Thani Oruvan

After an intriguing opening sequence, Thani Oruvan settles down to the serious business of making us want to throw up. There is only so much hero glorification nonsense that I can take, and this film reaches that quota in fifteen minutes. It’s not that the guy isn’t smart, or that the tricks he uses to catch criminals aren’t interesting. It’s the way his adoring friends keep talking about his greatness that gets to me. What part of “show, not tell” does this filmmaker not understand?

Then a funny thing happens. The villain comes into view. While the hero is smart and boring, this guy is smart and interesting. It helps immensely, I think, that the villain is played by Aravind Swamy. Our cinema is no stranger to suave villains, but the suavity is so often of the overblown, put-on variety that it is a relief to see the real article.

Once the film shifts its focus to the cat and mouse game between the hero and the villain, we’re off to the races. There is some bang-bang to be sure (this is a cop drama, after all), but most of the action is cerebral. The feral edge of something like Yennai Arindhaal is missing here, but this is not necessarily a drawback.

There is a line that appears in the beginning: Tell me who your enemy is and I will tell you who you are. The film seems to take this idea very seriously, in ways that are sometimes obvious (the hero and the villain ‘choose’ each other to do battle with) and sometimes not so much.

Much of what makes the film’s latter portions work is the fact that each of these two characters begin to see themselves a lot more clearly as a result of the other’s existence and actions. It’s surprising how much introspection there is for a film in this genre. There is a tendency to get a bit too cute (like right at the end), but this is still much better writing than average.

Sometimes, films that focus on the need that heroes and villains have for each other end up losing a bit of perspective. Both characters have bigger fish to fry than obsess about each other (although to be fair, it takes a while for one of them to realize this, and that too only after someone else points it out to him). That sort of clear-headedness is as rare as it is gratifying.

Love is probably the one thing most explored in cinema, and it is a potent enough feeling to deserve that. There is, however, another very potent emotion that is often underrated but especially comes into focus in a cop drama: respect. It is the reason why the centerpiece of Michael Mann’s Heat is a quiet conversation between a cop (Al Pacino) and a thief (Robert De Niro) over coffee in a diner. We get enough films where the hero and the villain shout variations of “Aaaeei!” at each other. A lot more than enough, actually. So, when a couple of smart people face off against each other, we are instantly riveted.

Whatever the film’s title might lead you to believe, this is a duet, not a solo. And that might be the best reason to watch it.

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5 thoughts on “Thani Oruvan

  1. That first paragraph is key. Even I cringed at those moments 20-25 minutes following the opening scene. I am still unsure if it’s as good as everyone is making it to be but that’s all because of Swami. The villain role makes the film. And great that you brought up Yennai Arindhaal. That was a tad bit better in fact now that you reminded me of it.

    • I would stop short of calling it a great cop drama, but it’s definitely a good one. Yennai Arindhaal was stronger as a cop drama, but although its theme was supposed to be introspection, I felt TO did a better job on that front than YA.

      This film had a bunch of plausibility issues, but at least in my case, they didn’t come to mind until after I walked out. For instance, how does Siddharth Abhimanyu get any work done if he is constantly tracking his nemesis? More to the point, how come he doesn’t notice when there’s a lot less content coming through to his earpiece? (The latter is the same issue that plagued the third Stieg Larsson book.) A lot of it works simply because Aravind Swamy sells it.

  2. S says:

    Ramsu, I watched this recently and my reaction was similar. I’m a Jayam Ravi fan (since his M. Kumaran s/o Mahalakshmi, Mazhai days), and so I find it in me to generally overlook the gooey earnestness, the saccharine sincerity that has become his trademark. I really wish he’d do different shades though. Heard his Boolo’ham’ is better.

    Coming to Thani Oruvan, I too got sick of the sycophants that passed for hero’s friends. Except the guy that died saving the HD card (in that nail-bitingly awesome stretch), I didn’t much care for any of them (and oh, Nayan, who, in my eyes, could do no wrong since Naanum Rowdy Dhaan. While everyone else practically praised the hero off the screen, she dished out practicality. Plus, she was pleasingly persnickety. Her sassiness was the saving grace or I’d have died from the hero’s sermons. But to his credit, the heart-wrenching whiteboard scene made me readily forgive all his black-board moral sciencing!). Aravind Swamy was something else. Since I missed Kadal, this to me was his comeback film. And what a return to form it is.

    Spot on about the plausibility issue same as one that plagued the third Stieg Larsson book. I just re-read (well, audio version of) the trilogy during the holiday break. It’s become something of a tradition, if two years in a row counts.

    Your closing lines clinch it! By the movie’s ending I was humming that Cutting Crew single from the 80’s.

  3. Story is soul !! But each and every character did their job excellent. I haven’t seen such an awesome introduction for villain (Arvind swamy) in past film. when we are talking about Thani Oruvan we should appreciate thambi ramaiah. What an acting !!! Get recent updates about south indian films from southscope.in

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