Teddy movie review: The teddy is alive, the film not so much
Though Teddy's strengths lie elsewhere, it's a film that suffers from its insistence on being a thriller
Teddy is not a film worthy of love, but it’s not a film so bad that it deserves ridicule either. Each time, when you feel like you have enough ammunition to shoot this film down, Teddy surprises you with a gentle touch here and there, showing evidence of the moderate thought that seems to have gone into its writing. For instance, the idea of the protagonist, Shiva (Arya), having eidetic memory, is reasonably well-utilised in the narrative. There is also genuine attempt at capturing, even if fleetingly so, the nature of such a man’s life. How would Shiva make money? How would his relationships be? There’s a constant attempt in this film to root Shiva’s actions in reality. Director Shakti Soundar Rajan even attempts to explain, even if it’s with a quick one-liner, how a man with great memory, got so good at fighting. If he hadn’t bothered, we might not have even asked. The problem with Teddy is, it can’t resist its regular dose of silliness. In the film’s first fight sequence for instance, a few aggressors and a victim walk into a train, and Shiva, whose rage levels go through the roof as he’s noticing them, expresses this—believe it or not—by filling up his crossword puzzle with words like ‘pigs’ and ‘donkey’.
Director: Shakti Soundar Rajan
Cast: Arya, Sayyeshaa, Magizh Thirumeni
This film even embraces a bit of depth when it touches on the burden of having eidetic memory. It impressively philosophises through Shiva that happiness is directly related to forgetfulness. That’s why Shiva has decided never to entertain a relationship, for he knows that the end is always ugly—and he, unfortunately, is cursed to remember it all forever. That’s why he is a poster boy of loneliness, almost literally, with a poster on his bedroom wall reading, “All great and precious things are lonely.” One of many decent Imman songs in this film goes, ‘En Iniya Thanimaye’. I enjoyed that this film steps into these zones, even if they are briefer than I would have liked. I wish Teddy had remained content with being a drama about a man and his newfound, strange companion, a teddy bear called Sri. Unfortunately, the film would rather be a thriller, one that is tasked with the difficult, mirthless topic of illegal organ trade. Was this genre chosen so any comparisons with the English film, Ted, could be easily shrugged off?
The teddy animation is quite satisfactory, with the character and its limited movements feeling rather well-integrated in this film. The character’s integration into Shiva’s life too feels well thought out. It’s natural that this man, who’s determined to stay away from human relationships, gets enticed by a non-human alternative. But a big problem is how this animated teddy is interpreted as a naïve girl whose silliness is passed off as humour. When you remember that this film aims to be a thriller, and this teddy comes alive with the ‘soul’ of a comatose woman, you wonder why it lacks a real sense of urgency befitting the genre. Shouldn’t this film exist under an air of melancholy and shouldn’t the commonality between teddy and Shiva—of being ‘different’—get explored far better? Instead, what we get is a teddy that when stuck in a life-or-death battle, quotes Petta: “Naan veezhvenendru ninaithaayo?”
And this is after I cut it plenty of slack for its pseudo-science. Of course, in a film with a toy bear that comes to life with the energy of a comatose person, you don’t ask too many questions concerning science. You don’t question the idea that lies can be detected without error through retinal movements. You don’t question the protagonist’s belief in telekinesis. You don’t question that memories can be accessed through ‘an open vein that’s connected directly to the brain, like a pen drive’. All you want is for all of these ideas to unite into creating engaging, even if not riveting, cinema. Unfortunately, you only get fleeting hints of the entertainment potential of this film’s premise.
I dare suggest that this film could well have done without the burden of its central dark topic, especially given that it approaches it only half-heartedly anyway. It might have come through better as a dramedy focussed on the Shiva-teddy bond. Perhaps at least that way, we might have understood the nature of their relationship better. Is it only friendship? Is there a hint of romance, given that Shiva begins to get invested in the real Sri (Sayyeshaa)? When Shiva in conversation with the real Sri, pictures the teddy bear in her place, it left me feeling quite confused about what to feel. Was I to laugh at this bizarre relationship? Was I to be concerned about the nature of this unsettling romance? In a better film, I might have known. But in a worse film, I might not even have cared.