Thirumalai (Vijay) is a motorbike mechanic who lives on the streets of Chennai, racing his bike, playing board games with his friends and generally just watching the world go by without a care in the world until one day he meets Shweta (Jyotika), the rich daughter of a top TV executive. Although she is appalled at the idea of being courted by a poor mechanic, Thirumalai is prepared to wait, accepting humiliations and beatings, convinced that she will eventually recognise the sincerity of his feelings. His romance becomes mixed up with the activities of a group of gangsters lead by Arasu (Manoj K. Jayan), who are running Chennai, threatening and killing government ministers and attacking any TV station that broadcasts negative comments about their activities. Only one man is prepared to stand up against them – Thirumalai.
Thirumalai however, is not the traditional type of action hero. Early in the film he spectacularly takes out a whole mob of Arasu’s men who are chasing a man through the streets. He doesn’t care if they chop up the man they are chasing, all he wants is payment for the carom board they upset and destroyed as they ran past. The only reason he then continues his fight against the gangsters is because they are getting in the way of his romance with Shweta. Debut director Ramanaa plays around with conventional attitudes to romantic heroes in the movies. His romance with the chocolate girl Shweta, who greeted him on New Years’ Day and won his heart, is one of the wackiest and least probable romances since My Sassy Girl. Its most romantic moment between Thirumalai and Shweta on a beach, is incredibly intercut with a sequence showing the brutal cutting down of a policeman by Arasu’s mob.
Thirumalai, like most Tamil films, tries to be a bit of everything and entertain on many different levels. It’s like watching an all-star variety show – a comedian does his routine, followed by a musical romantic love duet, followed by acrobats and stunt men. While most Tamil films are adept at integrating all these elements into a coherent film, Ramanaa seems less able, or is perhaps just less concerned with creating a film that makes sense as a whole. A lethal motorbike road race segues into Vivek’s comedy routines about going for a job interview and then into a spectacular martial arts fight sequence as Thirumalai tangles with Arasu’s goons. Thirumalai then woos Shweta in a romance that takes up most of the mid-section of the film, improbably leaving all the other threads hanging. If you are happy to be entertained on the level of a variety show, Thirumalai certainly gives you value for your money – each of the sequences highly entertaining and expertly delivered. If you are looking for the more conventional pacing of a film and a coherent and believable storyline, you’ll not find it here.
Each of the elements in the film works marvellously however. “I am the man”, sings Vijay in the film’s opening song, but it’s more like “I’m your man”, as the actor bears an uncanny resemblance to a young George Michael, complete with eighties fashions, cheesy gestures, exaggerated movements and an irritating “cool” trick of pulling a cigarette from his shirt collar. He is surprisingly convincing however in his role as the unconventional romantic lead and action hero. Fight sequences with flawless wire-work are superbly choreographed and photographed, as are the full dance sequences during the musical numbers. The music doesn’t quite fit seamlessly into the film, not unexpectedly since little else seems to integrate together in the film, leaping off to the pyramids of Egypt or to an Alpine location. The music itself however is excellent, using traditional Tamil rhythms, but incorporating many modern influences including techno and backing that wouldn’t be out of place on a Nine Inch Nails album. It sounds contrived and it really shouldn’t work, but the arrangements are very strong indeed and provide a nice dividing point between the action, romance, comedy and fight sequences.
The picture quality is reasonably good. Colours are bright, blacks are strong, and there is reasonable detail in the image, which is quite clear, at least in close-ups – wider shots tend to look slightly hazy and show narrow haloes. The usual dust marks and scratch lines are in evidence, but don’t distract greatly. Some splice marks made through sloppy editing are the worst damage here and they are frequent enough to irritate. There is little in the way of digital artefacts. The Ayngaran watermark appears fleetingly during the song and dance routines.
The DVD includes a Dolby Digital 5.1 and a DTS mix of the soundtrack. Both are pretty good, but the DTS track is a lot more powerful and dynamic, coming fully to life during the film’s musical routines and action sequences. Sound effects tend to sound a bit artificial and unrealistic, but are full-bodied. Musical arrangements are impressive, particularly with this score which makes use of unconventional instrumentation. Voices however are dull and sometimes less than clear.
English subtitles are optional and read clearly with few grammatical problems. Occasionally they struggle to keep up with the speed of the delivery, disappearing before you can read them. The translation also has difficulty conveying humour and wordplay, particularly in the Vivek comedy routines.
There are no extra features, just chapter selection and the ability to go directly to songs or play all songs. This is a good feature for this DVD however, this is a film you could certainly revisit for the song and dance routines.
Although it looks like Thirumalai fails to integrate the various genres of its comedy, action, martial arts, romance and gangster plot into a coherent and flowing film, it really doesn’t matter. The plot is just an excuse to play off some exciting and humorous sequences that actually make fun of traditional Tamil film structures and conventions. Taken on its own terms, with a tongue firmly in cheek, Thirumalai is a hugely entertaining film. The problems with the picture on the Ayngaran DVD this time seem to be more to do with the treatment of the original materials than with their transfer to DVD and can be as easily overlooked as any notion of a plot in this film.
Thirumalai can be purchased from Ayngaran International.