Pancharaaksharam movie review: A decent thriller with forgivable shortcomings
Debutant director Balaji Vairamuthu’s Pancharaaksharam falls just short of becoming an engrossing fantasy thriller
Pancharaaksharam, by debutant director Balaji Vairamuthu, kicks off with a lengthy but wonderful animation that narrates the backstory of a fictitious and centuries-old book with the eponymous title. Written by a spiritual seeker, the book is an attempt to predict the future of anyone who reads it. Later, the film quickly establishes its five lead characters. Dhushyanth (Santhosh Prathap), a traveller, has a guinea pig in a cage tied to his bike’s tank. Thankfully, this pretentiousness does not spread across the movie. We then get introduced to Sameera (Madhu Shalini), who quits journalism to write a novel. Then there is an altruist Jeevika (Sana Althaf), and a loafer, Dharma (Ashwin Jerome), who has no shame in admitting that he is living off his rich dad. They all meet at the music concert of Aidhan (Gokul) and bond over his song, Theraathae, which has been composed by the underrated music composer Sundaramurthy KS and sung by Sid Sriram.
The bunch hits it off instantly and plans a tour where they stumble upon the mystical book that turns their lives upside down. The book foretells bad things for all five, and when predictions turn real, they get caught up in a living nightmare. The interval cliffhanger is easily one of the best in recent times, and I was wondering if this would be one last pleasant surprise for us. Alas, post interval, the film goes on a slippery slope of juvenility.
Director: Balaji Vairamuthu
Cast: Santhosh Prathap, Madhu Shalini, Sana Althaf, Ashwin Jerome, Gokul
A serial killer appears out of nowhere and abducts a lead character. Now, the rest have to find their friend and they only have the book of doom to turn to. And the silliness ensues. The hints they get from the books are laughable. Sample this: The book shows a random number, and they look all around to find 3/4th of the number on their car’s speedometer, a bit on a milestone, and a small hill nearby bears the last two digits. I was reminded of Vasool Raja asking Amit, “Thoda… Iruvathi ezhula iruvatha kalicha ezhu-mba pola neeyu.”
Director Balaji Vairamuthu seems to have bitten off more than he can chew. There is a concern about the proliferation of the dark web, an emphasis on the power of positive thinking, and thoughts about destiny, etc, which makes the second of a bit all over the place.
Yet, the brilliant first half of the film has already created a soft-spot in me and this silliness didn't completely erase it. Also, the filmmaking is anything but lazy. The director has tried his best to provide depth to all his leads-- with their respective character traits and emotional baggage--complemented by the commendable performances. The director also holds our attention throughout the movie despite apparent shortcomings.
If only the blemishes had been ironed out, the screenplay had been tighter, and the film’s focus had been narrower, Pancharaaksharam would have turned out to be a terrific end to a relatively unsurprising year in Tamil cinema.