A kid in a jail cell. That’s an unusual image to begin a movie with. He seems to be filling out some sort of what-I-want-be-when-I-grow-up questionnaire, and against “Ambition,” he scrawls, carefully, “Police.” His mother, after all, is a cop (played by Raadhika Sarathkumar). Soon, he slips out of the cell – he was just hanging out. And a prisoner (Rajendran) takes his place. They strike up a conversation. “Rowdy perisaa police perisaa?” The prisoner makes a case for his kind and we slip into his story, detailing the conflict between a cop (Azhagamperumal) and a rowdy (Parthiban). The narrative is amazingly fluid – the two storylines slip into one another like pleats of silk. And then we discover it isn’t a story after all. These characters are real. Their conflict is real.
The writer-director Vignesh Shivan uses this technique a lot. He’ll show us the last bit of a series of events, and then, a little later, he’ll take us back and show everything that happened. We see Kadambari (Nayantara, who looks fantastic) enter the police station with a broken cell phone – later, we see how she was apprehended, how the phone was broken. We hear about a dead parent – later, we’re shown how the death occurred. What’s surprising is the tone. Pandi (Vijay Sethupathi) – the kid at the story’s beginning – wants to become a rowdy. But this isn’t Pudhupettai. Kadambari is out to avenge herself on the man who annihilated her family. But this isn’t Kill Bill. The beautifully shot Naanum Rowdy Dhaan (the cinematographer is George C. Williams) is, instead, a comedy – sometimes a very black one. I haven’t laughed this hard over innocent men being snuffed out by a silencer-outfitted gun. Anirudh’s jaunty score clues us in to the mood. Even when someone is being stabbed to death, a mariachi band seems to be playing in a corner. Remember Thirudan Police, which treated a revenge drama like a comedy? Naanum Rowdy Dhaan is a sibling. With a dash of Thamizh Padam, in the way it skewers our cinema’s obsession with antiheroes. Pandi is an… anti-rowdy.
There are a few rough patches, and the overtly sentimental scenes are a mistake. (Nayantara’s fussy emoting doesn’t help.) When you’re trying to make the audience laugh, you don’t dwell too much on a girl’s reaction to her father’s gory death. Or a man receiving the news that his mother has been kidnapped and, most likely, killed. But these passages are easy to overlook because the film is such fun. Take Pandi. The extent of his “rowdy-ness” is the adjudication of a dispute between two schoolboys – Ramesh, Suresh – who happen to be in love with the same girl. And his “lair,” bathed in fluorescent light, is hilarious. Graffitied on the walls are his rates. Hand breaking – Rs. 10000. Leg breaking – Rs. 15000. And at a corner, this admonition: “ID proof compulsory.” Pandi is so patently unfit for the job, the film could be called Non Rowdy Dhaan.
This is a welcome return to form for Vijay Sethupathi, who seemed to be trying too hard to become a star, with films like Vanmam and Rummy. He shines best in roles with a lower wattage – Pandi is an endearing dimbulb. And he’s surrounded by a crack team of comics. Rajendran, of course – but also RJ Balaji, who keeps tossing out pop-culture nuggets. Looking at a giant of a man, he exclaims, “Audio launch-ukku vandha Arnold maadhiri…” And Parthiban is in glorious form. The scene where a bunch of amateurs try to assassinate him is the most sustained stretch of farce I’ve seen in ages. They try everything – eggs, petrol, a burning tire. The audience explodes.
- Naanum Rowdy Dhaan = I, too, am a rowdy
- “Rowdy perisaa police perisaa?” = Who’s bigger? A rowdy? Or a cop?
- Pudhupettai = see here
- Kill Bill = see here
- Thirudan Police = see here
- Thamizh Padam = see here
- Vanmam = see here
- Rummy = see here
- “Audio launch-ukku vandha Arnold maadhiri…” = A reference to Schwarzenegger
Copyright ©2015 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.