Anjathe, Mysskin's new movie about two friends, one who becomes a cop and one who should have been a cop, is a cocktail mix of explosive action, thrilling sequences and gut wrenching emotions.
This is the year's best Tamil movie so far and will remain among its best. This is also the work of an ambitious and stridently commercial director, who is at the peak of his game.
The movie, earlier titled Aruvathu Sinam, begins deceptively, but in an innovatively shot stunt staged in a corporation park. Right from the first low angle shot of a blue sky into which thugs walk in, Mysskin waves his talent like a red flag. Ten minutes into the movie, he has managed to grab you by the collar and pull you headlong into the narrative.
Naren and debutante Ajmal play the two friends, and much of the movie revolves around the intertwined fates of the two, as they are eventually pitted in a cat-and-mouse game. Classmates Sathya (Naren) and Kiruba are both sons of cops and live opposite to each other in a police colony. When the movie begins, Sathya is a street rowdy and Kiruba is studying hard to be a sub-inspector.
In a quirky twist of fate, Sathya becomes the cop and his friend, who believes that he lost despite his hard work to his friend's street-smart ways, turns his bitter rival. Many of the early sequences are earthy and simple in sharp contrast to the post-interval manic speed.
Naren plays Sathya as an inarticulate, angry young man with a penchant for violence. This hides his naivety and soft underbelly that can't stomach his new life as a policeman. On his first day at work, a man who walks into a police station carrying the head of his cheating wife in a bag, send our hero straight to bed. His father, the head constable, advises his son while polishing his shoes to keep his eyes open to horror. "The policeman lives with murder," he tells his son.
Ajmal's breakthrough performance as Kiruba is of a man who slowly, but unwittingly enters a life of crime. His face is often a canvas for the director to the show man in moral dilemma.
As trainee cop, Sathya is soon on the trail of a gang of kidnappers, who abduct girls of rich families for ransom. The screenplay unfolds like a game of poker in the hands of a devilishly clever player. It is quite sometime before he has assembled the right cards, but once he does, he unravels the movie in the last one hour.
Prasanna, in a marked departure from his usual chocolate boy role, plays a serial rapist and the kingpin of the kidnapping gang. Prasanna's histrionic talents may just fall short of portraying implacable evil, but this is a boisterous and courageous performance from the actor. Much of time, his character Daya has to hide his morbid desire to abuse underage girls behind his long hair.
Prasanna provokes just the right amount of disgust and stealthily enters the movie only to retain a vice-like grip on the proceedings towards the climax. Daya's desperate inventiveness in the face of the police hunt provides much of the movie's thrills.
Some of the action sequences are brilliant. Naren's first battle as a lone cop standing in the way of masked killers in a hospital is heroic. But it is also a study of a cop in an unfamiliar crisis. Having to face killers, Sathya discovers that he, indeed, is a hero.
The director also displays remarkable acumen in rooting this crime thriller in a compelling and realistic sociological background. Many of his criminals are victims of life. A flower seller who helps Sathya rescue a dying man has nylon cover wrapped around a leg wound. Such attention details fill Mysskin's canvas. Even when wanting to entertain, Mysskin isn't insular to being sensitive.
Sundar C Babu scores the music, which keeps pace with the editing, often providing the viewer with aural clues. But the songs, particularly a dream sequence and the mandatory post-interval item number, are weak links. Mysskin cans them like a director in a hurry to hide his compromises.
Mysskin also reveals a penchant for slow motion montage (influence of Eisenstein?), which he uses often with devastating impact. A ransom payoff sequence is shot like a visual counterpart of a symphony, and sometimes in the midst of the trippy editing, it's hard to locate the characters zipping past one another.
In these sequences, cinematographer Mahesh Muthuswamy displays his variety. His camera which remains largely functional turns flamboyant at command. In one superbly realized sequence, the story is entirely told in one long low angle shot of the characters entering and leaving a house. All through this sequence, only the feet of the actors are shown. In fact, the movie is realized as a series of long shots, each one signaling a new twist in the screenplay. In the climatic sequence, a sugarcane forest where the kidnappers take refuge is also beautifully evoked.
Actor Pandiarajan, superbly cast against type as one of the kidnappers, delivers a performance that virtually reintroduces the actor to movie audiences. Even if you saw Aan Pavam and Anjathe back to back, you will be hard put identify the actor, who is in both the movies.
Vijayalakshmi plays Kiruba's sister, who in a quite, fierce and blindly trusting love with Sathya. In the little screen time she has, the actress does a commendable job.
With Chitiram Pesuthadi, Mysskin announced his arrival as a name to reckon with. Anjathe is a tastier second course from the director.