Enai Noki Paayum Thota Movie Review: The bullet finally arrives, but just misses the mark
There’s a lot of self-awareness that powers Enai Noki Paayum Thota, a slightly bizarre tale with quite a few convincing moments
It isn’t every day that you see a full house at eight in the morning, on a working day. But this isn’t every day. The shows were delayed, but what are few more minutes for fans who have waited for years to see Gautham Menon's name on screen? GVM seems to know what he is up against, and is also aware of the struggle in the run-up to this day. Gautham’s Ondraga Entertainment is introduced with a ‘Naan Veezhven Endru Ninaithayo’ voice-over. There’s a card that thanks ‘the few who stood with them through this tough phase’. There’s a lot of self-awareness that powers Enai Noki Paayum Thota, probably the most enjoyable aspect of this film, which is a slightly bizarre tale with quite a few convincing moments.
Director: Gautham Vasudev Menon
Cast: Dhanush, Megha Akash, Sasikumar, Sunainaa
The film begins by tracking a gun, that ultimately gets aimed at Raghu (a terrific Dhanush). And the voice-overs begin. Crouching against a wall, we hear Raghu narrate what’s going on. “Dei anna, unnala thaan da idhu,” he starts, noting wryly how he has laughed at villains in films mouthing off unnecessary dialogues when their guns are pointed at someone. But now, however, the story’s different. He is thankful that the villain is talking to someone. Raghu talks about his sweetheart Lekha (Megha Akash), who happens to be his ‘mudhal' and 'mudivu’. He remembers an astrologer who predicted that he would live until 90. As a bullet sears towards him, Raghu wryly notes that maybe, this is the end. “Saavu thaan ninaikaren, vaazhntha vaazhkai kanla theriyudhu.” The dialogues are poetic, and so are the voice-overs, seasoned with a wry sense of humour that is delightful. The voice might belong to Dhanush, but it is GVM telling us a story, Raghu’s story, in his inimitable style. At a crucial moment, where some context is given to the story, the voice-over notes, “Avan sonna kadhai Pokkiri padam.” And at another, the all-knowing voice observes that one of the thugs has a weapon from Ghajini. Before the film breaks for intermission, when Raghu and Lekha meet again, the voiceover which almost acts as an ‘asariri’ quips again, “Iva enna kadha sollaporaalo nu therla.” Because that is what it is, a story. To quote Pasupathy, ‘Neenga nambaringalo illayo, adhaan nesam.’ It is refreshing because it feels like GVM is on our side, acknowledging that the story he is selling us feels extremely convenient. (Hold that thought, as I will come back to this later.)
In any other film, from any other writer, these omnipresent voice-overs might sound exhausting. But not here, as we get some well-staged visuals to accompany that narrative. As Raghu’s childhood is narrated, we get a shadow film of sorts reminding me of the popular phrase, “ninaivugal nizhal aadina.” Or take the scene where Lekha and Raghu kiss for the first time. Stuck in a tiny bathroom, the film cuts fluently between revolving shots, close-ups, and reflections -- all indicative of the intimate, life-changing moment that is blossoming. The 'asariri' could have just been silent, and the moment would have worked. But that’s not Gautham, is it? He complements this with, “Naa ava disturbed a irukkarappo, idhu nadaka koodathu nu ninachen. But she didn’t care about anything, and then, I didn’t want to as well.” This isn't just a mere narrator, but a commentator with a sense of irony. The visually stimulating frames, the snappy editing, and the voice-overs somehow just blend into each other, coming together as one. A major strength is that the film doesn’t feel dated despite being stuck in production hell for quite some time. It is as relevant as it could be, in today’s times, by all means. There’s talk about private pictures being leaked, men forcing themselves on women. But it has been handled deftly, with sensitivity. We wouldn’t expect anything less from this director, would we?
However, none of this completely takes away our attention from the high degree of convenience in this generic story. Some of the teases, those planted for mere effect, fall flat. There’s a malfunctioning gun exactly where it is wanted. A friend pops up whose only purpose is to help Raghu and Lekha. The histories of Raghu and Lekha just happen to get interlinked with each other. A belt buckle and a key just become saviours. Raghu just happens to find what Thiru (Sasikumar) had intended him to. There’s also the similarity to Gautham’s last film, Achcham Enbathu Madamaiyada. (Maruvaarthai is placed beautifully, starts with a bang to only taper later, like Thalli Pogathey). The convenience gets tougher to handle as the film ambles into the later stages, where the voice-over becomes our only interest. Also, Enai Noki Paayum Thota must have the most tepid climax of the Gautham Vasudev Menon universe, including the blasphemy that was Achcham Enbathu Madamaiyada. I had to pinch myself to believe the film ended the way it did. But again, it had to end somehow I guess.
The story might have been underwritten but is shouldered by two Ds -- Dhanush and Darbuka Siva. Dhanush plays the sophisticated 20-year old Raghu with such organic maturity, that it is beautiful to watch. Dhanush matches the sophistication in GVM's dialogues, and also the increasingly bizarre events with consummate ease. And I couldn’t stop smiling when GVM acknowledges this with one of his VOs: “It looks easy, doesn’t it? That’s because of me. It isn’t, in reality.”
Darbuka delivers an inspired album. The songs, which have been a rage, are stacked one after another. The charm hasn’t worn off, and they become the flame that lights up this film. However, I wish Lekha had been played by someone else. While Megha’s performance isn’t exactly bad, and she looks great, I wish the character had been played by an actor who could match Dhanush’s infectious intensity and versatility. Even how the Lekha-Raghu relationship is structured is indicative of the characters' equation. It feels good to see Lekha take initiative, literally take Raghu’s hands and lead him into who she is. There are very few who can write love in all its filmy glory as Gautham does, and these portions are the strongest in ENPT.
There are few filmmakers who you share a special relationship with, as you grow up seeing their work. Their art becomes an inseparable part of who you are. And as ENPT rolled on, I subconsciously noted that this film has locations that are uncannily similar to ones his earlier films -- the staircase where Simbu and Samantha have a conversation in Vinnaithandi Varuvaaya; the house from Acham Enbathu Madamaiyada... It’s a mark of the indelible mark GVM’s work has left on the psyche, even if I wasn’t fond of them all. It was heartening to see the cheers the man got when his name appeared at the start and the end. More than any analysis of what did not work in this film, I realised I was glad just to see him back in action. So, yes, welcome back GVM. This isn't your best work, but I will take this bullet for you.