Priya Anand seems to have become the go-to heroine for filmmakers with a certain Hollywoodian sensibility. If Vanakkam Chennai adhered to the classical rom-com template, then Arima Nambi was a conspiracy thriller, and now there’s Irumbu Kuthirai, which resembles all those rueful coming-of-age stories where a broken young man has to overcome a trauma and come out a winner. Like those earlier films, Irumbu Kuthirai is Tamil only in language – it doesn’t make many concessions to play down to a Tamil audience. Pizzas, Facebooking, the heroine’s Parisian connections (she’s the daughter of the Indian ambassador) – none of this is exoticised, none of this makes these people any less “Tamil.” There’s no bar song, no comedy track (barring a few lines from Jagan), and the women aren’t objects.
In fact, for a film that so clearly revolves around the hero (Prithvi, played by Atharvaa), Irumbu Kuthirai probably sets some kind of record in the number of strong (if one-note) women it surrounds him with. Prithvi’s prime influence is his mother (Devadarshini, who gets some sparkling dialogue), a PT teacher who refused to let the loss of her husband stop her from living her life. (At one point, she tells her son she wished she’d been a man.) Prithvi’s bestie is Christine (Raai Laxmi), a desi incarnation of the renegade biker babes from Hollywood, sporting tattoos and an attitude. The local bike salesman is really a saleswoman. The cop sought out during a crisis is a woman cop.
And when Samyuktha (Priya Anand) rejects Prithvi’s advances – he’s in love with her; she regards him as a friend – the moment is handled beautifully, without a trace of chauvinistic self-pity. We don’t get the typical Tamil-cinema segue to a drunken song where the hero, surrounded by a dozen swaying men, laments that women are heartbreakers. Naturally, the situation results in some awkwardness. After being (gently) rebuffed, Prithvi walks away from Samyuktha. And then he remembers that she came with him and she still needs a ride back. This refusal to manufacture a big “scene” around each development is something I enjoyed in the early parts of Irumbu Kuthirai.
The director, Yuvaraj Bose, does a lot of small things right. He sets the film in Puducherry, which imparts a bit of colour to the proceedings. The conversations between Samyuktha and Prithvi aren’t “cute” – they’re just conversations; Samyuktha and Prithvi talk like how a guy doing his CA and a girl studying medicine would talk. (She even takes him to her school.) The fact that Prithvi’s mother is Christian and his father a TamBrahm is casually tossed into the mix – it’s not a live wire that’s going to produce future shocks. And even the mandatory Ilayaraja number is showcased in context. This is a film about biking, and the song we see, playing on TV, is Paruva kaalangalin kanavu, whose early portions are about a couple motorcycling through Madras. (Though it must be said that, post Jigarthanda, every invocation of Ilayaraja is doomed to remind of us of the Bobby Simha character’s stone-faced declaration that he’s a “Shankar-Ganesh fan.”)
To say that a film is competent doesn’t sound like the highest of praise – but when so many directors seem incapable of stringing together two scenes with some sense of continuity, and when so many films with big stars make directors seem utterly redundant, there’s something to be said for Bose’s ability to tell a story without a scene seeming out of place. There is taste and restraint, and a strong sense of aesthetics. Everything belongs – except the songs, which are terrible speed breakers.
This may be a good point to reflect on songs in our cinema. The traditional masala narrative is happily accommodative of musical breaks. Here too, we ask that the ins and outs, into and from these breaks, are clean, well-scripted, but otherwise these films are so spacey, so generous in welcoming everything, that we have no qualms when the director says, “Okay, I’m switching off for five minutes, see you on the other side.” (And sometimes we are rewarded with good choreography.) But these Hollywood-style films – these rom-coms, these thrillers, these low-key coming-age-dramas – are severely crippled by clueless song placement. Mood is crucial to these films – once lost, it cannot be regained. I wish some of these filmmakers (or maybe the producers, if they’re the ones making these demands) make a trip to the theatre and listen to the audience groaning out loud every time a disconnected music video makes an appearance, with foreign locations and backup dancers seemingly plucked from the streets.
The bigger problem with Irumbu Kuthirai is that it lacks a pulse. It’s okay that the early portions coast along with a nonchalant vibe, but this cannot sustain the latter parts that are about intense showdowns on Ducatis. Things are made worse by an unintentionally funny villain (Johnny Tri Nguyen) who speaks Tamil as if he tutored under every bad actor from the 1960s who was cast as a Britisher or an Anglo-Indian. It’s interesting that he’s not really a villain – he’s not after world domination or some such thing – but more a man seeking to settle a score. But these psychological shades aren’t worked out very well, and we don’t get a grip, either, on Prithvi’s character graph. We see him going from 0 to 100, but what we really needed to see is his transformation from zero to hero.
* Irumbu Kuthirai = iron horse
* Vanakkam Chennai = see here
* Arima Nambi = see here
* Devadarshini = see here
* biker babes = see here
* drunken song = see here
* Puducherry = see here
* Paruva kaalangalin kanavu = see here
* foreign locations and backup dancers = see here
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