There is a point in the first half of Thappu Thanda when Abi’s (Shweta Gai) boyfriend tells her what a commercial film is—it has cheap comedy and an item song—and she asks him why he can’t compromise on such aspects for his first film. She adds that once he has a hit on his hands, he can make whatever he wants to.
An hour into the first half, you wonder if Srikantan inserted that as a meta reference because all you see is a hint of a story development that is majorly marred by cheap comedy sequences and an item song.
The cheap comedy comes in the form of Guru (John Vijay) who runs an Art of Theft workshop for upcoming petty criminals like our lead Vetri (Sathya, who is wooden for much of the first half). This includes a state-of-the-art movie theatre where the novices, wackily named characters Koduku, Pogamandalam and Bodhex, are trained.
There is also a special IMAX theatre where classic films on theft like Rudra (starring Bhagayaraj) are shown. Such a concept, with an actor like John Vijay, who has pulled off ludicrous roles like these before (Son of Gun anyone?) should result in a winner. Instead, these sections drag the film down so much that you are almost hurting physically around the end of the first half.
I’m not sure if the director wanted it to be so, but the facial expressions and the choreography only seemed to indicate that the lady in the song was uncomfortable. But just when you are about to give up, the film pivots and turns into a completely different monster.
The central conceit of the film revolves around the cash-for-votes scheme perpetrated by ex-MLA Karna (Mime Gopi, who aces this effortlessly) to win back his seat. While transporting this cash from Chennai to his constituency in Dindivanam, the money goes missing.
It is here that the multiple stories of Abi, Vetri, and Inspector Miller (Ajay Ghosh as menacing as he was in Visaaranai) intersect, and what you end up with is a tremendous crime thriller. The images in the title card play a crucial part in unlocking the mystery, and the story that seemed done and dusted before, is now full of red herrings, and you wonder how the director is going to extricate himself from this web he has weaved himself in.
When the climax rolls in, it is both surprising, as well as satisfying, to not only the characters, but also to the overarching theme of the film. The lovely attention to intricate details in the latter half left me wondering if the film’s two halves were made by two different people. Perhaps the director will have more freedom in his second film?
Film: Thappu Thanda
Cast: Sathya, Shweta Gai, Mime Gopi, John Vijay, Ajay Ghosh