a villain harms his family.

Bottomline: A templated action movie imbued with uncommon finesse.