My heart sank when, at the start of M Saravanan’s Ivan Vera Maathiri, a corrupt politician began to threaten the principal of a law college, and when he doesn’t get what he wants, he signals an underling and unleashes violence. A riot ensues. Students are beaten up, killed, and the cops just stand around and watch. We’re not led into this situation so much as airdropped into it – and without any context, we’re left watching cardboard cutouts. The politician is eviler than evil. The principal is gooder than good. The students are hapless victims. The cops are unfeeling louts. And to make things worse, a dirge erupts over the proceedings: Idhudhaan muraiyaa… There’s more editorializing, subsequently, when a student dies and his distraught parents talk directly to the camera. Barely five minutes into the movie, the director is already blaring look-at-the-society-around-us sermons through a loudspeaker. After this, I thought, there was nowhere for the film to go but up.
And that it does, in surprising ways. Ivan Vera Maathiri isn’t, as we feared, a message movie, but an action entertainer woven around a youthful and idealistic vigilante named Gunasekaran (Vikram Prabhu). He locks horns with Eeswaran (Vamsi Krishna, who’s quite effective), the younger brother of the politician from the earlier portions, and the story takes an unusual and interesting turn. Once again, we are dropped into a scenario without context, but this time, we are intrigued. What did Eeswaran do? What is Gunasekaran’s interest in him? And when a cop (Aravindan, played by Ganesh Venkatraman) enters the fray, we’re presented with three mini-procedurals: the efforts taken by Eeswaran to get even with Gunasekaran, the efforts taken by Gunasekaran to get to Eeswaran before the latter can inflict serious harm, and the efforts taken by Aravindan to track down Eeswaran. These crisscrossing narrative strands give the film its momentum.
And of course, there’s a romantic track in the middle of all this, between Gunasekaran and Malini (Surabhi). Taken by itself, this portion isn’t half bad. For some reason, Tamil filmmakers have taken a fancy to meet-cutes in the midst of urination scenarios. In Mugamoodi, we had the heroine chancing upon the hero relieving himself on the street, and here, the poor man isn’t even allowed that relief. Malini shoos him away. But what the full-bladdered man does soon after is fun – and the rest of the love story is predictable and slightly silly but inoffensive. There’s not much chemistry between them (Vikram Prabhu is too stiff), but the director gets a good rhythm going by having them meet repeatedly in buses and police stations, and the song sequences are reasonably thought through. Instead of choreography with extras and exotic locations and in-sync dance movements, we get montages that further the interaction between Gunasekaran and Malini.
The problem, though, is that Saravanan settles for cute, when he needed to give this love story deeper dimensions. There needed to be more love in this love story. There’s a good twist, later on, involving the contents of Malini’s diary, but it sounds better than it plays out on screen. Saravanan doesn’t punch up this moment, and he doesn’t punch up the reveal that comes from Gunasekaran, to his friends. These key scenes feel rushed. They don’t explode like they’re meant to. And the hero’s motivation is a bummer. At first, that’s what keeps us hooked – why is this affable (and quite ordinary) guy doing these things? – and at one point, a friend puts this question to him. And Gunasekaran simply says that there’s no personal motivation – he’s just doing this because he cares for his country. That may be enough for him, but we need more than this if we are to remain invested in the film and the hero’s fate.
Still, Ivan Vera Maathiri is several notches above your usual action movie. The coincidences are smartly woven in, the location shooting – in under-construction buildings that add to the urban-jungle feel – is nicely done, and some of the action, especially a chase down a busy road, is staged quite well. Eeswaran is a savage, and the violence is appropriately sadistic. (And the director indulges in a well-orchestrated bit of sadism himself by making us think a key character is going to be rescued – this doesn’t happen when we think it will.) More importantly, the film never loses sight of the personal costs, the collateral damage, that come with vigilantism. This isn’t just about family and friends, but also about the unsuspecting biker on the street who’s felled by a stray bullet and the woman riding pillion on a motorcycle who’s choked when her dupatta is snatched by the villain. The best messages, sometimes, sneak through when there’s no loudspeaker around.
An edited version of this piece can be found here.
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