One of the most striking aspects of filmmaker Narthan’s 2017 Kannada film Mufti was how it fleshed out a world of crime from the eyes of a cop sent undercover to hunt down an infamous mafia don. From the beginning, the shadow of the crime lord, played by Shiva Rajkumar, loomed large over every single scene until his eventual grand appearance. Even before we see him, he became a myth, a ghost, a Godfather-like figure, and the anticipation was real.
In Mufti’s Tamil remake Pathu Thala, Silambarasan TR, as crime lord AG Raavanan a.k.a AGR, gets a grand entrance halfway into the movie, but director Obeli N Krishna chooses to show him in a shot right at the beginning. Some mystique remains. And though the story still follows the undercover cop Sakthivel (Gautham Karthik), who infiltrates AGR’s gang, much of how he goes about it and the role he plays in the film, gets diluted. These are not really let-downs; in fact, a lot more and bigger ideas of the original material have been consciously played around with, some improving the story and some butchered mercilessly, making Pathu Thala a film on its own.
We open amidst a tense political battle within the ruling party of Tamil Nadu; Arunmozhi (Santhosh Pratap), the Chief Minister, and Naanjilaar Gunasekaran (Gautham Vasudev Menon), the Deputy Chief Minister influential enough to topple the government, don’t see eye-to-eye. In a surprising turn of events, the Chief Minister gets kidnapped, and all eyes turn towards AGR, an infamous mining mafia head in Kanyakumari. As all efforts end in vain, Gautham Karthik’s Sakthivel (as Gana), is sent to find out more. Most within the party suspect Naanjilaar’s hand in the disappearance of the CM, and this only adds to his anger at AGR.
Pathu Thala (Tamil)
The screenplay of Pathu Thala is woven tight — more than the source material — but there are too many issues in how this film is paced. None of the characters manages to create an impact, and everything feels rushed. Selvam (Teejay Arunasalam), along with Sabari and Singa, are the right-hand men of AGR; the film touts them as significant but doesn’t care enough to give them any importance in the story.
Even that romance involving Gautham Karthik doesn’t sit well. Right at the beginning, we are told that the newly-appointed Tahsildar of the Kanyakumari district, Leela Thompson (Priya Bhavani Shankar), is an ex-lover of Sakthivel. Leela is at loggerheads with AGR’s men, and both the crime lord and Sakthivel are aware of it. If you are an undercover cop attempting to nab a gangster who has killed more than 40 such spies, wouldn’t you look at your ex being in the same town, let alone being involved in the issue, as a loose end to be taken care of? We never get a conversation between the two about his involvement in the mafia.
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Director Krishna’s writing and execution of emotional sequences also have some startling tonal differences. For instance, Pathu Thala at the centre is a story about a brother and a sister; AGR’s sister Samudra (Anu Sithara) refuses to talk to him after an unforgivable betrayal on his part. The reason why she doesn’t go to the authorities about it and the logic behind every other action she takes in the script need to be solid, but Pathu Thala doesn’t offer all that. On the other hand, the same film doesn’t go for the classic flashback sequence for the siblings, opting to handle it subtly through a single shot that says quite a lot about the house they live in.
It is high time that Tamil directors stop overplaying the Nayagan-ish Robinhood-figure trope. Simbu’s AGR is projected as a man who mines to provide for the poor. “A bad face is needed to do some good,” he says. It works largely and makes way for a few good punchlines that keep Simbu fans on their toes, but the same do-gooder sentiment when repeated often does get a bit tedious.
Silambarasan, however, is always a delight to watch when he gets going, and his palpable, explosive on-screen energy is once again on great display. Gautham Karthik is the surprise package; he comes on top with a truly commendable performance. However, both the leads are let down due to the screenplay and Gautham’s character is rendered less smart as the story moves, while Simbu doesn’t get enough substance to power this mass persona.
It’s only a spectacularly-shot action sequence in the second half that gives any energy to this film which has an atrocious reveal that can put any technological advancement of the 21st century to shame. Pathu Thala is also one of those rarest cases where the background score helps the film’s energy in one scene, while also killing it in another.
It is unfair to compare Mufti and Pathu Thala; however, this remake is a good case study of how it isn’t enough to infuse more novelty on paper if the same doesn’t translate to the screen.
Pathu Thala is currently running in theatres