The director KV Anand is one of the foremost graduates of The Kitchen Sink School of Filmmaking. His philosophy is simple: keep throwing things at the audience until the film ends, and don’t throw the same thing at them twice. Does this guarantee good cinema? That is a question each of us will have to resolve for ourselves. What it does guarantee, however, is a modicum of entertainment. At least, we will be left giggling about the preposterousness of it all. Besides, you have to accord some respect, however grudging, to a story about conjoined twins that has the chutzpah to incorporate a mad scientist experimenting with multi-DNA genomes, athletes at the Barcelona Olympics, a near-death by a giant rock as hungry rats scurry about, a memory-boosting energy drink that may not be quite as salutary as it seems, a vodka-quaffing blonde spy from the erstwhile USSR, a runaway roller coaster, a bhoomi pooja in Gujarat conducted under the auspices of a Chief Minister who goes by the name of (gulp!) Surendra Lodi, and a straight-faced auction of Saroja Devi’s hairpiece.
Anand wrote the screenplay of Maattraan with his regular collaborators, two acknowledged masters of Tamil pulp fiction who conjoined their names into the acronym Suba, and their premise touches on corporate malfeasance, with sinister higher-ups out to silence everyone within whistle-blowing distance. It’s Erin Brockovich reimagined as a lurid James Hadley Chase thriller. We should be purring in pulp heaven. But the usual suspects line up to scuttle early promises of a good time – like songs that crop at the most inopportune moments. Imagine this situation. You are in a country where you don’t speak the language. The person who was assisting you in your quest has just become collateral damage, blown to bits by a car bomb. Would you duck, soon after, into a nightclub and shake a leg with a few dozen belly dancers, even if the song is one of Harris Jayaraj’s sprightliest in recent times? This is not a tirade against musical sequences, but against their misuse. How is the audience supposed to stay invested in a movie, especially a wannabe thriller, that won’t settle on a mood?
Suriya plays Agilan and Vimalan, and the conjoined-twins aspect of this story is as much a marketing gimmick as echolocation was in the recent Vikram starrer Thaandavam. Neither film does anything meaningful – either emotionally or contextually – with these conceits, and for those who insist that this is too high an expectation to foist on a commercial potboiler, I have just two words: Naan Ee. That film worked wonders around its outlandish gimmick, and without doing away with the must-haves of songs and stunts, comedy and romance. The latter, in Maattrraan, arrives in the comely form of Kajal Aggarwal, whose fluency in Russian appears to outstrip her grasp of the language of the film she’s in. As for the villain, he is unmasked too early, and what we’re left with is the far less interesting question of how he will receive his retribution. (Tip: it has to do with broomstick-wielding women in Surendra Lodi’s home state.)
Anand does know, though, that reviewers like me are irrelevant to the box-office prospects of his film. To this end, he stages a scene by the roadside where Vimalan is injured and a distraught Agilan attempts to catch the attention of a passing car. His plight is aggravated by his inability to tear himself away from his twin. The first car speeds by without stopping. Then another. And a third. Finally, the driver of an auto stops to help. Make of this what you will, but note, also, how Agilan, when he begins work at his father’s company, stops to chat with the blue-collars, while his fat-cat father looks on with amusement. And with the mastheads of every major newspaper and magazine (especially the Tamil weeklies) shoehorned into frames, we may have the answer to what megastar movies are all about: the acknowledgement of the most significant fan bases, and the manufacture of sustained goodwill. Forget conjoined twins; this is Maattrraan’s real USP.
An edited version of this piece can be found here.
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