Monday, June 26, 2006

Naalai - review

This is the season of the gangster on the Tamil screen. Helped by the success of movies like Pattiyal and Pudhupettai, moviemakers have started exploring this genre like never before. Naalai, director Udhayabanu Maheswaran's debut movie, has arrived in theatres purely by the virtue of its genre.
The movie is a genuine crack at showing what makes gangsters tick. It has decent music by Karthik Raja, who shows some of his father's genius for composing and timing the background score. A couple of songs are hummable as well. The cinematography by G. Ramesh is engaging, particularly so in the stunt sequences, which would have looked great in the last decade, but still appear well done. The editing and the art direction really top the technical category. The junkyard set is a prime example for good production design.
But movies have to be well written to be well made. Just forget for a minute the plot that moves in myriad directions and winds up in a messy tangle. What is most bizarre is the flatness of the dialogue. It is almost impossible to write movie-length dialogues without at least one standout line. But Maheswaran, who also wrote this movie, achieves this singular feat with effortless ease. The story is of two childhood friends Justin and Nattu played by Richard (actor Shalini's brother) and Nataraj Subramanian, who at a tender age join a small-time bootlegger Nair (Nasser). As Nair expands his business, Justin and Nattu, who know no fear, become his key henchmen, quickly learning the trade from him. In a series of sequences that move with all the nimbleness of an elephant, the fallout between the gangleader and the henchmen is set up. A murder and a marriage later, Nair can't stand his protégés anymore. A hit is planned, but the heroes survive as heroes always do. Justin ends up in jail and Nattu is crippled. A good deal of the second half is caught in a limbo, but the film is short. So it's got some things going for it, after all.
Nataraj is one of those actors, who do a good deal without seemingly doing anything. He plays the sidekick with ease and in the latter half portrays the cripple as having no any self-pity, which is a big relief. Madhumitha looks cute and appears mostly in sarees. Most of the time, she shuffles between two sets of expressions: the coy downward glance and the impassioned, eye-locking stare. Nasser's usual magic is missing, but he still proves that he is of a different breed, covering the Malayalee accent and gangster lingo with conscious care. The big theme of the movie is the friendship between Justin and Nattu. So it's all the more baffling to see it so underdeveloped. Caught in the need to deliver a racy, hard-hitting movie, the director hardly shows us the events that form the basis of such an ever-lasting relationship. Another big failure is to make the mafia look menacing. None of the characters, including the one played by 'Kathal' Dhandapani scare us, depriving us of the chills during the supposedly thrilling scenes.
Richard is good and would have been even better if he didn't have to keep pulling his gun out. Even gangsters, I am sure, don't show off their guns like some children flaunt their newly bought Diwali thuppaki.
But if gangster movies appeal to you, this is not altogether a bad way to spend an evening.