In an early scene in Shree’s Damaal Dumeel, a lawyer on television goes on an anti-IT rant. He wails that his salary of Rs. 15000 is ridiculously insufficient given how expensive everything is – rather, how expensive everything has become thanks to these kids employed in software firms who earn more, spend more, and drive prices up. He could be talking about Moneykandan (Vaibhav). The spelling of that name is no accident. Everything around him is touched by money. His mother calls him to announce that they’re going to have to give a ton of gold jewellery, plus a bike, as dowry for his sister’s upcoming wedding. His friend is dumped by a girlfriend because he doesn’t make enough money. The security guard (Charlie) at his building expects small cash handouts every time they meet. And the story revolves around a box of cash – some five crores of it. That’s a lot of money.
This is one of those pitch-black comedy-thrillers where an amoral protagonist gets sucked into a dangerous game. Soon, the corpses are piling up. This is also one of those films that you need to keep watching keeping this caveat in mind: “For a first-time filmmaker…” (Something the average audience member doesn’t care a whit about.) Shree has some clever ideas. I wondered why Moneykandan had as his ringtone the sound of bullets being fired (I expected a kaching ringtone) – but there’s a fun payoff. With more along these lines, this could have been a solid black comedy.
The problem, as with a lot of Tamil cinema, is the distance between intent and execution. On the face of it – if we look at just the plot summaries – we seem to be doing wonderfully fresh and exciting work. But the ideas in the filmmakers’ heads lose steam when put on paper and, thereon, translated to screen. To pull something like this off, there needed to be better actors – though Kota Srinivasa Rao acquits himself nicely as a harried gang lord. First, though, there needed to be better-written characters. You cannot have a scene where the heroine (Remya Nambeesan) is “betrayed” by the hero, and have her rush into his arms soon after. Where’s the hurt, the pride, the guilt in this scenario? Dark comic thrillers are as much about the people in them, whose crises assume almost existential dimensions, as the plot.
The lack of finesse you can overlook – refer caveat above – though we have been seeing quite a few well-made films by newcomers. It’s tougher to ignore the lack of atmosphere, menace, the sense of the noose tightening. There’s no flavour in the dialogues, and people, when alone, actually end up saying what they’re thinking, so that we’re not left in the dark. The narrative holds few surprises. We know a character who’s headed to the police station is not going to end up confessing – then why this rather drawn-out scene? And do the friends who end up putting ideas in the hero’s head have to make such obvious suggestions? The ending is a copout. Why take an inherently feel-bad genre if you’re going to insist on souls being salvaged? The audience should feel the blisters, not the balm.
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