Only a sizeable proportion of our filmmakers understand the visual aesthetics of Western cinema. And there have been few very cases where a filmmaker tried to border the gap between Western and Indian cinema, without diluting the emotions that Kodambakkam screams for. Karthick Naren comes across as someone who belongs to the category of filmmakers who are heavily influenced by Western sensibilities and that’s just it. The presentation is beautiful, but of very little substance. His movies seem to flirt with the idea of ‘slow-burn’ narrative: an approach that paid off when he made the tightly-written Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru . But in Mafia , there seems to be some sort of reluctance to extend the universe that Karthick was trying to build in the first place.
The jungle is used as a metaphor to describe the world of Mafia , inhabited by animals and vultures. There is a lion in the form of Aryan (Arun Vijay) and a fox, Diwakar Kumaran (Prasanna), and the story is a tug-of-war between them. Oh, Priya Bhavani Shankar also exists here, by the way. The movie, however, offers very little scope to show friction between the two central characters, who are also extremely good-looking (costumes are by Ashok Kumar). It is sad that Arun Vijay and Prasanna — two of our really good actors — are fed cornflakes instead of raw meat. Part of the problem is the time — little under two hours — Mafia dedicates for the characters to develop and breathe in. What Karthick expects his actors to do is: sport colourful clothes with matching shades, and walk in slow motion. This would have been a minor grouse, had the movie had a sturdy foundation — how marvellous was Arivazhagan’s Kuttram 23 , which had a similar premise?
- Cast: Arjun Vijay, Prasanna and Priya Bhavani Shankar
- Director: Karthick Naren
- Storyline: Aryan is a Narcotics Bureau Officer, who is on a hunt to track down the most wanted drug lord. In the due process, he discovers a significant piece of information about his past
Given Karthick’s fascination for Nolan’s movies, you could find a heady flavour of The Dark Knight lying underneath. Early on, a character describes Diwakar as someone who hides “behind a mask”. Even if you approach Mafia as a proper origins story for the second chapter — with an absurd but partly effective twist — it doesn’t take away the fact that it is still a weak movie. You could sense the weakness in dialogues; in the screen construction and even in the performance.
But Karthick shows tremendous commitment to his craft; there’s innovation in shot composition, in editing, in the way he lights his frames (Gokul Benoy is the cinematographer), the way he exploits slow-mo shots and more. But all these filmmaking merits add up to nothing. For, the world of Mafia — which follows a reverse narrative, like Christopher Nolan’s Mement o (a movie that became a formidable part of Karthick’s filmmaking process) — is exceptionally ordinary. Consider how weakly-constructed the first act is, for instance. The primary characters; their relationships, issues and the equations they share are established in a hurry. Everything is cold, even the treatment. What it lacked was that one proper scene that would later act as an escalation point between the hero and villain, in the second act. That does happen here. But in the most basic fashion. By the time the narration arrives to the final act, you can’t help but think, “Yeah, alright.”
Karthick is a good filmmaker. He has the vision to execute ideas. But all he needs, at the moment, is a writer to collaborate.