Thambi Movie Review: Good performances from Karthi and Jyotika hold together a decent drama
Effective actors elevate a script that doesn’t go beyond the surface
I first knew of director Jeethu Joseph when I watched Drishyam, his insanely popular blockbuster from 2013. I found the space the film functioned in very interesting. An accidental crime, a family that reconstructs the story, and the constant question of who is innocent. Thambi, his latest in Tamil starring Jyothika and Karthi, functions in a very similar zone. This film is also a family drama at its core. One that revolves around the return of Saravanan, who has been lost to his family in Mettupalayam for 15 years. But is he really Saravanan? Or is it Vicky (Karthi), a small-time crook looking to make an easy buck? Is it just this or is there something bigger at hand?
Cast: Jyothika, Karthi, Sathyaraj
Director: Jeethu Joseph
Thambi is a great example of how effective actors can elevate a script that doesn’t go beyond the surface. The film uses a lot of familiar faces that bring a certain authenticity to the roles they play. As these characters go back and forth on the greyscale, we go with the flow, mostly because of the actors playing those roles and saying those things. And this applies even to the supporting cast which has Bala, Hareesh Peradi, Nikhila Vimal, Anson Paul, Ilavarasu, Ashwanth, Ammu Abhirami, and Sowcar Janaki. No matter if it’s just one scene, they make the cliches work.
Thambi once again reminded me that Karthi is one of the most exciting mainstream actors today. With effortless charm, he sells the cliches of the first half with astounding ease. And he is in fine company. The film’s Gnanamoorthy needed a Sathyaraj, who portrays ambiguity with such authority. All it takes is a stern look to make us look at the character through an entirely different lens.
The opening credits start, surprisingly, with Jyothika’s name, followed by Sathyaraj and Karthi. However, she takes a backseat here, behind Karthi and Sathyaraj. She isn’t short-changed through. There’s silent dignity, a quiet resilience in the way Parvathy carries herself. And again, all it takes is one scene for us to look at Parvathy differently. I wished we had more scenes of Jyothika and Karthi together. Jeethu’s biggest victory might be getting this casting right.
There’s only so much the actors can do, however. Thambi’s plot of an outsider finding family might not be particularly unique or novel to our cinema. But the screenplay is smart in its placement of red herrings, stacking them up all the way until the final reveal. It is a narrative that sounds good. But it doesn’t translate to great cinema on screen. The film begins slow, with scenes that vaguely feel familiar, and only really takes off after the intermission. (When are we going to let the 'manasatchi in mirror reflections' trope rest?) Except for the final twist, the rest don’t land as hard as they are supposed to. The film doesn’t spend enough time setting up and staging the twists and reveals as it should have. At a crucial juncture, someone manages to grab a gun from another and just have time to leave the spot without suspicion. The effect is that the tension of the moment is diffused.
I quite liked Govind Vasantha’s score which works in the same zone as the film itself — making the usual enjoyable. Even the cinematography feels cut out of the same fabric, except for a few easter eggs.
Yes, the film is a middling drama — it could have been a Drishyam, but it doesn’t get there. However, it gave me some food for thought. As I walked out of Thambi, I overheard a fellow audience member saying that one could have just skipped the first half and the film would have worked. While a bit exaggerated, the point he made is valid. In an era where most stars only want the spotlight to themselves, films like Thambi remind us of the necessity of a strong supporting cast, and the inherent fascination an ensemble holds, if used well. And that’s a reminder I liked taking back home.