Soft spoken and zombie like, Tamil actor Vijay’s transformation on-screen is electric. Yet, Thalaiva goes down the drain

Vijay has come a long way. Starting off as a child artiste, mostly in films directed by his father, he made his debut as hero about two decades ago. As a gawky youngster, he played cheesy roles in his early films, replete with sexual innuendo. The first signs that there was a competent actor hidden somewhere was in Fazil’s “Kadhalukku Mariyadhai”. There was an air of self assurance in “Kushi” as he underplayed and was a perfect foil to a slightly over-the-top Jyothika. His fan base kept multiplying as people started appreciating his laidback performances. The climb to the top was steady. He was anointed with the title “Ilaya Dhalapathi” and films such as “Gilli” and “Pokkiri” catapulted him right to the top. Never known to be prudent in his choice of films or directors, his career has been peppered with box-office turkeys. He’s an ardent admirer of Kamal the actor, but career-wise chose the safer, Rajni path. Well aware of his limitations as an actor he’s clear that he prefers the deafening applause of his fans rather than winning vague awards. Soft spoken and zombie like when asked to appear on-stage, the transformation on-screen is electric, seeming to suggest that he has to be paid to perform.

I always believe that it’s tougher to make a film with a superstar mostly because of the insatiable expectations of fans. They’re easily disappointed and will watch repeatedly only if what their idol has done lives up to their yearnings. You cannot veer off the oft-trodden path but have to garnish it well to make it palatable enough for repeated helpings. Of course, if the film’s a success, it’s thanks to their ‘Thalaiva’ and if it fails God save the hapless director.

Vijay’s previous release ‘Thuppaki’ was a cracker of a film with the right ingredients in equal measure. A.R. Murugadoss even managed to get some credit for the film’s success. Vijay’s next release was obviously much awaited. It is in this vein that I wonder what made Vijay accept ‘Thalaiva’. I’m sure it’s not as if director A.L. Vijay narrated something brilliant and ended up making a mediocre film. There’s nothing promising, be it the premise or the dreary end product. There’s a little of ‘Nayakan’, a twist from ‘Thevar Magan’ and a lot from the Puneet Rajkumar starrer, ‘Veera Kannadiga’. Running for more than three hours, the film is a test of patience and a sure-shot cure for insomnia. The predictability of the twists and turns make you feel momentarily smart only till you realise how dumb the director is. Nothing works, be it the romance, comedy, action or the listless emotions. Vijay sleepwalks through his role. Santhanam barely makes you chuckle with his repartee, adding to your woes.

The reason why ‘Thalaiva’ has been banned indefinitely in Tamil Nadu is a mystery. The film is innocuous in content and vacuous in thought. The film would have died a quiet, natural death at the box-office. No amount of controversy and hype will help this film when it’s eventually released. ‘Viswaroopam’ had a certain class and competent content to match the controversy. In jest, I’d like to believe that Vijay masterminded this to save director Vijay from the ire of his fans.