Heist/ caper movies as in films which showcase in detail one or more crimes (especially thefts, swindles, or occasionally kidnappings) perpetrated by the main character/s with less focus on the actions of police or detectives attempting to prevent or solve the crimes are a rarity in Indian cinema. Sometimes even when they do appear, they pale out in comparison to ‘commercial’ movies because of some uninspired juvenile treatment or in other cases, lack of a tight script. Last year we saw Nalan Kumarasamy literally nailing the genre with ‘Soodhu Kavvum’ attaining cult status. Now debutante director H.Vinoth comes out with his version of the chess game-hunt or Sathuranga Vettai, which proves to be the dark house of this year.
Vinoth as a screen-writer impresses with a brilliantly crafted con-caper which incorporates elements of humor, drama, adventure, unusual cleverness and professional audacity in perfect measure. He also shows promise as a film maker in his attention to detail and elaborate shot-making. Sadhurangavettai is basically about a man with a two-pronged ideology 1. Anything which is done without guilt is not wrong and 2. Money is the only thing which doesn’t get clichéd in this insensitive and cruel world. The journey he embarks on, in his mission to make millions in the least possible time-frame and the obstacles he faces is told in an almost fresh and engaging manner by Vinoth. The film takes its time to gather momentum, with few sequences upfront coming across as bland, but when it does pace up, there is no stopping it.
Vinoth deserves another round of accolades for his deft characterizations and in particular that of his protagonist. Natraj Subramanian (Natty) as Gandhi Babu is ruthless as the cunningly brilliant Gandhi Babu (Yes, pun intended!) who puts his intellectual planning skills to good use to make conning look as easy as eating a pie. But when it comes to dealing with baddies, he is a nobody who cannot hit back even once, when he is being beaten black and blue. One of the most convincing and unique character sketches in recent times! Another interesting character is that of the villain speaking in chaste Tamil, who has the audience in splits. The dark humor in most of the scenes is subtle and written into the scenes, taking care it doesn’t stick out as a sore thumb in the drama. The events leading to the interval segment are in particular staged very well and create the necessary unrest among the audience.
The detailing of each of the scams is top-notch and the setting up as well as execution of the ‘rice-pulling’ segment is phenomenal. Another mind-blowing sequence is the strange kind of heist from the jewelers over a single night. The handling of these two swindles are proof enough of the merit of the young writer-director. His attention to naming his characters (including the snake), his style of narrating the story in chapters (uncommon in India), the use of animation for portraying the flashback speak of his intelligence and eye for innovation. However he leans towards excessive melodrama and over-dramatization in the second half, which could have been avoided. Believability too goes for a toss in some of the fraud sequences. Though Vinoth’s writing is certainly not up to Nalan’s calibre, he is definitely one to watch out for.
Natty is a natural as the wily and scheming con-man, and he conveys emotions with the ease of a veteran. He also looks almost authentic in all his avatars and we find ourselves getting sucked into his make-believe world, where lies disguise as truths or a combination of both. The actors playing the main antagonist and the villain who chooses love or hate are both revelations in their respective roles. Ponvannan is adequate as the cop, though his portion never gets highlighted. Another huge strength of the movie is the superlative acting performances by almost all the supporting actors.
Cinematographer K.G. Venkatesh notches up the tense moments of the film higher with his frequent top-angle shots which view the action from an aerial perspective. The interval block when Gandhi Babu moves from one major conflict to another and the closing shot which uses a spider cam have been conceptualized and executed beautifully. Sean Roldan makes the right kind of distinction between drama and thrill with his use of percussions and flute in an engaging background score. Yet another feather to the young man’s cap! Raja Sethupathy’s editing is sharp and fast-paced, providing an extra thrust to the proceedings.
There is no denying the fact that Tamil cinema is on a role with its experimentation of genres. This hunting game despite having a few dull moments, several logical loopholes and bordering on melodrama for a fraction of a moment certainly deserves a watch for it is at heart – a fresh, sensible and engaging con-caper drama, a rarity by itself!