After Raavan in Tamil and Hindi three years ago, Mani Ratnam returns to filmmaking. He also returns to his protégé Aravind Swamy after a gap of 12 years, casting him in the perennial theme of Good (representing Jesus) vs Evil (embodying Satan), with Tuticorin as the backdrop.
The plot: Move in with Thomas (Gautham Karthik) in a predominantly Christian fishing village in Kerala and watch him journey from tender innocence to heartless brutality, learning lessons of survival along the way, as he encounters two extremes – Sam Fernando (Aravind Swamy) and Bergsman (Arjun).
Sam, a priest, arrives in the fishing village where he gets friendly with Thomas, an orphan, and guides him gently through his romance with Beatrice (Thulasi Nair). But there’s also Bergsman lurking around seeking revenge on Sam for having exposed his misdeeds years ago at a seminary. He implicates Sam in a crime for which he is incarcerated, and takes Thomas down the wrong path. But armed with Sam’s kind mentoring, Thomas doesn’t please Satan. Ho hum!
The good: A languorous romance drama with bits of action and punch-packed dialogues, Aravind Swamy and first-timer Gautham's performances are worth a watch. AR Rahman's music is exemplarily soothing and melodious, especially songs like ‘Nenjkulle ithu podhum enakku verenna venum’ and ‘Adiye enne nee enge kootti pore’. Rajiv Menon's creative cinematography is a visual treat while beautiful artworks, costumes and locations are the other major strengths of the film. Art director Shashidhar Adapa has embellished the locales (including the picturesque Andaman Islands), all the villages and churches where the movie was filmed.
Though Thulasi does not have many scenes, with her expressive eyes and natural flair for acting, she proves that she is as talented as her mother Radha, who incidentally had made her debut opposite Gautham Kartik’s father Kartik three decades ago with Alaigal Oyvathillai, based on the conflict that arises in a Hindu-Christian romance.
The bad: The biggest flaw is that the story does not make an emotional connect with the viewer. The sole saving grace that prevents it from completely drowning in a kadal (ocean) is Mani’s technical competence. Okay, a couple of performances too, but that’s really not enough. Sreekar Prasad ought to have edited the film carefully because at one stage, it gets inordinately long, meanders aimlessly and becomes a patience test.
Romance takes a backseat in the film with Mani trying to make up for it with a colourful dream sequence, presenting Gautham and Thulasi at their glamorous best. But it’s nowhere in the innovative bracket of Mani’s song picturisations in Bombay or Dil Se. Arjun Sarja lacks the ability to make an impact as the devil incarnate and is ill-at-ease in many scenes. The climax is blood chilling in its impact with all the three protagonists – Arjun, Aravind Swamy and Gautham – in a fight to the finish, even as huge waves lash around the boat. Visually dramatic but empty in soul.
Overall: The master storyteller fails in his screenplay, and except for the technical finesse, the Mani Ratnam flair for riveting cinema seems to have gone on a long vacation.
– Jyothi Venkatesh