What do you make of a film whose first look featured self-styled godman Nithyanandha and porn actor Johnny Sins in the background, as the lead actors and a dog lecherously look at a computer screen? It actually wouldn't have been too much of a stretch to assume that Puppy, which has a porn aficionado as the protagonist, is Tamil cinema's umpteenth attempt to make an Indianised version of American Pie. Even the promo materials suggested that. However, at the end of its 108-minute runtime, it is clear that the overpowering sexualisation in the teasers is just a smokescreen for a PSA by director Nattu Dev. Puppy is not the regular kind of adult comedy that is being doled out every other week in Tamil cinema. It is an almost family entertainer, albeit with a family, which educates their kids about condoms, and pregnancy testing kits.
Puppy is about a dog named... Puppy, and her owner Prabhu (a sincere Varun). It is also about Prabhu, and his friend Senior (the ever-dependable Yogi Babu). It is also about the 'morattu romance' between Prabhu and Ramya (a self-assured Samyuktha Hegde). It is also about what happens when this romance goes the Aadhalaal Kaadhal Seiveer mode and results in an unplanned pregnancy. It is also about Puppy, the dog, being in heat, and getting pregnant with seven puppies. In between all this, there is Yogi Babu trying to establish his footballing credentials, probably preparing us for his roles in Bigil and Jada. Credits to Nattu for neatly packaging a film, which despite having more plots than Oragadam, feels cohesive. However, the problem with having so many plots is that not everything gets fleshed out properly.
Take, for instance, Ramya, who is tagged as a foodie, but thankfully, is not made fun of for it. This description gives us a visually enticing song, sung by RJ Balaji, which effortlessly shows us the blossoming of a romance in the backdrop of famous food places in Chennai. But soon after, this facet of Ramya is forgotten. If being horny is constant, being hungry should be too. While Puppy is as cute as a fawn labrador can be, even she goes missing for extended periods of time. But she doesn't complain, and 'delivers' when needed, and is used by the director to steer this film to its well-intentioned end.
In a film that was touted to cater to the testosterone-laden young adults in the crowd, there is a level of sensitivity not often observed in such films. It is especially seen in the way Puppy deals with unsafe sex and unplanned pregnancies. Though the problems arising between Prabhu and Ramya is milked adequately for humour, it also gives respect to her opinions and feelings. Even though there is a particularly tasteless scene involving the couple and a police officer, and the outrage meter in my head was on overdrive, it was assuaged by Ramya's response, which actually lends a sense of credibility to the proceedings. While on the surface, Puppy might seem like a tale of a horny youngster, it is so much more than that. Finally, here's a heroine, in a deft adult comedy, who has enough agency to stand her ground and ask the hero to earn his place under the sheets.
If the heroine's role, though not elaborated as I'd liked, is refreshing, Yogi Babu's character is a revelation. Though Varun, earlier seen in small roles in Bogan and Comali, makes his debut as a solo hero in Puppy, it is Yogi Babu, who gets the hero treatment. He gets his own theme song (composer Dharan Kumar deserves more love), Yogi dhaan da Champion, which refers to him as a Singam, siruthai, Panni moonji vaayan nu sonna vaaya odachu ninnavan, and even, Kolamaavu kokila va kokki potta Manmadhan. The makers treat him as more than just a hero's friend. You even see the hero's friend cry, but for a change, it is not because of something that happened to the hero. Yogi Babu, who is always seen in various football jerseys right from Brazil and Argentina to Barcelona and Manchester United, gets a beautiful character arc, which briefly but effectively questions sportsman spirit and class disparities.
I was particularly impressed with the direction team mainly because they satiated one of my perennial pet peeves, which is about how the clocks in a movie almost always show a different time than that being said by the actors in it. In Puppy, such minute things work like... clockwork. However, the place where Puppy misses a trick is with its social messaging, which seems a bit out of character, and is not something I personally endorse either. Although they do sell it effectively, this isn't what one expects when the director calls himself Morattu Single and tags the love story as a Morattu Romance.
Does this make Puppy a sell-out or is it a smart move? Why should a movie like Puppy even need a feel-good message tucked in towards the end? Imagine if American Pie had a statutory warning - 'Leaving food out in the open is injurious to the... health?' But again, if this is what it takes for characters in movies to talk about delayed periods, pregnancy testing kits, and condoms, without resorting to hushed whispers, stifled giggles and winking of the eyes, then... so be it.
Director: Nattu Dev (a) Morattu Single
Cast: Yogi Babu, Varun, Samyuktha Hegde
Rating: 3 stars
(This story originally appeared on cinemaexpress.com)