The closing sequence of Subbaraj’s Jigarthanda attempted to slap a radical yet relevant thought on our faces, sugar coated with the saccharine feel of a juicy heroic retribution. On the surface, it is about a struggling film-maker getting back at someone, who once humiliated him, not with any sort of creative subtlety, but by royally targeting the fear of his life. But dig deeper, the sub-texts, that are hidden to non-discerning viewer, catches you grinning. Was it an indirect reference to the plight of directors who want to stay true to their script, believing their skills? Is this the only way, a filmmaker today, in the present Tamil-cinema-scenario, could shoot the film of his dreams? How? By turning a gangster. By effecting a reversing of roles in the compulsive routine of falling at the feet.
Debutante director Vadivel, who had trained under Mysskin, seems to have been mighty impressed with that maverick idea. Watching Kallappadam releasing this week, that’s the logical conclusion,anyone would resort to. But the similarities end with the inspiration. Vadivel, in Kallapadam, tells the story of four struggling film technicians with a resolve to ‘somehow‘ film their dream script. The film follows their escapades, when they decide to do the absurdly unthinkable, and attempt to ‘take it by hook or crook, when it is denied’. Here, the filmmaker doesn’t become a gangster, but in fact turns a reluctant larcenist for pursuing his fantasy. Kallappadam, at some level, is in fact an awkward wish-fulfilment fantasy, that takes itself too seriously occasionally for its own harm. The core idea of setting up the narrative by equating the stages of the heist to that of making a film is quite a brilliant master stroke, but the writing comes across as highly inconsistent, brilliant in bits and unremarkable at other instances.
The film, turning out to be largely engaging despite the obvious discordance between the intent and execution, speaks eons of the premise and Vadivel’s resolve to stay honest to the script. The film does take a long time to establish the conflict, and a lots seem to be happening at the start without an identifiable plot point – that is, an event that hooks the action, and spins it in another direction. The comedy, however, works out well in these stretches, and Singampuli, as the script doctor, is a riot in the flashback sequence, where he is rejected for an assistant post by almost every famous director. The producer played by Naren and his concubine played by Lakshmi Priya, turn out to be the best written characters among the lot. Aadukalam Naren once again impresses with his casual demaneour in the minimal screen time he gets and Lakshmi Priya, on her part, gives a lot of life to the role of a failed actress.
Some of the sequences have been conceived brilliantly, consider for instance, Vadivel with his friends discussing the heist in a revolving shot, with inter-cuts with that of Lakhsmi Priya plotting her plan with her boyfriend. The planning and preparations for the heist take up quite a lot of running time, without bringing something radically different to the scheme of things. A song at this point doesn’t help the proceedings at all, coming across as a potential distraction. However, at the half way point, the film takes off quite well, thanks to the well-conceived actual heist bringing in a lot of thrills and intelligent action. The cinematographer Srirama Santhosh stamps his mark in a particular conversation between the female lead in the balcony, and his boy friend seated in bed with lightning playing havoc with the mood. Both Vadivel, the director and Santhosh are in their elements in the events leading to the heist and the unexpected aftermath. The background score by K is lively and contributes a lot to the mood of the heist.
There’s so much that’s refreshing and off-beat in Kallappadam that I kept wanting it to be a better movie. I wanted it to be more brave and engaging. I wanted it to be less meandering after the heist, especially towards the end. I wanted the protagonists’ characters to be detailed more, and their inexperience in the trade, tapped further. I wanted the lead men to start emoting. I wanted the mood to be established in a more emphatic way. I wanted more innovative plans, and more thrilling consequences. I wanted convenience to take a back seat, and plausibility to take a front seat. I wanted the scenes to breathe the tension, and the conflict to involve us more.
But, in the end, despite the faults and the all-pervading ‘amateurish feel’, Kallappadam comes across as a refreshing and bold attempt by another debutante filmmaker, that might merit a watch for its attempt at recording the unknown struggles every successful filmmaker had to undergo, albeit in a perverse way.