You wouldn’t go to a film tagged as a Venkat Prabhu sixer, expecting to witness a poignant, timeless classic right?  You would go to be entertained; enjoy the charisma of his bad-ass protagonists, smile or frown sheepishly at the stream of spot-improvised gags, applaud a moment of unexpected boldness, give in wantonly to some quality deception and probably come out, cheery and spirited. Well, so did I, on the surface! But I have to admit that somewhere deep inside, I was battling deeper emotions. Back in 2007, when a young ‘David” audaciously challenged the Tamil cinema box office ‘Goliath’ with a beauty of a irreverent film that rode on the spontaneity of a bunch of non-celebrity newcomers and a street game, he quite unknowingly inspired a whole bunch of struggling filmmakers who were trying in vain to make content count over stardom. Suddenly, a savior seemed to have emerged

masss-posterWatching ‘Chennai 600028′, I dreamt then that ‘David’ Venkat Prabhu could be someone, who would go on to give Tamil cinema another dimension, not with monstrously budgeted epic dramas or subtle artistic classics but with amusingly heretic film-making in an unapologetically urban milieu. ‘Saroja’ waned in comparison, but was definitely not a letdown. But ‘Goa’ proved that the once promising maker had become content in dishing out vaguely knitted gag­-fests than striving for some well-mannered writing. But still, I held on, not giving up on Venkat just for his irreverent nerve in bringing to screen a perfectly normal gay couple with a ‘no-questions asked’ and ‘no-explanations’ given tone. And then ‘Mankatha’ happened. Probably this offbeat star vehicle, though miles behind the magic of his debut film, made me to persevere on him just for the daring thought of having a dark-shaded demigod protagonist. This man, Venkat Prabhu, had now officially confused me.  The filmmaker clearly has a knack for the unorthodox and his heart in the right place, but would a tad more order in writing help? All my questions went for an irrelevant toss with ‘Biryani’, where Venkat came across horribly ‘out of sync’.

The trailers of “Masss’ were suggestive of a kind of ‘eerie’ celebration of the lead, and that made me all the more inquisitive to see if Venkat’s skills had indeed survived the biryani disaster! Had he pulled a rabbit out of the hat? Well may be he has, but the results are debatable. We have had an overdose of movies in one genre in the recent past, some of which clicked, some met with mixed response and some others fell flat on their faces. With ‘Mass’, Venkat attempts his own take on Tamil cinema’s newest supernatural muse, the horror entertainer. But he stands out of the crowd by coming up with quite an exciting plot, that doesn’t resemble any of the previous genre specific films, The theme interestingly revolves around the after-effects of a NDE (near-death experience), something that has not been explored much in our movies. Scientifically NDEs have been proved to be typically associated with changes in personality, general outlook on life, greater compassion for others, a heightened sense of purpose and self-understanding, desire to achieve the impossible, elevated spirituality, increased physical sensitivity, and a feeling of being more intuitive – a belief that the brain has been “altered” to encompass more. Venkat intelligently uses these facts to give a paranormal twist to the near-death experience. What if the protagonist’s perception reaches supernatural levels after an accident?

masss-movie-latest-poster-600x600The film starts off quite well with a heist, but soon meanders from crowd-pleasing numbers to long drawn chase sequences. But it gets back on track with the ill-fated accident, with the writing in this particular segment being particularly brilliant.  Just when you sit up in anticipation, awaiting some intelligent drama, the proceedings get horrendously dull with some uninspired scenes. The ideas are witty, some real brilliant – the surreal conning, the idiosyncratic portrayal of the spirits – but the staging is shockingly flat. Worse, some precious screen time is wasted on what must surely be one of the most uninspired romantic tracks of all time. But what really pulls us through is Venkat’s signature ‘I’m-too-cool-to-care’ gems that he keeps dropping in his narration, when we are least expecting it.  Another pointless song, and you are left praying for some meaningful action. But Venkat strikes back with a vengeance in a twist, that shoots up the tempo several notches higher and gets us invested in the plot, yearning for more such sequences. The second half of the film plays out much better than the first, with some real poignant touches, quite uncharacteristic of the maker. But again predictability brutally plagues the screenplay, so much so that you could take a ten-minute nap, wake up and get connected to the film instantly. Have you noticed how inconsistent this paragraph has shaped up to be? Well, that pretty much sums up the tone of the film – entertaining, but inconsistent in that endeavor

Very much like Farah Khan, Venkat Prabhu is one filmmaker who loves indulging in a whole lot of delightful filmy references  In Masss, he unabashedly plays to the gallery using this technique almost every fifteen minutes, but there is no denying the fact that they work almost every time. CV. Kumar, GVM, Hari, Vijay, Ajith, Jai, Simran, Lakshmi Ramakrishnan, Katrina Kaif.. well, whoever you are, Venkat Prabhu will find you and have someone ridicule or celebrate you!  But despite all these, I never really got to see the Venkat Prabhu that I once admired. There’s so much going for Masss as a movie in the commercial space that I kept wanting it to be a better movie. I wanted it to be more brave, economic in story-telling and less formulaic towards the climax. I never got an answer on the extent of physical powers the spirits really possess! Why look for an instrument if you can do it yourself? Why not more innovative plans, and more thrilling consequences? Parthiban’s character was never really utilized, barring a couple of word-play. I was expecting the script to overshadow the star on at least a rare occasion. But alas!

Surya’s screen presence is emphatic, and he shoulders the movie quite well. The gorgeous Nayanthara seems like the real spirit, appearing and disappearing without warning. Premji is much more tolerable this time, even delivering a couple of well-timed screamers. Yuvan’s background score helps a lot in establishing the mood, and R.D. Rajasekhar’s cinematography edges some instances of ordinary writing into the visually ‘wow’ zone. The VFX is again sporadic, brilliant in some sequences and at other times, downright comical.

Masss aspires to tick all audience boxes, displays no intent to push the envelope in the genre, breaks no barriers, and avoids no cliches. But despite all this, I have to admit that it manages to entertain. But my greater worry is something different. Vintage Venkat is still undercover.