I perked up at the beginning of Arun Krishnaswami’s Ennodu Vilayadu. (That title! What a great fit if someone made a Fifty Shades of Grey in Tamil.) The story deposits us in Guindy, by the race track, and we get this voiceover: “Inga kuthirai saththam innum kekkudhu!” As if on cue, the sound guys amp up the volume of the race. Hooves thunder across the theatre’s speakers.
But soon, the story shifts tracks, from racing to romance. Two romances, actually. Vikram (Bharath) falls for Mini (Chandini Tamilarasan). Sridhar (Kathir) starts out as Inba’s (Sanchita Shetty) houseguest, and as he looks for more permanent accommodation, they get friendlier. She points out in public that his fly is open, which breaks the heart of the man nearby (he has a crush on Inba!). And there’s a rat somewhere. It leaps out of Sridhar’s suitcase and Inba says he cannot leave the house till he catches it. Sridhar sets up a mousetrap. He waits. A few days of waiting, and he realises he’s in love with Inba. Nobody seems bothered that a story that began with horses is now poised on the appearance of a rodent.
You don’t have to be much of a director to make a comedy work. If you write good jokes, if you hire actors with good timing, you’re home. It’s the same with drama. You could get by if you have interesting developments and people to root for. But thrillers are a different beast. They die without style, atmosphere, relentless focus. It’s one thing to add “commercial” elements to make an unusual story work for a mass audience, but Ennodu Vilayadu is so invested in its characters’ love lives that the racing is almost incidental.
Around interval time, we get to the plot. It involves race fixing. Sharma (Yog Japee) and Nagulan (Radha Ravi) cut a deal for Rs. 50 lakh, which somehow ends up in Sridhar’s car. The money could come in handy for Inba and Vikram – her ancestral home is at the brink of being auctioned off, and he owes credit card companies huge sums. But the film doesn’t convey their desperation. It’s impossible to root for Vikram when he seems more interested in spending time with Mini. As he drops her home, he asks if she’ll invite him in for a cup of coffee. Long pause. No, she says. She’ll invite him for… tea. Once inside, the power goes off. They end up in a clinch. The lights come back on. Vikram says he hates Edison for inventing the light bulb. You wish some of this cheese had found its way into Sridhar’s mousetrap. He’d have had instant results.
- Ennodu Vilayadu = play with me!
- “Inga kuthirai saththam innum kekkudhu!” = You still hear the sound of horses here.
An edited version of this piece can be found here. Copyright ©2017 The Hindu. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.