Language : Tamil | Running Time : 176 Minutes | Director : Gautham Vasudev Menon
A Gautham Vasudev Menon film. It isn’t a phrase that makes me go gaga but I look forward for this man’s films. I look forward because there is almost no other filmmaker who caters to the urban middle class youth like he does with his self portrait of a hero who remains courteous to women, walks beside them with his hands in his pocket, shuffles like a 17 year old crushing on the hottest girl in school when he finds the love of his life, has the sentimental attachment to a scooter his dad used and takes his kid on it, be this man of honor and sensibility that makes you smile and feel like it might be a reflection of you. But more importantly, I look forward to his portrayal of the heroine.
There’s absolutely no one who gives the heroine a spine and position of power that Gautham gives. In Vettaiyadu Vilayadu he had Jyothika play a divorced woman with a child falling for Kamal Haasan’s Raghavan. In Kaaka Kaaka he had his woman as an independent teacher falling for a cop and bringing him around to see a life that wasn’t all about blood or the khakhis he wore. There is spunk in his women, an admirable quality that makes you fall in love with the women and not the heroines portraying that role. This is something you expect from a Gautham Vasudev Menon film these days and this is no different in Yennai Arindhaal, the Ajith starrer which is unlike any other Ajith starrer.
Sathyadev IPS. It’s a fitting name for everything Gautham wants in his hero – a God who stands to protect truth in the world. If you thought this would mean seeing Ajith walk and be his usual mass catering star as a cop, you have another thing coming. If anything he is everything Gautham Vasudev Menon has put in all his heroes in every film of his. Ajith’s Sathyadev is the extension of himself that Gautham has been projecting to us for the last 15 years. He is Raghavan from Vettaiyadu Vilayadu in the way he treats his women, he is Anbuselvan from Kaaka Kaaka the way he jumps into action over tables and ledges, he is Surya Krishnan in the way he worships his dad. He is every Gautham Menon hero in the way his life is the choices he makes. We are investing in the life of a man and going along as he takes decisions based on his dad’s advice to follow his heart. And at each corner, Yennai Arindhaal is like a fancy mirror which reflects back a scene or vision from one of his previous films.
It isn’t a problem that a filmmaker creates a world of his own where the hero and heroine remain predictable. In fact, it is Gautham Menon’s biggest strength that he has this beautiful characterisation to sell. The problem comes when he tries to tell the same story with another actor. But it is pretty annoying to say the least when you find that the characters don’t grow with each film, especially the women. The heroes have grown into accepting that they can be better people with each film but apart from that, even they are stunted. The women exist as a means to an end, forcing the cops to become invincible and go berserk angry Hulk mode into seeking revenge. In all his 3 cop films, Menon has killed the lead female character. In all his films and not just the cop ventures, he has these wedding montages, a means to have a song. They’ve become equivalent to a Spielberg face shot. In Spielberg’s case, they manage to evoke emotion, in Menon’s films they are fillers that are groan inducing.
The only reason either Kaaka Kaaka or Vettaiyadu Vilayadu worked was because they had villains who were actually vile. There was meticulous reason behind their crimes. They were passionate creatures. In Yennai Arindhaal, Arun Vijay does a good job as Victor but Victor is easily the worst villain in Menon’s films. He is a caricature bad guy, the kind we no longer have to assuage ourselves with. He is a straightforward bad guy who has got 6 pack abs and wears shirts strategically to show them off, well frankly two or maybe three buttons undone. There is no real danger in Victor’s moves. He is a simple villain and at no point could I really find him challenging the hero at his own game and using intelligence. Yes, there is a moment where it looks like he could outdo the hero but it comes at the expense of a movie filled with inept cops and a hero’s mistake. It is pretty common to make a cop film in India where everyone apart from the top cop is gullible, stupid and deserves no place in a police force. Gautham Menon resorts to the same means as well. He has done it before in his earlier films and he keeps up with the same farce here as well.
The relationship between Sathyadev and Isha (Anikha Surendran) is the little growth for the hero that Menon writes. There’s a beautiful scene where Ajith brings Thenmozhi (Anusha Shetty) home to safeguard her from Victor and his men and he asks Isha’s permission before letting her stay. And shyly dismissing him to have even thought of her asking her such a question, she lets them in. It is a beautiful father-daughter relationship that Menon creates and the kind of small things that engaged me in a movie which was otherwise not just predictable but filled with simple and easy cop-villain revenge business.
There’s nothing wrong with the general premise of Yennai Arindhaal. In fact, it has more going for it than any of Menon’s earlier films. It could have become an excellent entertainer provided there was some smarts to it. Who doesn’t like a revenge story within a revenge story? Oh yes, the first revenge is the very reason Sathyadev becomes a cop. The second is his desire to bring to justice the men who killed his lover/ would-be-wife. It also throws in a revenge angle for the villain. I mean, it seriously has potential to be something big in Menon’s world if it didn’t just rely on some good pacing and the absolutely great performance of Ajith. It feels hollow and silly with hardly any point in time where we get the rush of a cop story or revenge saga. Having a drawn out chase to show a cat and mouse game between the protagonist and antagonist would have worked had their been more urgency at stake. We never believe that there is any serious danger and that is why, even the solid sequences of roof top chases and wrist watch GPS tracking feel empty. It’s only the romance that works and it always works in a Menon film because his hero and heroine are damn likable (let’s just ignore Neethaane En Ponvasantham from consideration.)
I’ve seen comparisons of Gautham Menon’s usage of his typical tropes and world as a comparison with Mysskin. If anything, Menon deserves comparison with Hari or Perarusu for the usage of his tropes, only that his tropes are more civilized. They are unable to grow their oeuvre into more than what they started with, repeating the same mistakes and glorifying old successes, whereas Mysskin never creates the same world and story with different actors. If anything, they need script doctors and consultants who’ll help them become smarter filmmakers. I like Gautham Menon’s world. I wish he did more with it than just give us an unforgettable Ajith performance. If people are intent on calling this as the end of the Gautham Menon “cop trilogy”, then all he has managed is to bring Kaaka Kaaka and Vettaiyadu Vilayadu together with Ajith becoming more memorable than Surya and Kamal and add a father-daughter track to it with a dumbed down villain. That is a disappointment.