Etharkkum Thunindhavan Movie Review: Another male saviour film trips over its own feet
This Suriya-starrer trades the opportunity to explore sensitive themes for claps and whistles
A trauma dark and deep lies at the foundations of the Kannabiran (Suriya) family, an event so permanent and painful that it must be impossible for the family members—Kannabiran, his father (Sathyaraj) and his mother (Saranya)—to have a normal life. The event I speak of is comparable—and perhaps even worse—to an early death in Mari Selvaraj’s Karnan (where the name Kannabiran, interestingly, was used for the villain). In Mari’s film, we saw the aftershocks of the trauma; we saw what it did to Karnan. Etharkkum Thunindhavan, however, is from a different director—Pandiraj; one who shows no real appetite for any serious exploration of such emotional baggage. And so, in this film, you constantly see Kannabiran goofing about, dancing about, flirting about… Yes, a traumatised individual can still do these things, but for a film to restrict the after-effects of a profound, personal loss to a framed photograph and the occasional wail in the background score, betrays its insincerity. You get further evidence of this when Pandiraj paints the Kannabiran family in shades of strawberry pinks and cheery yellows. Worse is when the mother of Kannabiran—this burly, muscular lawyer—keeps enquiring about his urinary schedule, in the name of cute affection. You know what, scratch that, worse is actually when the heroine Aadhini (Priyanka Arul Mohan) finds this worthy of emulation. How are you supposed to take this film seriously?
Cast: Suriya, Priyanka Arul Mohan, Vinai Rai, Saranya, Sathyaraj, Soori
In this film that communicates much concern about the welfare of women, notice the character attributes of Aadhini. We get early on that she’s quite dull and infantile when she doesn't seem to understand why a car key is different from a bike key. Also, this woman's idea of an interesting personal anecdote is to go on and on about the types of food she sampled for free in temples. She pouts and smiles and bats eyelids and dances in meaningless songs. Save for a forced dialogue she gets in a serious scene, by and large, she’s the embodiment of the usual stupid-is-cute idea, and I really could not understand what Kannabiran saw in her. In your average masala film, this wouldn’t matter as much, but in a film that is centred on how important women are…
The bad boys of this film, a group led by Inba (Vinay, who’s becoming the default face for the sophisticated perverted antagonist), are seemingly influenced by the perpetrators in the notorious Pollachi case. Inba’s villainy is largely depicted through piano playing and maniacal laughter. Occasionally, he tries to be deep and spouts what he is convinced is a profound observation—something about how great men are bad men (nobody asks him to expand on this). My favourite moment concerning him is when he tries to say this line again and someone shuts him up with a bullet.
Etharkkum Thunindhavan communicates a lot of generic love towards women, not unlike the sort we have generally seen in masala cinema. Functions are organised to celebrate them in the village; trees get planted. And yet, in mentions of abortion and premarital sex, I got the feeling that the film was a bit too prudish to be comfortable with these ideas. I liked though that this film has a couple of well-meaning touches. Like Kannabiran asking Aadhini whether she’s okay with the marriage before he orchestrates it (the whole idea is decently set-up). Like Kannabiran, in a later scene, disassociating notions of honour about a woman’s body. It may be yet another case of a flawless male saviour stepping in to save women, but I suppose there’s some utility in a star popularising useful ideas.
I also liked that the film treats Aadhini’s father as a joke. Sometimes, in all our enthusiasm to vilify those with backward notions, we forget to laugh at them. This film has a rather unique, enjoyable angle of two women, Aadhini and her mother, Anjumani (Devadarshini), outwitting the dimwitted oppressive patriarch in the household. Anjumani even makes a sneaky reference to him as a joker.
As for Kannabiran himself, Suriya plays him like a strange, hybrid mix of the infuriated man he so often plays in Hari films and the emotional lawyer he played in Jai Bhim. Here though, he communicates some cynical commentary over the difficulty of executing legal justice in a corrupt society. However, the film shows no interest in exploring such ideas, and director Pandiraj is largely content with milking conflicts and victims to emphasise the flawless protagonist’s heroism. Even when stuck in an urgent situation involving a hostage, Kannabiran is busy goofing around with the heroine, and even the director can't help but notice that this doesn’t quite fit into the narrative. His solution is to have the hero say something along the lines of, “Veliya dhaan sirikkaren, aana, ulla…” It’s both awkward and insincere.
This is a fundamental problem in these star vehicles that reel under the weight of having multiple agendas to fulfill. They end up seeming halfhearted everywhere. Kannabiran wields Murugadoss-esque weapons, but he’s against killing it seems. His childhood is steeped in trauma, but you see no sign of this in his behaviour. He’s dealing with a grim case concerning women victims, but he’s busy dancing and fooling around. And much like the film, you too feel conflicted. You see that this film cares more than your average star vehicle, and yet, it’s hard to shake off the feeling that the sensitive issue at the heart of this film is, again, fodder for stardom.