Making a film for superstars like Vijay and Ajith must feel like walking barefoot on a tightrope, isn’t it? In Thunivu, his third collaboration with Ajith Kumar, H Vinoth manages to tread this fine line through a tight narration that plays with just two notes — one that lets Ajith do what he is known to do best, and a second, that tells a taut story about corruption in a style that the filmmaker is known for — and it works, mostly.
Thunivu is an out-and-out Ajith Kumar show — he enters with a bang, shakes a leg often, sends goons flying, and moonwalks through this cakewalk of a film that doesn’t demand too much from him. And, he actually moonwalks in a scene. Ajith plays a private mercenary who is only called as Dark Devil. When Radha (Veera) and his gang take control of a private bank in Chennai, Dark Devil, along with Kanmani (Manju Warrier) and their gang, double-cross them and strike a deal. Outside the bank, the Police Commissioner (Samuthirakani) takes over the case. A bank heist story with multiple surprises, letdowns, lots of bullet-spewing action, heroic triumphs and redemptions, begins. This, of course, does mean that, like in most commercial star vehicles, the hero gets a plot armour right at the beginning and it’s always important to explain yourself to a man you are about to kill. Thankfully, it’s easy to look beyond all that for Vinoth’s screenplay is racy and taut, or at least for the most part. He withholds information and peppers enough surprises to keep you hooked.
Issues grip Thunivu only after the interval block; firstly, the way Vinoth uses masala cinema’s coveted intermission sequence is novel, but what follows doesn’t do it justice. The mystery behind Ajith’s gang and their motive is the only real trump card to play with, and the screenplay starts spilling information, as it should. We realise that they are a highly-skilled mercenary gang for hire, with an impressive success rate. However, the backstory we get for the gang leaves no impression and there are a lot of unanswered questions. Ambiguity isn’t the issue, but the information given isn’t clear and the scenes here lack coherence. For instance, all of a sudden we are expected to back two of the gang members... just because their leader says that the gang is “his family.”
It was obvious for the fans to make parallels with Ajith’s 2011 film Mankatha given that this film too has a menacing Ajith at the forefront of a bank heist — here too there are double-crosses and... ‘Money, Money, Money.’ The worry is if Ajith’s character would make an U-turn as a noble figure and the film suddenly become a sermon of sorts. But in Thunivu, Ajith isn’t a Robin Hood; he is more of an instigated anti-hero with little or no redeeming qualities. His morality is skewed; he bodies innocent police officers and only cares about the larger picture he is pursuing. Most characters in Thunivu have gray shades, and Vinoth sets out to expose how almost everyone in this world is selfish in one way or the other. It’s one thing to just say that banks abuse people’s hunger for money, but it is another to show, through the hierarchy of a private bank, how corrupt and how real that can get.
Vinoth also ensures that the film doesn’t become preachy in telling this. In fact, it’s a win that we never get dialogues that directly address the gallery. Every time Thunivu makes a point about the everyday atrocities of banks and how the system manipulates common folk, the cheers get louder and that says a lot. The way he positions the media in this game, while also commenting on their selfish agenda, is also quite interesting. This is a superstar film that talks about real issues that everyman faces every day.
We get a second flashback that also adds more substance to the story. Interestingly, here, through a very self-aware dialogue, Vinoth questions us, the film watchers, on our aversion to stars who tell a karuthu which reduces them to just entertainers. But the answer is simple and it lies in Thunivu itself; it works when done with novelty which was the case in most of his previous films. Speaking of which, kudos to Vinoth for adding a sequence that speaks against the stigma attached to migrant workers.
While it’s true that Ajith shoulders the film through his charisma and enigmatic dialogue delivery, he faces no real threat in Thunivu and we get a villain who asks the hero to promise not to kill him (!). And with him taking up all the screen time, no other character makes a real impression. Manju Warrier’s Kanmani suffers the same fate as Huma Qureshi from Valimai; she does play a pivotal role in the heist, but did this role of a sidekick require an actor of Manju’s calibre?
The third act of Thunivu is its weakest section. Lack of novelty aside, it even undoes what had been set up from the beginning. Even a satisfying all-guns-out blowout could have left a better aftertaste. What’s also disappointing is that despite all the noise and showers of bullets, there isn’t a single memorable action sequence, something audiences are bound to expect from Vinoth. Thunivu isn’t the filmmaker’s best work, but that’s not to say it’s a bad film at all.
Thunivu is currently running in theatres