Just what kind of game is being played in Rummy? Taken one way, you could say that these are the same cards we were dealt in the vastly superior Subramaniyapuram, the same shuffle of romance and bromance, set in the hinterland and bathed in blood. The period is the same: the 1980s, referenced through half-saris and stainless steel tiffin dabbas and screw-top fountain pens. The star whose film is invoked is the same: Rajinikanth. The shy courtship rituals are the same.

The small difference is that there are now two couples, two love tracks. Joseph (Vijay Sethupathi) fancies Sorna (Iyshwarya Rajesh), and Sakthi (Inigo Prabhakaran) falls for Meenakshi (Gayathrie Shankar).

The bigger difference is that Subramaniyapuram wasn’t a lazy compendium of 1980s filmmaking clichés; in Rummy, at least till interval point, that’s all we get. Sure, it’s fun to be reminded of those clichés — the bathing scene by the well with the heroine smearing turmeric paste on herself (echoed in the telecast of the song ‘Manjappodi Thekkayile’ on Oliyum Oliyum), or the orphaned man collapsing in tears when a friend’s mother displays a bit of affection, or even the non-stop background music, flooding the film’s every crevice. And there’s a wickedly funny replay of the “deeply significant” wordplay that T. Rajendar was so famous for (Sornam drops a wicker basket and exclaims, “Koodai vizhundhiduchu.” Her sister replies, “Kooda neeyum vizhundhudaathe”). But what else?

We keep waiting for something to happen and throw these aimless scenes into sharp relief. We wonder if the repetitions — people being hit on the head, the shots of the full moon, the shots of men relieving themselves, the fact that Joseph is given money twice — are going to add up to something. We await a twist in the tale. But there’s nothing.

The director, Balakrishnan K., is happy to tell a story whose end we see coming from miles ahead. And in the absence of anything new in the content, he tries something gimmicky with form. He develops situations to a boiling point, then stops cold, cutting away to something else — and then, when we don’t expect it, he picks up the older thread and shows us what really happened. The device quickly turns tiresome.

Why do we need the scene with the running bull? Why develop the scenario where Sakthi and Joseph are cast out from the college hostel and turned into day scholars? Why do characters — a villain-like fellow student, the comic relief played by Soori — come and go as they please? Why the sudden (and laughably overblown) “hero moment” towards the end where a simple fight is invested with mythical heft, with the wind blowing and with leaves swirling? Why don’t we get the sense, earlier on, of Meenakshi and Sorna being related? How does Meenakshi send word to Sakthi when her every move is being watched?

Why, for that matter, is this film called Rummy? There are no answers. It’s a testament to the power of melodrama that the story turns mildly interesting in its final section, but the ending isn’t earned. It appears tacked on simply so that we leave the theatre on an emotional high — and that’s the worst kind of cheating.

Genre: Drama

Director: Balakrishnan K

Cast: Vijay Sethupathi, Inigo Prabhakaran, Gayathrie Shankar

Storyline: Blood-spattered love in the hinterland…

Bottomline: Too familiar to really work