Theal Movie Review: Haphazard writing troubles this otherwise impressive Prabhudheva vehicle
Though this Prabhudheva-starrer has some good visuals, performances, and an intriguing story at the heart of it, the predictable, unengaging screenplay dilutes the impact
A promise of hope to the hopeless or love to the loveless has the potential to change lives for the best or worst. How grateful or threatened would a man, who has long foregone all hope, love, and jest for life, be when such a promise comes unexpectedly? In Theal, director Harikumar has adapted the story of Kim Ki-duk's Pieta (there's a tribute card in the beginning) and has created a film that explores the above-mentioned theme for over two hours.
The story is set in the Koyambedu market in Chennai. Money lending is an integral part of this vibrant marketplace, due to which loan sharks seem to be a big menace. Here, Dorai (Prabhudheva) works as a ruthless, cold-hearted henchman to one such loan shark named Paulraj (Shatru). All is fine for Dorai until a woman (Easwari Rai) barges into his house and claims that she is his mother. This sends Dorai's reality into a spiral, and what happened next makes the rest of the story.
Cast: Prabhudheva, Easwari Rao, Samyuktha Hegde, Yogi Babu
A few minutes into Theal, it already begins to feel like an unusual film. The first surprise is that the lead character Dorai isn't a hero but rather an anti-hero. When we first see him, he casually barges into houses of people who owe money and beat them to a pulp. In one such instance, the wife of a defaulter locks her husband in a room, takes off her saree, and pleads Dorai to 'take her' and leave her husband alone. You can imagine the ways this scene would have panned out in a usual star vehicle. Here, Dorai gets even more agitated at this action and begins to beat her with a rolled-up calendar. Dorai consistently indulges in such dark eccentricities throughout the film, and in parallell, we are also shown his everyday life on a closer level to get a sense of who he is.
Living in a small, untidy apartment in the underbelly of the city, Dorai's world seems desolate, lost, and yet, tunnelled. Dorai doesn't interact with anyone, neither his boss nor his victims, and he lets actions do the talk. He works during the day, and at night, he watches a wildlife show, drinks, and goes off to sleep. Interestingly, the events on that wildlife show reflect the day he just had. For instance, after he gets attacked by a gang of goons, we see a bunch of buffalos ripping apart a leopard. On an odd night, he sleeps with a bar dancer named Thilaka (Samyuktha Hegde) and pays her money afterwards. The catch? Thilaka isn't doing it for money but is in love with him. This once again establishes what Dorai thinks of himself: as someone who believes that he is unlovable or that he doesn't deserve to be loved. What essentially happens through all these scenes is that we buy who the character is without even a backstory to why he is like this. The characterisation of Dorai, the titular Scorpion reference, its reverse anthropomorphism, and the events that transpire do make one wonder if Harikumar was heavily inspired by Nicolas Winding Refn's 2011 film Drive. Like the lead character there, Dorai too has a nasty sting to him. Dorai might look lost even during a casual stroll down the road, but you can bet that he has an eye in the back of his head, almost like it's his second nature.
While such interesting details continue in Theal, they aren't enough to make it an engaging watch. Theal suffers from the lack of a solid conflict. After Easwari Rao enters the stage, it becomes a gritty, dark drama for some time, but there is no real quest for a major portion of the film. While the film keeps hinting at a showdown between Dorai and a lead antagonist, it is so delayed that we lose interest. Further, Theal is that odd film that required more red herring sub-plots to keep us invested. Instead, we get some poorly written scenes for Thilaka and her brother (Yogi Babu). While one of these is an intended dialogue exposition of why Thilaka loves Dorai, the others follow the age-old comedy routine with unfunny jokes and no relevance.
Beyond a point, Theal sadly becomes a highly predictable watch. A few convenient turns and logical loopholes also add up to the tally. What keeps us going here are the convincing performances by Prabhudheva and Easwari Rao, and the brilliant visuals. This is a Prabhudheva I wish I could see more often. He doesn't grin or visibly smile even once, and like him, Easwari too holds the required expressive meter for a long part of the film. Even in the portions that do come across as melodramatic, something about these performances keeps us invested. Harikumar's world in Theal looks gorgeous with neon lights, warmer grading, and low contrast, desaturated colours. For these reasons and more, this Pongal release might have a few surprising stings here and there, even if it doesn't entirely impress you.