Under normal circumstances, the story of a hurdler (Pugazhendi, played by Atharvaa) with a rare blood disease – thrombasthenia, if you’re a doctor; in English, once the patient begins to bleed, he won’t stop – would be story enough. A slightly ambitious filmmaker might even use the sport as a metaphor, that Pugazhendi faces obstacles not just on the track but in life. But this being commercial cinema, the director Ravi Arasu keeps throwing in more hurdles, like the gang of counterfeiters Pugazhendi gets involved with. Because if you didn’t have that gang, you wouldn’t have villains, one of whom is introduced in a shot that exposes the scorpion tattoo on his neck as he fries an ant crawling up his arm with a cigarette. Ooh. And without villains, Pugazhendi would just be an ordinary guy, not a hero. The difference, you ask? The former is a creation of the writer, the director. The latter is a creation of an action choreographer who’s never heard of Physics. Or at least, he follows a different textbook. For every punch, there is an equal and opposite punch. What goes up, especially if it’s a henchman, does so in slow motion and must not come down.
Put differently, Eetti is the latest addition to what we can now safely term “the Vetri Maaran genre”: an ordinary man, through a series of utterly ordinary incidents, finds himself mired in extraordinary circumstances. (Examples of the genre include Poriyaalan and Udhayam NH4, whose makers, like Ravi Arasu, were assistants of Vetri Maaran.) But unlike those other films, this one lacks finesse, craft, aesthetics. Instead, we get gimmicky, cheap-shot storytelling – we are tossed back and forth in time, depending on whether the director wants to hold back or reveal information. We get two flashbacks in a matter of minutes. This isn’t screenwriting. This is a two-year-old playing with a plate of spaghetti. The opening scene is for two-year-olds. A doctor appears on TV and, when asked about “some rare diseases,” begins to babble about thrombasthenia. Why not ease us into the condition through the course of the narrative?
And if there’s an award for the most number of coincidences in a movie, Eetti would sweep them all. The hero just happens to be passing by on a bike when the heroine’s brother is fleeing a gang, and the man just happens to hop on to the hero’s bike, and after he gets off, the hero just happens to end up in a tea stall, which just happens to be the same tea stall where the villain is, and the heroine just happens to be scootering by as the fight gets underway. Even better is the scene where the villain just happens to cut himself on a jagged piece of metal protruding from a table, and to stanch the blood, he just happens to tear out pages from an old magazine lying on that table, and those just happen to be the very pages containing a story about the hero’s condition. Had this been a whodunit, the detective, after viewing the corpse, would have found a sign that read: THIS WAY, SMOKING GUN.
The tiresome hero-villain clashes suck up all the oxygen, and the really interesting stuff doesn’t get a chance to breathe. I wanted to see more of the people around Pugazhendi – the coach (Naren, in a hammy, old-school performance in which we actually see his chin quiver) whose gruff exterior conceals (what else?) a heart of gold; the mother who’s a lousy cook; the sister who keeps track of Pugazhendi’s trophies; and especially the father (Jayaprakash), a lowly constable who indulges his son’s dreams because he never could indulge his own. When Pugazhendi staggers home after a celebratory evening with friends, he says, softly: “Indha sarakku dhum illena time innum korayum.” It’s a very stern and parental thing to say – You’ll be a better athlete if you give up smoking and drinking! – but it’s said in the tone of a man who knows that his advice has a better chance of getting through if he’s a friend rather than a father.
But the love track works. (Pugazhendi’s romantic interest is Gayathri, and she’s played by Sri Divya.) There’s an unusual hook, involving many phone calls, and it’s nice to watch a love story unfold without a first sight. Even the obeisance to Ajith – without which, apparently, a filmmaker these days could be thrown into jail – is handled cleverly. It’s not a lazily inserted clip from one of the actor’s movies. And it helps that the leads are matched in age – there’s something about young love that makes us smile, and I caught myself smiling a lot. Sri Divya seems to be making a career of striking all the right sparks with the younger lot of heroes. (Her track with Vishnu Vishal was the best thing about Jeeva.) As for Atharvaa, he keeps showing us how hard he works – rather, works out – at being a star. He’s frequently shirtless, and his stomach looks like something you’d cover with a tablecloth and place a vase on. Acting, in simpler times, was about putting a character across. Today, it’s about protein shakes.
- eetti = spear
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