Pencil plays like an Agatha Christie mystery set in a posh school. The victim is Nithin (Shariq Hassan) – he’s stabbed in the neck with the titular implement. (We’re not shown his last words, but allow me a guess: “2B or not 2B?”) In true Christie fashion, there are many with a motive.
There’s the schoolteacher whom Nithin filmed in a compromising position.
There’s the top-ranking student Shiva (G V Prakash Kumar), whose research paper Nithin set on fire. If you’re thinking what kind of top-ranking student doesn’t keep backups of important papers, you’re not alone — but let’s focus on the positives.
For the second consecutive week, we have a Tamil-film protagonist who doesn’t wear his lack of education like a badge of honour. If Suriya’s character invented time travel in 24 , Shiva is out to prove there is life on Mars. The closest our heroes usually get to space is when they punch henchmen into it.
Director Mani Nagaraj was an assistant of Gautham Menon, and he likes voiceovers too – especially to establish Shiva’s feelings for Maya (Sri Divya).
In other respects, unfortunately, he’s like the average Tamil filmmaker who finds a way to convert any genre into a message movie. Pencil begins with a quote, the name of a Tolstoy short story: A spark neglected burns the house.
The film ends with a long tirade against private schools that charge huge sums of money — you feel like bringing down a copy of War and Peace on the speechmaker’s head. And the attempts at humour clash terribly with the whodunit tone. But the genre elements – red herrings, chases, lots of cross-cutting between concurrent events – make the movie vaguely watchable.
Translation: You walk out not wanting to stick a pencil into someone’s neck.