Gautham Menon is an interesting film maker. For one , he identifies himself with the mainstream , yet his movie characters manage to be an extension of his own persona allowed to operate in stories that are essentially fantasies of either his own wish-fulfilment or crushing of hopes.
When Yennai Arindhal was announced a year back with Gautham teaming up with Ajith Kumar I was more intrigued than excited. My intrigue arose from what I saw as the incongruity of the ambitions of a nascent auteurist with that of one of the biggest stars of Tamil Cinema , who hails from a world where film making is more about rewriting box office records than engaging with the consciousness of the audience.
I was getting mixed reviews before I caught up with the film.The first half of YA was refreshingly Gautham Menon. The protagonist is Sathyadev , a hero who is more flesh-and-blood than his alter-egoes in Anbuselvan and Raghavan. He is portrayed as a loser for most part of his life. He wants to be a cricketer some day but is ordained by fate to pursue something else. He becomes a police officer at last to satisfy his inexplicable 'itch' of eliminating bad guys in the society. He one day finds his lady love , manages to win her affection and hence finds some direction to his life. Destiny usurps her on the eve of their marriage and hell breaks loose yet again for Satyadev. Enraged he storms into the den of his enemies and when he finds himself besieged on all sides , he lapses into ruing the irrationality of his vengeful instinct. He doesn't even know who murdered his love and does not have the 'instinct' of Raghavan to help him out. His weaknesses do not end there . Raghavan in VV effortlessly pinned down the defence of Aradhana against his offer of marriage , supplementing it with naming Maya as his only daughter, thereby hinting at his ascetic disinterest in marital consummation. Here Satyadev is no such ascetic , we are shown that he needs what a superhuman Raghavan would have no qualms in doing away with. These touches along with Satyadev's delightful conversations with his ethereal dad on issues of honesty and dutifulness promised rock solid drama in the second half when he is expected to march into the darker recesses of the big bad world.
The second half began even better with an anguish ridden Satya taking his daughter on a distant journey of self seeking and catharsis. The idea of the journey providing much needed redemption is nothing new in Gautham's cinema as seen previously in Varanam Aayiram. But I felt it worked here beautifully in a grimmer context. The four year exile ends with a memorable scene of the daughter offering her dad with the boots for the ‘coronation’. I was whistling inside my head by then.
But from then on, the problems began to surface when the film tried to transform into a thriller from a solid action drama. The transition is not really a bad idea but its execution is pathetic and it ends up rendering the elements of drama in the first half completely redundant. I could not even appreciate the well conceived sequence of Satya awaiting Victor's late night onslaught that never finally happens.( The scene reminded me of a similar waiting sequence in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Hard Eight). It is a remarkable plan to show the hero and his preparations to counter the impending offensive of the bad guy rather than adopting the conventional way of allowing the villain to dominate for some time ,letting us feel the hero’s predicament, then introducing to us the hero’s counter to the offensive with the preparations behind it.
Barring that scene in the thriller episode, the film nowhere retains even the little amount of tension that it managed to create and the way Gautham brings about the denouement was very hurried and unconvincing.
Gautham Menon , from Varanam Aayiram began taking baby steps in moving away from his comfort zone, and still has not graduated from infancy. Gautham tried something new with his technique in Neethane Yen Ponvasantham , where he kept his leads away from the audience POV during sequences depicting their conflict and also narrating the story from the side of a woman. For all its problems, there were moments of grace and it was comforting to see a successful film maker do something what an A.R.Murugadoss or Lingusamy never wanted to. In YA, it is good that Gautham though has not proceeded forward, surely has not placed his foot backward.
When I walked out of the hall , all I could see was my prognosis of an unseemly combination of auteur-superstar ruining the final product coming true. It looked as impossible a combination as a restrained Satyadev teaming up with a too loud Victor , working together on a mission.