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Wednesday 17 April 2024
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8 Thottakkal Movie Review

Language: Tamil

Director: Sri Ganesh,

Cast: Vettri, Nasser, Aparna Balamurali, MS Baskar

8 Thottakkal is the kind of film you don’t get to see very much these days – rich in story, but ambivalent in tone.

It’s not a morality tale, except perhaps to say that sometimes things happen. Instead, 8 Thottakkal spends its time layering its characters, giving them narrative arcs that make them not so much objects of love or hate, but people you can relate to as creatures with the simplest motivations – to live, to love, to matter.

At the heart of the film are one gun, eight bullets, and a crime that no one expected, not even its perpetrators. Around it are arranged a number of characters – cops, criminals and bystanders, all of whom bring very interesting baggage to the cat-and-mouse game.

As a thriller, 8 Thottakkal struggles with some obvious missteps. Debutant director Sri Ganesh, a former assistant of Mysskin’s, certainly has the skills for a superb foray into the genre. The way that he takes a straightforward tale and builds in kinks, twists and tangents, and keeps the story on a slow boil throughout, proves that he’s suited for thrillers.

But he still has some way to go in terms of getting the pacing and the distribution of the film’s various elements right. In particular, the songs in the film act as annoying speedbreakers to the narrative, throwing off the rhythm of the film.

And Sri Ganesh also makes some obvious mistakes in terms of the details of a police procedural. But considering that Indian films have rarely paid much attention to the nitty-gritties of police procedure, this is not as unforgivable an error.

Where Sri Ganesh really succeeds, and what makes this such an exciting film, is the something extra that emerges in the form of textured, engaging stories. None of the characters in the film is unbelievable or unusual. Instead, their very regularity makes them thoroughly captivating.

And in this he’s aided by his cast. No one does it better than MS Bhaskar as Moorthy. His rendition of the good, obedient man who finally snaps is pitch-perfect – from the bluff bravado on the outside to the quiet desperation on the inside.

Sri Ganesh writes odd, lovely scenes. Like the one where a sympathetic man gives a little boy a laddu. It’s the man’s birthday, and he says – somewhat creepily, making you fear the worst – “Un kitta mattum sollanum-nu thonichu.” (I felt like telling you, and no one else.) And there’s an entire eccentric episode built around a man who takes issue with a swear word. This sequence involves a jeweller. Much later, we get a sequence set in a jewellery shop. The connections are odd and lovely too.

Most films give us a setting. 8 Thottakkal gives us a (Mysskin-like) universe, where actions have reactions, where the cuteness of children is no guarantee that they won’t end up collateral damage. (We see this even with the young Sathya.) People who go in expecting a thriller may end up disappointed, for there’s something more, the constant sense of something… cosmic. It’s there in the meticulously crafted mood. It’s there in the lines.

Pandian orders a juvenile delinquent to be beaten up. He says the boy needs pain. That’s the thing that will change him. Had this been typical Tamil cinema, the meaning would have just resided in just the words, and line would have become a message. But in Sri Ganesh’s world, it becomes koan-like philosophy.

Most films give us a setting. 8 Thottakkal gives us a (Mysskin-like) universe, where actions have reactions, where the cuteness of children is no guarantee that they won’t end up collateral damage

8 Thottakkal isn’t perfect. It’s self-indulgent. There are rough edges. It’s too long. The symbolism in the last shot (after an eye-roll of a coincidental person-sighting) is too on-the-nose. There’s an abstract dance sequence – Astad Deboo in Aminjikarai, featuring extras in kabuki face paint – that’s so tonally off, it comes off as unintentional comedy. The situation is supposed to exemplify the troubled relationship between Sathya and Meera (Aparna Balamurali), but the couple has barely spoken a few words, and a song seems like serious overkill.

But overreach is easy to forgive when there’s evidence of vision, and the talent to pull it off. The characters are beautifully written. The criminal who has an unexpected family life. The child-murderer who cherishes his grandson. The thief who, even while fleeing the jewellery store after cops arrive, takes a moment to snatch a necklace for his married lover. The man who decides to restore some balance in the universe by littering the street with currency notes.

The actors don’t always match up to the characters, but MS Baskar is magnificent. It’s the best performance-you-did-not-see-coming since Radha Ravi’s heart-rending turn in Pisaasu.

I kept thinking about the film long after it ended. I kept thinking about the funny lines, as when a gangster says he is so close to someone that they practically eat off the same plate. (The payoff is killer!) I kept thinking about the sad lines, as when the criminal apologises to the clueless cop for ruining his day. I kept thinking about how we discover Sathya loves Meera. He tells her about his past. She shrinks away. Later, he explains the extenuating circumstances. Why didn’t he tell her earlier? Because he doesn’t have to justify himself to everyone. That’s when we realise Meera is not “everyone.” Which leads to this dilemma. If someone who was good to you ends up wronging you, are you now supposed to look at the extenuating circumstances?

8 Thottakkal reminds you of a film like Anjaathey, where you walk in expecting a tale of cops and robbers and walk out having experienced a tale of right and wrong, good and evil, man and his milieu.




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