Some films instantly draw viewers into their world and the many characters that inhabit it. Some films keep viewers at an arm’s length, unmoved by what is happening on screen. And then there are movies that are midway between the two possibilities. Michael, the Telugu-Tamil gangster drama that is also dubbed in Hindi, Kannada, and Malayalam, directed by Ranjit Jeyakodi and starring an impressive Sundeep Kishan, falls in the third category. It is a labour of love that benefits hugely from an ace technical team that adds to the mood of the drama, and yet, towards the end, Michael falls short of rising to its potential.
The story unfolds over different time periods — the 1980s and 90s but is largely anchored in the mid-1990s. The drama is set in Mumbai and Delhi; we learn about the titular character from the point of view of Swamy (Ayyappa Sharma) and this portion is curiously captioned ‘after the climax’. We first see Michael as a young lad in a chapter captioned ‘before the beginning’ — before he became a gangster.
Cast: Sundeep Kishan, Divyansha Kaushik, Vijay Sethupathi, Gautham Menon
Direction: Ranjit Jeyakodi
Music: Sam C S
The young Michael comes across as a brooding boy who can hide his emotions and not shy away from brutal violence. His quest will involve a bloodbath. There will be a backstory of his mother, as indicated by a photograph and a few of her possessions he holds on to.
In the 90s, however, Michael wins the trust of Gurunath (Gautham Menon), an underworld gangster. Things do not go as planned when Michael is tasked with killing a girl and her father.
Ranjit doffs his hat to The Godfather, John Wick franchise and several gangster dramas. He is aware that he is not reinventing the wheel, and manages to create a make-believe world with intriguing characters in an atmosphere that adds a lot to the drama.
Cinematographer Kiran Koushik’s palette is filled with warm tones, often revelling in deep browns and blacks. Gandhi Nadikudikar’s production design recreates the period setting with cars, landline telephones and accessories of the time. The action sequences choreographed by Dinesh Kasi appear raw and real.
When you strip Michael down to the bare bones, it is a revenge drama of a man who hunts with fire in his eyes. Several visual references try to amp up the flames, symbolically.
The layers peel slowly to reveal the true colours of some principal characters. Several of them, including Michael, are neither stark white nor black. A few are sinister from the word go but do not add to the film despite all the aura around them; like Anasuya Bharadwaj and Varun Sandesh’s characters. Anasuya is no stranger to a gangster drama (Pushpa - the rise) and does her best in the role assigned to her, as a scheming woman who knows to play her cards. Varun amps it up to fit into an over-the-top character fairly well.
However, the film belongs to Sundeep Kishan. As Michael, he speaks very little and conveys the character’s mystery and menace through his body language that stays firmly on cue. The film’s trailer indicated that this is a story of a man who fought and lost in love. When Michael meets Theera (Divyansha Kaushik), an unusual romance brews. She keeps reminding him not to fall for her and that she will break his heart. There is another love story at the heart of Michael that is revealed later.
In the pre-intermission portions, when one of the pivotal character’s true colours is revealed, it is an indication that the film has a lot more cards to reveal. All of them come out swiftly towards the last 10-15 minutes. Since the climax shoulders the weight of the story, the portions immediately post-interval come across as middling and even boring.
A long-drawn voiceover spells out how a character can return from oblivion. It goes on and on and after a point, I wanted to say, please move ahead.
The welcome addition to Michael is the presence of Vijay Sethupathi and Varalaxmi Sarathkumar as a couple full of spunk who can instil courage in a bruised younger couple and tell them, ‘leave it to us’.
Sundeep’s performance is the spine of Michael; he owns his part and looks like a man who is hungry and possessed. Divyansha gets a role that requires her to appear mysterious and enigmatic and she makes it appear believable. For those who have watched Gautham Menon in Tamil and Malayalam cinema, his portrayal of evil will not come as a surprise. He plays the gangster warlord with a poker face and Ranjit tries to add to his charisma by making him read books such as The Godfather, The Old Man and The Sea and Macbeth. Does all this add to the intrigue? Not quite.
An asset to the film is the music by Sam CS. For instance, take Divyansha’s introduction sequence that’s heavy on guitar and ends with her playing one after a dance performance. The music does the talking, even as Michael is reminded of his own mother’s photograph with a guitar. Appreciably, the women of Michael are no pushovers.
The story puts forth several questions concerning forgiveness and redemption. Some of the dialogues are sharply written. However, the gangster drama has a been-there-seen-that aura that robs the film of its sheen.
Michael is a labour of love that, at times, feels too laboured and tries hard to impress. Despite an earnest effort by its actors and the technical team, the film falls short of finding its own strong voice in the melee of gangster dramas we have seen in the last decade.