“Bairavaa”… A masala movie without spice or seasoning

Posted on January 12, 2017


Spoilers ahead…

Why isn’t Papa papa the hero-introduction song in Bairavaa? This is the kind of thing you think about when a film is 168 minutes long and so short on entertainment. The picturisation of the Santhosh Narayanan number is a riot of colour, and it’s filled with the energetic steps that make Vijay’s dance numbers such a joy to watch. (The star plays Bairavaa, but then I don’t have to tell you that.) The hero-exhorting lyrics come at us from the hero himself (“Nambi vandhaa naan nanmai seiven”) as well as the people around him, who claim him as their own (“Engaalappa nee engaalappa”). The stretch is easily the film’s highlight, and yet, it’s tucked away in the second half, popping up like an afterthought.

The hero-introduction honours go, instead, to Pattaya kelappu, which is shot like a thousand other such numbers – though it’s intriguing to see how the lines about banks and stacks of currency notes relate to the movie. Bairavaa is a collection agent. Pause for a second and chew on that. What a fun job for a masala-movie hero, who can now use his supernatural strength against scores of defaulters! Miss an instalment and he’ll send you flying into space.

Bairavaa could have done something with this unique premise, but the film, written and directed by Bharathan, is content to go where every man has gone before. Okay, so let me list the few things that work (at least in the sense of interesting concepts that deserved far better execution). A fight scene where Bairavaa is pelted with packets of petrol. A scene where a disgustingly misogynistic teacher is taught a lesson. A courtroom episode where Bairavaa launches into a monologue about the System. (It’s the only time Vijay looks invested in the proceedings.) The ring tone of a rough man who’s besotted with his wife: Solai pasungiliye. It harks back to the Rajkiran character in En Rasavin Manasiley, and it’s a reminder of the pleasing ways movies can subtly play with our memories. The selection of this five-second ring tone shows thought and imagination that, if applied elsewhere, would have yielded far more bang for your buck.

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Otherwise, Bairavaa is what happens when someone tosses in a bunch of must-have mass-movie ingredients into a mixie and forgets to add spice and seasoning. We get the comic sidekick (Sathish), and then the hero introduction, and then we get a heroine (Keerthy Suresh) who demonstrates her heroine-ness by smiling and feeding a little girl a spoonful of ice cream,  and then we get duets, fights,  rhymes (pacha mannu / yecha bun-nu), Thirunelveli accents that appear and disappear like a magician’s trick, and then we get a senior villain (Jagapathi Babu) and a junior villain (Daniel Balaji), and U certificate-worthy action scenes like the one where the hero sticks a knife in an enemy’s throat. Oh, we also get the now-patented bit where someone sticks a knife into Vijay. He must have magical healing properties. He continues to fight. This isn’t suspension of disbelief. This is suspension of 2000 years of medical knowledge. That sound you hear is Hippocrates muttering an oath.

And we get lectures. About how a husband should behave with his wife. About how an educator should go about his duties. Even about the futility of saving money. Yes, that’s right. In these demonetised times, Bairavaa says money that’s saved up is like cold food in the fridge. You have to be like a hunter, always after fresh kill. It’s only when you have a zero balance that there’s a spring in the step when you face the challenges of a new day. I’m probably getting the metaphors all mixed up, but surely I’m not the only one flabbergasted at the irony of these words coming from an actor whose salary makes the rest of our bank accounts look like a zero balance.

But that’s what a mass star does. That’s what a mass star has been doing from the days of MGR, making us believe that a real-life have is an on-screen have-not. As reminder, we get a nod to an MGR number (Budhdhan Yesu Gandhi pirandhadhu), where the actor claimed that the reason those great souls were born was for the poor, like him and those around him. And then come the nods to Rajinikanth, the other major mass-star who trod a similar path. Enkitta modhaadhey from Rajadhi Raja. Then, from Sivaji, a reworking of the coin toss and the plot point about the corruptions surrounding private educational institutions. And from Kabali, a punch line modelled after “magizhchi” (this one goes “sirappu… miga sirappu”) and the Neruppu da-like anthem (this one goes Varlaam varlaam vaa) that aims to bring the audience to their feet every few minutes.

In other words, this riff does the screenplay’s job. It quickens the pulse at least till the scene begins and we realise even the riff cannot save it. There are no memorable punch lines and even the major why (aka the Shankar Flashback™) is answered a little into the first half. Why not prolong the revelation (however underwhelming) to the second half, so there’s some semblance of mystery? And the production values are non-existent. Compare Bairavaa with Chiranjeevi’s new film, which looks like every scene has been polished with Brasso. (There may be nothing for the brain, but there’s lots for the eye.) What can you say about a multi-crore movie that cannot even buy its leading man a decent wig?

My favourite scene came when the villain realises the hero is vulnerable and sends carloads of goons to take him out. Later, he lands up to inspect the damage, and his eyes widen in surprise. It’s not the hero who’s lying in a pool of blood! It’s his own men! Really? The man must have never seen a masala movie in his life. But we’re not supposed to talk about these things, because online, the mass-hero masala movie is akin to the country, a holy entity that we’re supposed to cherish and worship without question. Otherwise you’ll get trolled by battalions of bhakts. Why is the hero introduced on a bicycle when he’s never again seen riding the vehicle? Shh… soldiers are dying on the border! Why is the film’s best song, the super-sexy soul/funk mix, Azhagiya soodana poovey, shot in such a pedestrian manner, with the couple freezing in the Alps instead of heating up a nightclub pulsing with disco lights? Shh… soldiers are dying on the border! To those who say “stop over-analysing, this is what a hero-centric mass movie is,” I respectfully submit Dhool, Saamy, Run, and Vijay’s own Ghilli and Thuppakki. It isn’t wrong to love the genre as a whole and yet have problems with lazily worked-out implementations of big ideas. Jai Hind.


  • Thuppakki = see here
  • Nambi vandhaa naan nanmai seiven” = I’m a do-gooder… or something.
  • Engaalappa nee engaalappa” = You da man!
  • pacha mannu / yecha bun-nu = You don’t want to go there.
  • Sivaji = see here
  • Kabali = see here
  • magizhchi” = muchos happiness!
  • sirappu… miga sirappu” = good… very good!

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Posted in: Cinema: Tamil