Dhool is hardy going to surprise anyone who is familiar with Tamil cinema – all the traditional and predictable elements are there and none of them convincingly blending together – an underdog victimised by political corruption and/or street gangsters, and the usual romantic complications interspersed with colourful musical numbers and slapstick comedy routines. As is often the case though the lack of originality of the various elements is less important than the verve with which a film tackles them and in that respect Dhool stands out head and shoulders above the rest.
The inhabitants of a small village in Tamil Nadu are concerned about the waste and sewage coming from a nearby factory, which is polluting their water supplies and causing serious illness among the villagers. Some men from the village take matters into their own hands and attempt to blow the factory up, but are prevented by Arumugam (Vikram), who believes that if representation is made to their local MP and government representative, the factory will be legally forced to close. Arumugam however is not the most educated person in the village, so it is agreed that the beautiful and educated Eswari (Jyotika) will go to Madras with Arumugam and his mother to present their case to the Minister.
Arriving in Madras they stay with a former villager and now government official Naren, played by the ever-present Tamil comedian Vivek. Once again he plays the same work-shy waster who is hopelessly chasing a beautiful woman who has no interest in him – in this case, a stunning model who lives next door called Swapna (Reema Sen).
The arrival of Arumugam causes complications for Naren’s hopeless pursuit of Swapna. When she sees Arumugam acrobatically kick a Coke can into a bin in the street, the beautiful model is well impressed – and what girl wouldn’t be? Swapna’s attentions to Arumugam however are not appreciated by Eswari. Although she thinks Arumugam is an ill-educated brute, she is obviously also in love with him and does her best to spoil the romance, while Naren tries typically hopeless stunts to divert Swapna’s attention back to him.
While in Madras Arumugam and Eswari have the misfortune to run into – you guessed it – a bunch of violent street thugs, rowdies who not only terrorise the neighbourhood, but are also in the pay of politicians and are about to cause havoc in the upcoming elections in which Naren is an election officer. The local police chief (Manoj K. Jayan) would like evidence or witness testimony of their activities, but no-one is prepared to speak up.
All the elements are there for a typical Tamil action/comedy/romance and none of them, if you are at all familiar with Tamil cinema, are the least bit original. The above description is not so different in outline from Thirumalai (from which Vivek, Jyotika and Manoj K. Jayan will also be familiar faces) and there are elements of Virumaandi and Parthiban Kanavu there as well. But like Thirumalai, originality, credibility and coherence are relatively secondary to how entertaining the film is – and Dhool is a full 3-hours of action-packed musical comedy and romance that doesn’t disappoint. There’s no one element that can be pointed to as holding it all together – each of the elements is relatively solid. The musical numbers by Vidyasgar are lyrically strong and meaningful, while being playful and expressive of the characters during both the elaborate dance routines and the traditional mountain scenery romantic duets. They are also rhythmically strong, pushing the story along at an invigorating pace. One great climatic fight scene is scored to Arumugam’s mother singing his praises as he takes on the Swarnakka mob and it is an absolutely thrilling experience. The fight scenes are little more than adequately choreographed with unexceptional wirework and there is never any doubt as to their outcome, but there is a similar edge brought to them by the particularly psychotic nastiness of the thugs that will have even the most resolute pacifist grinning with a thrill of anticipation as Arumugam materialises in front of a mob of rowdies, slowly clenching his fist and there's a tremendous satisfaction in watching him spectacularly take them apart.
It’s the film’s strong balance between the music, the comedy, the action and the social commentary – never letting any one element dominate or intrude into another (or even really blend together, to be honest) – that keeps the pace from flagging and retains the dramatic tension, constantly keeping the plot developing through constant twists and turns. The cast are also uniformly likeable and sympathetic. The predictable appearance of Tamil comedian Vivek will put off some viewers and his routines, as usual, lack any kind of subtlety or originality (not to mention that his constant wordplay will go over the heads of most English subtitle reading viewers) - but I found his routines exceptionally funny and well integrated into the film here. None of the other actors rise above the predictability of their roles – the romantic lead who is a one-man army against the one-dimensional rowdies, the female love-interest rivals, the corrupt politician etc. – but all play the parts well and with a fair degree of charm. As the film picks up the pace and heads towards wrapping up the main political plot thread, other elements and romantic complications get forgotten about or glossed over, but by focussing on the stronger plot points, the film arrives at a satisfactory conclusion.
Like many of the earlier Ayngaran Tamil cinema releases on DVD, dot crawl and grain is prevalent, compression artefacts are visible in just about every frame and edges look rather unstable and jagged. The quality improves after the first reel, and problems can only really be detected thereafter in freeze-frame. These issues are less of a problem during normal playback and won’t detract too much from enjoyment of the film. Colours are reasonably good – and this is a very colourful film – but perhaps not quite true, skin tones being noticeably inaccurate and lacking in detail.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and it’s quite good throughout. As ever, the surround sound is well used for directional effects. The music is loud, strong and powerfully rhythmic. Voices, mainly on the centre speaker, are generally clearer than normal, although sometimes a bit of roughness can be detected. It’s a pity about the cartoonish slap and punch sound-effects, which are a little over-enthusiastically applied even when there are no obvious blows being struck.
English subtitles are optional and read clearly with only a few grammatical and spelling problems. They often struggle to keep up with the speed of the delivery, disappearing before you can read them – but they try their best. The translation again has difficulty conveying humour and wordplay, particularly in the Vivek comedy routines, but you get the idea of what they are trying to convey.
The only extra features are trailers for other releases. There is also the option to go directly to songs or play all songs, which is a useful feature for this film as the musical pieces are certainly worth revisiting.
Dhool is an excellent example of Tamil cinema’s blend of action, comedy, romance and music, with a typical plotline highlighting political corruption, street violence and electoral abuse, but wrapping it all in a thoroughly entertaining package. It’s often daft and unsophisticated and hardly as smooth or as glossy as the average Bollywood musical, but there is pure, innocent entertainment here and a genuine sense of fun that is rarely seen on western screens. Thrilling, exciting and very funny, Dhool is highly recommended for anyone jaded by arthouse angst or Hollywood cliché.
Dhool can be purchased from Ayngaran International.