N Kalyanakrishnan’s Bhooloham is yet another warming-up of the local-boy-makes-good boxing drama. It has the gruff-father-figure coach (Ponvannan). It has the sinews-popping training montage. It has the giant opponents who represent the “other” in multiple ways – Dayal (Arpit Ranka) is from North India, Steven George (Nathan Jones) is from North America. And it has a bigger villain in a sports-channel owner, who wants ratings at any cost. Prakash Raj plays this villain. In an early scene, he uses air quotes, and I wondered if this was something of a first in Tamil cinema. Otherwise, he does the same thing he does in every film. I’m not blaming him. These roles don’t have many shades and there’s only so much an actor can do. I’m sure audiences of the 1960s began saying the same thing about Nambiar. But this one-note villainy is really becoming a detriment to the films he’s in. No wonder Sathyaraj turned hero after a point.
Anyway, I’m digressing. Despite all this familiarity, Bhooloham feels a bit new, because it’s set in North Madras. The milieu – the Prakash Raj character says something to the effect of the “local” being the new “global” – makes a bit of a difference. Consider this scene where a boxer is hospitalised and they need lots of money for treatment. His friends set out to amass funds, by… collecting mamool. The old friends-helping-out scenario gets a new coat of paint. As does Jayam Ravi – literally. He gets a tan, and perhaps for the first time in his career, he looks like Anniyan rather than ‘Rules’ Ramanujam. The gold tooth helps. I kept wondering how much better (or at least different) Thani Oruvan might have been had he had this look. He plays Bhooloham, a boxer who renounces the sport, then gets back in the ring. The film puts it better: Cell phone adichaa ring-u, Bhooloham adichaa sangu.
Again, the North Madras setting helps. Bhooloham says that in these parts, boxing is a family tradition – they box the way the farmer’s son picks up the plough, the way a producer’s son decides it’s time he became a hero. It’s an interesting insight for a couple of reasons. One, it’s antithetical to what boxing means to people like the Prakash Raj character. To them, it’s business. To people like Bhooloham, it’s a way of life – perhaps a bit of escape, even, from waiting tables and lifting loads. And two, Bhooloham realises that this tradition is something that, if practised outside the ring, could result in arrest for attempt to murder. (The film is written by SP Jananathan.) Bhooloham keeps up this thundering – in the climax, he rants about greedy corporates. (Did I tell you the film is written by S P Jananathan?) Then again, what good is a boxing drama without “punch” dialogue? Luckily, he also gets a couple of good action scenes, one of which occurs just before interval point. He’s said he won’t box anymore, but he’s pulled back into the ring – and his instincts take over. Had the rest of the film operated at this visceral level, we’d have had a masala classic.
The undoing comes from the usual villains, who are even more predictable than Prakash Raj. Nathan Jones is so cartoonishly evil that he makes you laugh. The emotional beats are strong, but not especially well-developed. You have to keep second-guessing the hero’s motivations. And the heroine? Trisha plays Sindhu, Bhooloham’s fiancée – what she’s really playing is a sore thumb. She’s as much a fit in this North Madras milieu as Amy Jackson is in pretty much every movie she’s in. And the things she does. At times, we’re supposed to accept her as some sort of sports trainer. She teaches Bhooloham new techniques – note how she improves his footwork by making him dance to Aasai nooru vagai and Annathe aadurar. Other times, she’s found at the tattoo parlour, inking various parts of her anatomy with images of her boyfriend. Thighs, chest, arms, stomach, the naughty bits – he’s all over her. I kept waiting for the wedding-night scene where Bhooloham undresses her eagerly and begins screaming at the prospect of making love to himself.
- Thani Oruvan = see here
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