Mafia movie review: Much ado about nothing
Promising directors don't have to be promising writers, and having an additional perspective could give scripts like Mafia the depth they lack
In Dhuruvangal Pathinaru, Inspector Deepak poses an interesting question. “Climax therinjutte padam paakarathu bore adikaathu?” Constable Gautham replies, “Not really, it depends on how you tell the story.” It is quite true of most Tamil 'commercial' films whose happy ending is no surprise. The heroes never lose, but the closer the contest, the more exciting the journey. However, what when the film doesn’t give you anything the trailer doesn’t?
Between Mafia and Dhuruvangal Pathinaru, one can see a clear pattern emerge. His films begin with a glimpse of the ‘end’. You could say that his films begin where they end. But the screenplay takes us for a stroll around the story scape. Despite the contrived conveniences in D16’s screenplay, and that misguided start, the film moved. There was the first crime, and then another, and links between them get found… But with Mafia, we are just in the same spot, and all the film does is turn us in a different direction. The writing is wafer-thin and rarely adds any depth to the archetypes it sets up in the first 20 minutes of the film. The film was promoted as a cat-and-mouse thriller, but there’s no suspense. What we end up getting is a two-hour film of the cat just circling the rat, with some sophisticated build-up shots for both.
Director: Karthick Naren
Cast: Arun Vijay, Prasanna, Priya Bhavani Shankar
If the coincidence in D16 was a mild deterrent, here, it is criminal. And to top it, there’s all the exposition. Characters are introduced multiple-times, through text cards and voice-overs. The mood of the scene is said, not shown. And, the build-up... Ah, the build-up. It feels vacuous for lack of depth and tension, no matter how hard Jakes Bejoy tries with his music.
Perhaps, Mafia could be an impressive showreel for Arun Vijay and Prasanna. Neither is Arun Vijay’s ripped physique nor his marvellous agility a thing of surprise anymore. Most of the first half is Arun Vijay running in slow motion, and then walking… in slow motion. And beating a few people up and shooting, of course. To his credit, he manages to look suave while doing all of this. So does Prasanna, who also gets a one-note character that he can sleepwalk through, with his impish charisma. Priya Bhavani Shankar probably has the role with the least potential, but surprises us with a ‘mass’ scene, towards the end.
All of this is really a criticism of Karthick Naren, the writer, more than Karthick Naren, the director. In the first few minutes of Dhuruvangal Pathinaru, the camera lingers on the shadow of a window that looks like a gun, minutes before an actual gun gets whipped out. Much of that easter-egg filmmaking is seen in Mafia too. For instance, take the shot where Aryan (Arun Vijay), Varun and Sathya (Priya Bhavani Shankar), scout a warehouse. There is a single shot of Aryan walking in and checking out the premises. The camera doesn’t leave Aryan, even though the voices we hear are of Sathya and Varun. It reminded me of the shots from D16, where Deepak visits the victim's house.
The more I think of Mafia, the more I wonder what Karthick Naren could do with the help of an efficient writer. Promising directors don't have to be promising writers, and having an additional perspective could give scripts like Mafia the depth they lack, leaving them the freedom to explore the material more visually. I wish Karthick Naren considers this in the future. If he had with Mafia, the ‘major twist’ in this film would likely be an intermission point, and we would go on to get the stirring hunt we were promised.