Director: Pa Vetriselvan
Cast: Prashanth, Prabhu, Sanchita Shetty, Anandraj, Ashutosh Rana
Rating: 2 stars
The trailer of Prashanth’s Johnny made it evident that the film is a remake of Neil Nithin’s debut Hindi film, Johnny Gaddaar. I considered watching the original before reviewing the Tamil version, but chose not to as I wanted to experience Johnny as a stand-alone film without constantly drawing comparisons in my mind.
But despite my precaution, I found myself doing just that. Only, the film I got reminded of wasn’t Johnny Gaddaar, but Ajith’s Mankatha. The crux of Johnny is almost identical to the one-liner of Mankatha: ‘Anju peru ketavanga, adhula oruthan romba ketavan’. While both films revolve around a con gone wrong, and a bunch of bad men on the hunt for the lost money, the execution and screenplay are what sets them apart. Debutant Vetriselvan has stuck to a realistic treatment for the most part, and unlike Mankatha’s cold-blooded, and partially-psychotic Vinayak Mahadevan, who takes calculated risks to get the money, Johnny’s Shakthi is more of a victim of circumstances, who is forced to clean up the mess he created during his first heist. In a way, we can say Johnny is a masala-free Mankatha.
The initial portions progress in an effortlessly engaging manner and the sequences where Shakthi creates alibis before committing every crime are quite intriguing, thanks in part to the background score of Rajan Durai. But all that is built up in the first half, is undone in the second half due to the predictable and impactless twists.
The key to a good thriller is in having reveals that happen when the audience least expects it. Despite having an engaging storyline, Johnny fails at doing this, and after a point, the behaviour of the principal characters begin to cue us in on what’s coming next. For instance, when a heated argument begins between two characters we can clearly predict which of them will end up getting shot by the other. And so, when the big surprise finally arrives, it hardly makes an impact.
Though the film has a strong lineup of actors, they end up being misfits for the characters given to them. Anadaraj is out of place as the innocent Prakash, while the usually dependable Ashutosh Rana is underwhelming in his role and turns psychotic at the wrong places. And Prabhu’s Jai Shankar is excessively warm for a conman, with his characterisation feeling more like an extension of his memorable role as Das from Ayan.
There also a handful of loopholes like characters being undisturbed by the sudden death of their allies and Shakthi’s remorseless transition to a brutal criminal. But the thing that irked me the most was the portrayal of Sanchitha Shetty as Ramya, the damsel in distress. Despite being introduced as a Bharatanatyam teacher, the actor wears disturbingly revealing clothes throughout the film (even during crucial scenes, she sports skirts shorter than boxers and her necklines are deeper than the storyline), and several of her scenes are set in a kitchen for no real reason.
While the men in the film do things to reach their own goals, Ramya stands right beside them doing hardly anything, reduced to a showpiece. Film viewing would be a much pleasanter experience if writers only took the effort to give their female leads an actual character arc for a change.
Whenever a film is promoted as the ‘comeback’ vehicle of a star, it is normal for the audience to expect an entertainer that explores the strengths of the star to the fullest. But Johnny has none of Prashanth’s signature elements. Though the actor delivers a satisfactory performance, one can’t avoid the thought that the film could have had any actor as the lead and doesn’t demand an actor of Prashanth’s stature.
One of Prashanth’s most successful films, Winner, featured him playing a character named Shakthi. Fast forwarding fifteen years, he is back playing a character with the same name. But, can Johnny be called a ‘winner’? That’s a different question altogether.