Beast Movie Review: This Nelson-Vijay film never really takes off
The problem with Beast is how Nelson doesn’t seem to have made up his mind on whether the film should feel real and serious, or parodic and absurd
In hostage rescue situations, the big, almost tangible, fear is that innocent people could potentially get killed. It’s what negotiators want to avoid; it’s what the hero usually works against as well. The chess is between cops and criminals usually, and our thrill and tension comes from the awareness that one wrong move in such a delicate situation could result in casualties. Nelson’s third film, Beast, is about a couple of hundred hostages in a mall—and among them is an innocent but infuriatingly talkative, old woman. When the criminal leader eventually put a bullet in her head, I was… relieved. I doubt it is a positive sign when the hero is trying to save hostages and you are relieved that one of them has been murdered.
Cast: Vijay, Selvaraghavan, VTV Ganesh, Pooja Hegde, Yogi Babu
For a while now, we have all known that Beast is about a mall-siege situation. And yet, boy, does this film take its own sweet time—almost an hour—to set it all up. Sure, there may be a point to part of the setup—especially about the RAW-agent protagonist, Veeraraghavan (Vijay), suffering from PTSD… I quite enjoyed that his introduction scene is rather straightforward, and that the title card, Beast, flashes at a time when this character is ironically at his most vulnerable. However, I didn’t realise at the time that would be the last time I would feel good about my viewing experience.
The problem with Beast is how Nelson doesn’t seem to have made up his mind on whether the film should feel real and serious, or parodic and absurd. It oscillates between these extremes and the results are uninspired at best. For instance, Veera goes to a mental health counsellor to deal with his PTSD problem—and I thought to myself that this was a welcome move given how a star like Vijay seeking such help in a film could normalise mental health consultations… However, the writing gets restless soon, and so, this counsellor’s inefficiency is passed off as humour, and he is also shown to engage in disturbingly lecherous talk about his own young relatives, it seems. All this, of course, is an excuse to introduce Preethi (Pooja Hegde), who—even after 160 minutes of watching this film—I didn’t know much about, except that she hates her fawning fiancee (a track that did not work for me at all) and is desperate for a replacement man. So desperate is she to secure the romantic approval of Veera—a complete stranger to her—that even his warning, “Kiss adichraporen…Poiru!”, gets interpreted as good-natured flirtation. Later, the silly, strangely obsessive Preethi is shown to worry about one of the hostages, a young woman, staring at Veera, oblivious to everyone’s life being in danger. All I could think was, “Yaarma nee…”
Even this early in his career, director Nelson’s strength is thought to lie in humour—particularly of the dry and dark variety. The truth is that the setting of Beast—a mall in siege, with so many comedians stuck within—is fertile ground for his brand of humour, and yet, despite the presence of actors like VTV Ganesh, Yogi Babu, Redin Kingsley… the jokes come in a trickle. VTV Ganesh shows some initial promise, but then, he joins a long list of characters who engage in empty chatter under the guise of humour. The joke attempts, even from actors like Redin Kingsley and Yogi Babu, are as efficient as the pistol accuracy of the bad guys—which is to say that they are quite far off the mark.
Every time a star joins a young, promising director with a fresh voice, we see a recurring problem—a problem of tonal consistency. Such collaborations show filmmakers seeming torn between doing their own thing whilst also pandering to star status and fanbase, objectives often at loggerheads with each other. In Beast, for instance, every time you get a few Nelson-esque attempts at humour, it’s quickly time for Vijay to come walking towards the camera in slow-motion, even as composer Anirudh tries hard to sell the ‘massiness’… This former RAW agent, Veera, who never takes cover from gunfire, is also an invincible fighter with the ability to duck and swerve like Neo, when bullets rain at him. And as I have so often said about invulnerable heroes, where’s the fun in the bad guys getting the crap beaten out of them… If the idea is to create our version of James Bond, is it not important to remember that even the famous British spy is never truly beyond danger, and that it is this vulnerability that adds meaning to his courage? In Beast, even when Veera submits to the bad guys and sits tied to a chair, you don’t buy for a moment that he—or anyone he truly cares about—could be in danger. That’s the challenge for these filmmakers. Our heroes are invincible, but how do you convince people into believing that they could be hurt, that they could suffer?
I suppose the big joke in the film is that the bad guys seem to think they can achieve their goals, with Vijay’s Veera lurking around, armed with all his weapons, and more importantly, his many superpowers including, it seems, being able to disappear at will. Wielding a hammer, he walks at one of the criminals. He disappears quickly when the latter turns at him. The second the criminal turns away again, he reappears from out of nowhere it seems... No one’s more impressed by him than the government-appointed negotiator, Altaf (Selvaraghavan), who channels the Padayappa Abbas in him throughout this film. Every line he says, every comment he makes… it all feels like a variation of “What a man!”
It's hard not to empathise with Altaf, I guess. After all, former RAW agent Veera can even drive flying cars between the various floors of the mall. And when he gets bored, he wears roller-skates, just so the kills get a bit more challenging. You know how we often talk about creating suspension of disbelief in discussing cinema… the execution of such scenes in Beast only adds to the disbelief. The real disbelief, however, comes when Vijay, through his character Veera, says something to suggest that he could be viewing Beast as an experiment of sorts. “Ungala nambi dhaan erangirken… Kavuththu utramaatingale?” he asks.
Wait… Beast, as an experimental film?! What, just because the film is set in one location for a long time? Beast, in fact, has everything that tires us about ‘commercial cinema’. The cursory, halfhearted love track with the silly heroine. The filmmaking that’s keener to romanticise the hero’s style than it is interested in telling a meaningful story. The writing that’s so manipulative that it’s hard not to see the apparent deception. For instance, when Beast wants you to care for one of the bad guys, what does it do? It gives the character’s child brain tumour and says a life-threatening surgery is happening on that very day. How do you not care for a cancer patient, and a child no less?! And then, there is, at the heart of it all, an invincible hero, and many impotent villains. I suppose even Veera feels guilty about all the lopsidedness because at the very end, he says, “Innum konjam tough kuduthurkalaam…” Not ‘konjam’, Veera. Nariyave tough kuduthurkalaam. And I’m not just talking about the villain’s strength here.