8 Thottakkal is the kind of film you don’t get to see very much these days – rich in story, but ambivalent in tone.
It’s not a morality tale, except perhaps to say that sometimes things happen. Instead, 8 Thottakkal spends its time layering its characters, giving them narrative arcs that make them not so much objects of love or hate, but people you can relate to as creatures with the simplest motivations – to live, to love, to matter.
At the heart of the film are one gun, eight bullets, and a crime that no one expected, not even its perpetrators. Around it are arranged a number of characters – cops, criminals and bystanders, all of whom bring very interesting baggage to the cat-and-mouse game.
As a thriller, 8 Thottakkal struggles with some obvious missteps. Debutant director Sri Ganesh, a former assistant of Mysskin’s, certainly has the skills for a superb foray into the genre. The way that he takes a straightforward tale and builds in kinks, twists and tangents, and keeps the story on a slow boil throughout, proves that he’s suited for thrillers.
But he still has some way to go in terms of getting the pacing and the distribution of the film’s various elements right. In particular, the songs in the film act as annoying speedbreakers to the narrative, throwing off the rhythm of the film.
And Sri Ganesh also makes some obvious mistakes in terms of the details of a police procedural. But considering that Indian films have rarely paid much attention to the nitty-gritties of police procedure, this is not as unforgivable an error.
Where Sri Ganesh really succeeds, and what makes this such an exciting film, is the something extra that emerges in the form of textured, engaging stories. None of the characters in the film is unbelievable or unusual. Instead, their very regularity makes them thoroughly captivating.
And in this he’s aided by his cast. No one does it better than MS Bhaskar as Moorthy. His rendition of the good, obedient man who finally snaps is pitch-perfect – from the bluff bravado on the outside to the quiet desperation on the inside.
Nasser is also effortless in his role as the worldly top investigator. Perhaps the only disappointment in the film is Vetri, whose performance is even more diminutive than the spineless goodness of the protagonist Sathya demands.
8 Thottakkal is not quite a chase film, not quite a great battle of good and evil. Instead it’s a small film about small people with big problems. And what emerges is a big story that’s thoroughly worth your while.