Here’s a not so secret playbook for Tamil heroes, stuck in a crisis of a screen identity. Tamil cinema today is split between stars that make films that their fans demand and actors who will roll with what a film’s vision demands. It is no judgement on the star or what they do in the name of art or their acting talent, simply a choice they see apt. Few manage to flirt with both, but erring mostly on the side of saleability. A rarity such as Vijay Sethupathi is willing to double down on the latter without an image trap.
Stars who suggest they prefer safe harbours ’cause the audience is indifferent in shaping the films they do, haven’t witnessed the droves that turned out for Vijay Sethupathi (and, yes, Nayanthara). The mid-week, late-evening screening in San Jose (California) saw a turnout every A-lister would crave.
So, why do you need to watch Naanum Rowdydhaan? Reasons aplenty.
Vignesh Shivan’s mix of film noir elements and dark humour has been attempted before, but few click with you as early as ‘Naanum Rowdydhaan’. The characters and comedic setups are very familiar; they still work. Credit to a precious by a cast that gets into the skin of the role and the dark undertones the situations take.
Vignesh pushes the movie into spaces that many Tamil movies are afraid of – fear of pushback from a “conservative” audience, fear of displeasing the hero (his fanbase) and/or antagonizing the film’s backers.
Parthiban, Vijay Sethupathi, Anand Raj, RJ Balaji and Mansoor Ali Khan set aside thier ego and let the script take some nasty swipes at them. Dhanush, the Producer, has no sacred cows to protect. With no insecurities at stake, Naanum Rowdydhaan soars as a no-holds-barred comedy.
Nayanthara’s “Ppaahh” moment. What a performance she’s landed! Where was this fire and raw delivery, all these years? It’s almost like someone finished off the Nayanthara with ‘Maya’ and we’re left with a rocking new incarnation of her. The writing around her hearing-impaired character is the work of mastery – sensitive, evenly baked and milked to the hilt.
A climax that goes for farcical could have gone haywire. Parthiban almost single-handedly turns it into a laugh riot. His side plot with Mansoor Ali Khan is a film in itself and a sad reminder of how MAK has been wasted and misused.
Of course, Vijay Sethupathi, our man-friday. He continues to be our relief as the mass-hero antithesis, even in a comedy. Naanum Rowdydhaan validates he’s able to engage (with great chemistry) any actor he plays off of. His scenes with Parthiban work as well as the ones he has with Nayanthara, Radhika or RJ Balaji.
Folks who have grown sceptical about Vijay Sethupathi, that 1. he is going over to the commercial side of cinema or 2. he won’t be safe or successful beyond the confines of indie films, will have to put such thoughts on hold until they see him do Naanum Rowdydhaan.