The film opens with a slow motion shot of a burning match-stick going down on a document of sorts, engulfing it in flames within seconds. Though the execution and framing of that shot make us sit up in anticipation, we are left pondering over the entire movie, the nagging thought of whether it was the screenplay book which was burnt in the first scene and the director just came to the sets and improvised on what he had in mind. After the burning shot, the film then shifts to a sequence showing a hooded man, dumping what seems like garbage bags into various gates in the city. Definitely, a promising way to kick-start the proceedings. But what follows is rather a routine introduction of a ‘happy-go-lucky’ youth dancing to a very average thumping song which easily loses our attention, leaving us disappointed and shocked. And unfortunately that feeling lingers till the very end. In fact, ‘Damaal Dumeel’ as a stand alone film is a perfect example of how a promising script on paper could be translated into an ordinary mundane affair on screen. Having said that, as a debutante film-maker, Shree’s intent of making a gritty movie in the dark comedy/thriller genre staying clear off commercial compromises is certainly commendable, and he does show his mettle in flashes. But as a whole, the overall execution of the film is very mediocre, and fails to sustain our interest.
We have had quite a bunch of movies in this genre in the recent past, some of which clicked, some met with mixed response and some others fell flat on their faces. But Damaal Dumeel (though not as bad as ‘Sutta Kadhai’) is not even close to its predecessors like ‘Soodhu Kavvum’, ‘Moodar Koodam’ or for that matter ‘Neram’ in terms of brilliance in execution. The plot revolves round the happenings in the life of the male lead ( ‘Moneykandan’ as he renames himself citing numerology), who unknowingly gets sucked into a dark web of comical errors. What will be your reaction if you woke up one day to find piles and piles of cash outside your apartment, when you go out to fetch the newspaper? Well, you guessed it! Our protagonist having learnt the value of money the hard way, decides to pocket a huge packet full of thousand rupee notes which ends up at his doorstep, but two criminal gangs to whom the money belongs, come after him. The film is about the frantic chase which ensues, resulting in a pile-up of dead bodies. Sounds exciting, right? Therein lies my theory of the distance between intent and implementation.
For a first time director, Shree cannot be totally written off but its a pity that he gets everything wrong, right from the casting choices. None of the actors look equipped enough to fit their roles, barring Kota Srinivasa Rao who is a natural as the agitated gang leader. Kota has us in smiles through-out with his variety of reactions and fanciful variations in tone and demeanor. But that’s about it. Vaibhav playing the male lead and carrying the film on his shoulder, comes across as bland and superficial most of the times. The supporting cast just passes muster. Bad character writing plagues the movie right from the protagonist’s friend to the big-shot pharmaceutical entrepreneur. The female lead’s character played by Ramya Nambeesan competes with the intentionally written ‘Jessie’ for oscillating inconsistency – one moment she is betrayed by her boyfriend in the middle of a lonely harbour, and the next moment she is back at the protagonist’s apartment hugging and kissing him like none of the events mentioned above ever happened. The dialogues by Shree himself are pedestrian to say the least and lack any sort of flavor or mood, you normally associate with a dark thriller.
Yet another problem with the film is our lingering sense of familiarity with the components of the script, we are going to encounter – villainous lead men, comical villains, rival gang wars, accidents and murders, cops, lots of money and mayhem which eventually culminates in a shoot-out. We were offered variations of the same template last year with much more finesse, and it becomes an arduous task to invest ourselves in the plight of the men involved in the dangerous game being played out on screen. In addition, the director takes the liberty of having people in the right place at the right time – giving unsolicited advice, ideas and solutions all around, and after a while it all looks way too dramatic and staged. Shree does shine in a few instances like the way he chooses to have a ‘blasting guns’ ring tone for the protagonist. But the spoiler is once we hear that in an earlier scene, we comprehend intuitively that it will have a major role to play at a later sequence, and when it does, we are left complimenting our own skills at guessing the big ‘twists’ of Tamil cinema.
The predictable nature of the narration also prevents the gradual escalation of menacing stakes, which is all important for a film of this genre. The moment a paint factory is revealed to be the spot the climax will unfold, we visualize a shoot-out with paints splattering everywhere and lots of deaths. And that’s exactly what we are served. Logic goes for a toss even at the crux of the movie, as the director wants us to believe that a person can single-handedly dig out four coffins with dead bodies from the ‘Koovum’, load them up in a jeep, wash himself clean using a bottle of water and drive off nonchalantly as if ‘all is well’. If you did a double take reading that, you will probably faint if I continue saying ‘his protagonist who doesn’t even have a passport at the beginning, can actually fly to a foreign country in a single day without an application for a visa’! Who needs a visa when you can bribe the authorities? Further, which man in his senses will leave a packet of five crores outside an apartment, without double-checking on the exact address. The post climactic scene (which opened out as the first shot) turns out to be an unintentional ‘laugh-a-thon’ of sorts just for the uniqueness of it. Well, cinema is a ‘larger than life’! But definitely not as large as this 🙂
But, Shree definitely has to be given his due for making a slick film which doesn’t take off for a duet in a foreign location at the drop of a hat. He ends the film in time at exactly two hours, not feeling the pressure to make us sit for a further half an hour. He stays clear of separate comedy tracks and any unnecessary melodrama. He also extracts a decent background score from his music director, Thaman, which gels well with the movie. His intent of making a dark comedy/thriller out of a series of accidents without any big distractions is definitely laudable, but little did he realize that his dull dragging screenplay and total disdain for any form of logic in the script are the distractions by themselves.
Damaal Dumeel – A film which could have been much more, than what it turned out to be.
Star of the movie – None