Imagine you are a filmmaker given these ingredients: murder; shattered dreams; a young woman’s (Swati Reddy) fear that her boyfriend may have run off with someone else; more murder; and a series of riffs on the notion of doppelgangers. Chinna (Arya) and Karthikeyan (an energetic Kreshna) are both outsiders in Chennai, and they’ve both fled from sticky situations – Chinna’s committed murder, and Karthikeyan’s father insists on handing over the family business to him (he dreams of becoming an actor). Their lives are so melded that, at one point, they both get calls from people at a temple. Karthik even gets Chinna’s name when he aces an audition and is christened… ‘Chinna’ Karthik. Duality, destiny… A certain kind of filmmaker might shape out of these themes an existential drama. Krzysztof Kieślowski certainly did, with The Double Life of Véronique.
Director Vishnuvardhan, on the other hand, views all this as an excuse for an inconsequential black comedy. I mean that as a small compliment. The emotions are muted, there’s no drama, nothing artificially amped-up – it’s nice, sometimes, to watch a movie without the feeling that the director is standing beside us, waiting to plunge an adrenalin syringe into the heart. There are a few nods in the direction of Tamil cinema. Chinna, for instance, is a ‘Thala’ fan. This is less a character trait than a business decision – all the better to attract fans of Arya as well as Ajith. But consider how Yatchan uses the comedienne Aarthi. M Rajesh, who directed the recent Vasuvum Saravananum Onna Padichavanga, would have instantly written a dozen fat jokes around her. But here, she’s the item girl in a song sequence. I’m not saying this is a giant step for feminism (or whatever). But this sort of thing does say something about a film’s sensibility. At least you know it’s trying to be different.
I wished Yatchan had been better. It has a premise from reigning pulp-meisters Suba – the first scene has a little girl, Swetha, being struck by lightning and left with clairvoyant powers. But not much is done with this. Swetha “sees” a murder, something she could have done even without this ability to see “visuals from beyond time,” as the film deliciously puts it. (The grown-up Swetha is played by Deepa Sannidhi, who was clearly put on this earth for Simran’s fans still lamenting her retirement; the resemblance is remarkable.) And a juicy twist at the end, harking back to the doppelganger theme, is pulled off weakly, like an afterthought. But this could also be the result of some almost-comical miscasting. Adil Hussain, for instance. He’s so visibly uncomfortable, you want to take him aside and say, “There, there, this film doesn’t matter. People will still remember you for English Vinglish.”
But the bits that work make you see what Yatchan could have been. RJ Balaji plays an annoying gangster. At first, the character is just… annoying, but he grows on you – there are some big laughs at the end. And the technical aspects are terrific. It’s wonderful to see a cinematographer (Om Prakash, who codes Chinna in reds, Karthikeyan in blues) and a music director (Yuvan Shankar Raja, who does some of his jauntiest work in years) in sync with a vision. This may not sound like a selling point, but we seem to be in an era where ninety per cent of a film’s budget goes into the hero’s pocket, and every other department suffers. After weeks of generic visuals, generic background scores, generic editing and songs and situations, Yatchan at least looks like a piece of cinema. Small mercies are not to be scoffed at.
- Yatchan = see here
- The Double Life of Véronique = = see here
- Vasuvum Saravananum Onna Padichavanga = see here
- English Vinglish = see here
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