Etharkkum Thunindhavan First Impression: Suriya shines in an effective social entertainer
A quick mini spoiler-free write-up of the Pandiraj's Etharkkum Thunindhavan, starring Suriya, Priyanka Mohan, Vinay, Sathyaraj, and more
There is something inherently 'message-y' about Pandiraj-Suriya films. In Pasanga 2, the director-actor duo decided to showcase the importance of letting children be children, and touched upon the ineffectiveness of an education system that assesses a child's potential based on marks. Even in Etharkkum Thunindhavan, Pandiraj and Suriya put on their preachy hats to deliver, interestingly, almost similar messages. However, not for a moment does Pandiraj forget that this is Suriya's return to the big screen after three years and there are thousands of vociferous fans waiting to celebrate their favourite star. After back-to-back OTT premieres with Soorarai Pottru and Jai Bhim, ET allows its audiences to cry their throats hoarse... almost to remind naysayers that Suriya's star pull was as strong as ever.
After an almost anti-climactic opening that shows a bloodied and deadly Kannabiran (Suriya) at the centre of things, Pandiraj employs the non-linear narrative to criss-cross across timelines to introduce us to the various players of Etharkkum Thunindhavan. There is the loving family consisting of the ever-dependable Sathyaraj and Saranya Ponvannan. There is the love interest Aadhini (Priyanka Mohan), who, for quite some time, gets stuck in a series of generic meet-cutes, but does get her shot at redemption that she manages to pull off with aplomb. There is the comic relief in the form of Soori and Pugazh, whose one-liners and gag comedies are mostly hit and miss. And finally, we come across the bunch of assembly line villains led by Inba (Vinay), who gets to mouth inane punch lines and empty threats with deadpan seriousness.
While there is a lot going for Etharkkum Thunindhavan, Pandiraj's bizarre decision to employ the comedy and romance scenes at the most inopportune moments almost derails the proceedings. It is not that they aren't good enough, it is just the timing that is all over the place. For instance, a disturbing scene where Kannabiran discovers about Inba and gang sexually harassing and blackmailing young women is soon succeeded by one of those aforementioned generic meet-cutes. This happens one time too often for it to be brushed aside as just a writing error. It is more of a deliberate but shoddy choice. However, the central issue is too grave and is reminiscent of a similar real-life scandal. We are always reminded of the high stakes and certain scenes surrounding these stakes score high on the emotional scale.
It is the resolution of these stakes that received the maximum applause from an eager crowd who wolf-whistled along with every dialogue of Kannabiran... (read as Suriya). And then we are left with the stark reminder that in films like Etharkkum Thunindhavan, the real-life persona of the actor often overshadows the character. It is generally a not-so-good thing, but with someone like Suriya at the centre of things, it adds to the sheen of such a film that solely relies on its audience seeing the lead character as the brother/saviour they never had. However, it will be interesting to see if this is the route that Suriya plans to take in his future films. Will we see him in movies that manage to be the perfect marriage of masala and messages?
It is by ticking these boxes that Etharkkum Thunindhavan becomes a comfortable watch despite the central theme hitting disturbingly close to home. There are dialogues and sequences that might seem too cliched even for a template film, and Pandiraj's decision to play around with the narrative does more harm than good. But, just like most things, Etharkkum Thunindhavan, which doesn't get off to the strongest of starts, does take its time to grow on us. Nevertheless, it is clear that Etharkkum Thunindhavan, just as the title suggests, is about one man going against the powers that be. Yes, there are scenes where the women empowerment isn't really reeking of tokenism. Yes, there are scenes where Suriya takes a backseat and allows the women on screen to take over. But, make no mistake, this is definitely a Suriya star vehicle, and if there is one point where ET definitely stands above some of its fellow empowerment films is its clear understanding of the root cause of the problem. Although ET does seem like a film that is doused with the saviour complex, it is kudos to Suriya and the inspired writing, albeit in parts, for ensuring it doesn't really come across very blatantly.
On the technical front, Rathnavelu's visuals, especially in the stunt sequences, and the oh-so-enjoyable tracks of Imman, come out largely unscathed. While the songs showcase an effervescent Suriya letting his hair down, it does act as a dampener to the seriousness that the film tries to espouse with all its heart.
As the film ends on a particularly interesting high, I could see some well up, some others walking off dejected, a few more talking about the all-important connections with the real-life scandal but talking animatedly about Pandiraj's way of getting there, and a few others who were just glad that they could finally put an end to the trolls about Suriya's films not releasing in the theatres.
If the whistles at the right moments, laughs at the right jokes, claps at the correct dialogues, and the overall reverberations in one of the earliest shows in the city is any proof, then there is one thing that should be written in stone...
Suriya is back... and how!