Pandigai: An inconsistent, well-made thriller
A fairly intense film that doesn't connect every punch
It’s evident that the new crop of filmmakers are raised on a fair diet of international cinema. The inspiration—and I don’t mean it in the bastardised way plagiarists often take recourse in—behind some of the writing comes clearly from outside our borders. Many snapshots of Pandigai were instant reminders of some Hollywood films. As Krishna (in an admirable, understated portrayal of Velu), playing a streetfighter/hotel management intern, stands in the hotel, wearing his uniform and a bandage on his face to cover the injury acquired during the previous night’s brawl, it’s impossible not to be reminded of Fight Club. In a later scene, as the edge of a table is sandwiched between a man’s teeth and the villain delivers a sickening blow to the head, it’s impossible not to be reminded of American History X. And as for the heist scene that has a team of misfits wearing masks, well, it’s impossible not to be reminded of countless heist films over the years, including the most recent Baby Driver. Now, I mean none of this disrespectfully. If anything, it’s a treat for the eyes to behold stylised filmmaking, like in Pandigai. There’s a shot that moves from within a police station into the inspector’s office, and in your average film, the camera would simply glide in. But in Pandigai, someone drops a coin, and as it rolls away, the camera, which follows it, finds itself in the corrupt inspector’s office.
Cast: Krishna, Anandhi, Nitinsathyaa
It is a fairly intense film about a man who wants to grind out an honest living, getting drawn back into embracing the violence within him. It’s also about a betting racket, about underground fighting, and about another man who has to get his wife back by making swift money. There’s quite a bit to like about Pandigai. I liked that the hero’s fighting prowess is established with a backstory. I liked how effortlessly it introduces some characters, like the bouncer, and integrates them into the story. I liked the twist about the Raatnam Kumar character. I liked the occasional depth, like when Velu says, “Kannula bayam paathuta, adhu oru bodhai.” There should have been a lot more of that though. Such intense films need to embrace their seriousness, but Pandigai doesn’t come across as reflective enough. For instance, after Velu gets back to fighting, there’s a scene that shows his friend annoying him with a series of questions. As the anger within him builds, Velu finally responds by punching the table. It’s an offhanded scene, but it would have been nice to get some insight into what this return to violence is doing to him, considering he’s tried to stay away from it. And some of the bits, including the heist scene, should have been more inventive. Velu’s escape seems a tad too convenient. It’s a compliment to Pandigai that I’m even wishing it had been more intense and contemplative.
And of course, a truly good film would have a way better love angle; one that is better integrated into the story anyway. Director Feroz is progressive enough to show the heroine being drunk (this happens as she’s taking bath in beer, but still, baby steps), and yet, apparently cannot avoid the disheartening item song towards the end. In fact, it gets followed by one more duet, and even if it’s stopped rather urgently, the mood shift has occurred. There’s another idea about twins who are contract killers, and while it may have seemed intriguing on paper, it doesn’t do much on screen. Even the final resolution, much like in the heist scene, seems a tad too convenient and problem-free.
Somewhere at the beginning of Pandigai, a betting kingpin turns to his henchman who’s getting fatigued of punching someone he’s trying to extract information from. He advises, “Every punch you land must be as intense as your first. Otherwise, he won’t remember it.” Unfortunately, you can't quite say the same about the film.