You can draw parallels between the growth of Selvaraghavan as a filmmaker in Kodambakkam and the rise of Kokki Kumar as a gangster in Pudupettai.
The rise part of the film is near flawless. It’s almost a classic but for that exceptionally cheesy scene when a skinny, gawky reduced-to-pulp street urchin that resembles a pencil, surrounded by 100 gangsters makes an escape on a tricycle (with a terribly fake visual-effects produced sunrise in the the backdrop) and that too AFTER killing the gangleader’s own brother.
If you forgive that one scene from the first half of the film, the movie’s incredibly compelling that Selvaraghavan, instead of putting “Interval,” should have actually put “The End” and made us await the sequel. And spent that time doing a little more work on Book Two.
And, we could all have gone home believing that Selvaraghavan has risen to the top as among the best filmmakers in Kodambakkam.
The first 90 minutes are among the best we’ve seen in Tamil cinema in recent times, as Selvaraghavan takes us into the dark side of the city, where right and wrong are determined purely on the basis of survival. With a couple of nods to Coppola and maybe a couple to Varma and Mani Ratnam, Selva shows us a world he seems to know extremely well and in a sensibility which is undeniably and authentically crass. Ignore the visual effects department and Yuvan sometimes going a little overboard and what you get is a gangster epic.
Dhanush, a tad animated (but that’s how the mass likes it) gets under the skin of Kokki Kumar, quite comfortably, a Plus 2 drop out who takes refuge in the world of crime and quickly adapts and learns the ropes to stay alive. The things he does are ballsy to say the least, and made appropriately believable for most part of the first half.
It’s almost like how Selva made it to the big bad world of films… First, as a neglected third-rung upstart who did not even get credit for his work (Thulluvatho Illamai), then a hit (Kaadhal Kondain) that got noticed by everybody in town. And another (7 G Rainbow Colony) that signalled his arrival. Undeniably good cinema even if it was wrong.
And with Pudupettai, that boasted of many firsts — shot in Super 35, orchestra from Bangkok, released in 2k digital resolution — saw him reach the top, quite convincingly, even if a little flawed. I’m not sure if cinematographer Arvinda Krishna would have actually liked the inconsistency in colour correction and grading. Seems like a very hurried job by some newbie effects supervisor who wanted to try out all the effects that Lustre provides him with.
The second half is when the nightmare begins. It’s terrible to the extent that it is literally a criminal waste of film.
This is the bit when power gets to his head. What is true for ‘Kokki’ Kumar seems to be true for Selva too. So when Kumar says: “Overa aadna epdi thaan,” you really feel like telling that to Selva too.
Just to show off his directorial skills and to say he’s not influenced by ‘Nayakan’ or ‘Godfather’ or ‘Sathya’ and to leave a stamp of originality in his work, Selva recklessly runs loose with his screenplay, thrusting upon you twist after twist, each worse than the other, just so that he can beat you at the guessing game. Though he beats you at it every single time, you don’t really respect him as a filmmaker because he doesn’t do it well enough. So while there are many moments in the second half that almost show his class, he ruins it with his inherent crass sensibility. Dated ideas like baddies threatening to throw baby from the second floor doesn’t seem to gel in a film that sometimes looks far more sophisticated, especially the bit when Kokki’s rival on getting cornered, quietly reaches for his drink and meal (watch the scene and you’ll know what I mean), intrigues you enough before ruining it all over again with another anti-climax.
The anti-climaxes are many. The final one, though grossly, politically incorrect, is the redeeming factor of the second half.
But then, that’s vintage Selvaraghavan: Good cinema gone wrong.