Divakar (Kamal Haasan) is in the VIP lounge of a night club where a producer(Santhana Bharathi) points to the TV showing the news and laments that his completed film hasn’t been released due to him owing money to people and dejected fans have been sent back home. Kamal Haasan references the state of his film Uttama Villain on the day of its release. In another scene, his son picks up the football instead of taking up a cricket bat. In a city this has become quite a common occurrence these days, what with Messi and Ronaldo as well known in a household as Sachin or Dravid once were (please pardon me if I am being blasphemous). Once again, a troubled father-son relationship which we saw in Uttama Villain. There is,of course, more referencing. The lip locks Kamal is involved in with Madhu Shalini and the last line the son utters reference Kamal’s romantic hero image. I remember a function where Radhika Sarathkumar mentioned Kamal and the lip locks from his movies. Like in Uttama Villain and the movies which have becomes star vehicles, the self referencing is part of the script but unlike the star vehicles, these are organic inclusions, especially the lip locks. Smooth.
Haasan, who has written the screenplay, adapts it from the French thriller Nuit blanche a.k.a Sleepless Night and pens it with his usual wordplay and awareness of events around him. As for the plot and the way the scenes unroll, he doesn’t dare change a thing until almost the very end where he succumbs to satisfying the commercial hero in him and the “abhishekam gumbal”.
Divakar is a cop who along with his colleague Mani (a woefully miscast Yuhi Sethu) are involved in a cocaine bust. The bust or theft, as we learn, goes wrong. There’s a death which results in an investigation led by Dhiraiviam(Kishore) and assisted by Mallika(Trisha). He is followed by them and there’s also the people he stole the cocaine from – gansgters Prakash Raj and Sampath. Prakash Raj has made acting synonymous with buffoonery and it is unfortunate that the entire casting is a stereotype, where it seems like the actors are all referencing their careers.
Thoongaa Vanam has a story where the mission is against a ticking clock. Within a time, where the danger involves the life of the hero’s son and also the derailment of his career, the hero has to deliver the goods he has stolen from the gangsters. For a thing like this to work, the screenplay has to be like a time bomb which is about to blow off. Thoongaa Vanam doesn’t come with that urgency. The dialogues have too much of the Crazy Mohan-Kamal wordplays that have been integral to Kamal’s films and with people like Guru Somasundaram and Chaams (who has here taken over the Vaiyapuri role in Kamal’s films) the wordplay as a standalone works but for a movie which needs to be a race, they break the flow.
Divakar is an interesting character. It is something Kamal hasn’t played before. As a commercial hero, our films drive a point that the hero eradicates social evils or let’s face it, jumps head in and tackles them. When has a helpless women, a man forcing himself upon her not been bashed by our hero? Here, the girl pleads with out hero to help her and he does, who in his preoccupation had earlier not felt like being involved. He is a hero who isn’t someone you feel like rooting for. The cops are after him but being the kind of star film it is, it is quickly dispensed with. But it is interesting to have a hero who isn’t downright the commercial star we are used to. The other characters though, are not just one dimensional but they are the kind of formulaic characters that the West has introduced for us. We are used to spotting the hot girl in thrillers, the buffoon villain and some corrupt cops. This is something even Sleepless Night had. The two reasons why Sleepless Night was an interesting remake is because of the lead character and the speed with which the events unfold.
The film needed a script without the wordplay dialogues of Kamal Haasan, a director and cinematographer who captured the running down of time to be of noticeable importance. Sanu John Varghese’s work here neither brings the grim and debased environment the film inhabits nor does it move in the manner that suggests a life careening out of control. It is labored work more suited to a Sunday evening on the beach than a nightclub where gangsters and cops are making life hell for our hero.
Even without comparing the work to the original film’s themes and execution, Thoongaa Vanam is a strictly functional fare. And what is functional? It has Kamal Haasan doing effortlessly good work with everything around him looking like it is on slow motion to the end of a colourless existence. It needed a director with the chutzpah of Michael Mann in his early days and Rajesh M Selva,on current evidence, isn’t.