“Gethu”… A stylish but empty thriller

Posted on January 18, 2016


Spoilers ahead…

Now that Santhanam’s star is on the wane, Udhayanidhi Stalin must have been in a fix about his forthcoming film. “Why not try action?” someone must have said. Hence, Gethu, which begins with a sniper (Vikranth) in Leh. I didn’t get his name. Wikipedia says it’s David Christopher. It doesn’t matter. He could be called Sniper Dude and the film wouldn’t be any different. The director Thirukumaran gives Sniper Dude green eyes and a scar slicing through an eyebrow. That’s this film’s extent of character detailing. The hero (Sethu, played by Udhayanidhi Stalin), too, gets two character details: he does yoga, and he’s vegetarian. We wonder why. Maybe there’s an action scene ahead where he slices a goon’s throat with a carrot and blows the next goon away with a Pranayamic exhalation. But nah! And at least it’s better than what the heroine (Amy Jackson) gets by way of definition: a mole on the upper lip.

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It’s an intriguing mole. Did Jackson always have it, and was it buried under pancake? (Is this discrimination? Is she a… mole-ist?) And why does it vanish during the song sequences? After a point, the actress herself vanishes for a stretch and we move on to scenes with the much bigger Anuradha, who plays a gangster. With a mole on the upper lip. And soon, this gangster vanishes and the Jackson character reappears. The Lynchian possibilities are tantalising: maybe we’re watching Melmaruvathur Drive. But then, Jackson’s presence in Tamil cinema is as surreal as anything by Lynch, with the nail-biting suspense surrounding whatever they will cast her as next, and how they will explain away her alienness. Thangamagan gave her a British father, a Tamil mother and deposited her in a lower-middle-class locality. In Gethu, she’s an Iyengar named Nandini Ramanujam, who wants to become a newsreader on Doordarshan. Why? Because it was the unfulfilled dream of her “thoappanaar.” Apparently, the dialogues were written by the head priest of the Parthasarathy Swami temple.

Like Kathakali, Gethu comes with a short running time (just about two hours) and then proceeds to squander a good 45 minutes on the romantic track. So Nandini is a book thief, who pilfers everything from Jeyamohan to Chetan Bhagat. Sethu is a librarian whose books are missing. He tracks her down with his friend, a cop played by Karunkaran. (Again, I didn’t get his name. But even Wikipedia didn’t help this time. It just said “Police Officer.”) And why does Police Officer tag along with Sethu? Because he hopes Nandini’s friends are equally pretty. Instead, he meets a perfectly normal-looking girl, whom he mocks as dark-complexioned and fat. She extends her hand and says her name: Veena. He withdraws his hand and says: Venaam. The only thing more depressing than this “comedy” was that the crowd around me was laughing.

And then we get to the exceedingly tender romance between Sethu and Nandini, which begins when she takes a picture of him peeing on the roadside. She blackmails him: Take me sightseeing at night, or else I will post this picture on Facebook. And they end up at one of those only-in-the-movies locations where people, instead of getting ready for bed, are up singing and dancing. The song, which goes Mutta bajji, is basically Harris Jeyaraj throwing up his hands and saying, “I can’t be bothered anymore” – but the choreography is nice. It’s not just the steps, the formations. It’s also the light, which, sometimes, shows the dancers in silhouette. Sukumar is the cinematographer, and Gethu functions primarily as his show reel. The images are very good. That doesn’t mean the cinematography is good, which implies that it serves the story. The colour schemes (blue is dominant) are overdetermined, and the suffocating deliberateness of the compositions (some from the PC Sreeram playbook, like the frame-with-a-frame image of a happy family captured from outside a window, or the shot of someone running in slo-mo after a police van) makes Gethu look more like a slick music video than the thriller it wants to be.

But that’s not the cinematographer’s fault. That’s the director’s. While I respect the fact that he sat down with Sukumar and worked out how best to frame his story, there’s a sense of wannabe-ness in the imagery. A murder is shown entirely through the reflection in a mirror, but while the visual is breathtaking, the action itself (the murder) doesn’t make us feel anything. Because we don’t really care about anyone. Because the motives are bizarre. Because the story – something about Sniper Dude wanting to assassinate someone, and Sethu getting in the way (because of his father, played by Sathyaraj) – is way too convoluted. All Thirukumaran is interested in is style, and it isn’t even a very organic style. In that murder scene, there’s a Jimmy Dorsey poster on the wall, and the music coming out of a gramophone is… Chanson Française. In the climactic showdown, pigeons flutter around as in a JohnWoo movie. Why all this Peter-level fuss for something named… Gethu?


  • gethu = something superb

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Posted in: Cinema: Tamil