“Iru Mugan”, a science-fiction, spy thriller is director Anand Shankar's second after "Arima Nambi”.The story is about Akhilan (Vikram), a former RAW agent who makes his daily bread as an underground fighter. He’s assigned a mission 4 years after his suspension to capture a drug baron, dead or alive. He is the picture of machismo and his trademark method of channelizing his rage is to ruthlessly beat up suspects in police interrogation in under 2 minutes (there’s a stopwatch).
Why is he so angry? There’s a quick, choppy flashback taking us through the death of his wife Meera (Nayanthara), another RAW field agent and data analyst. Whose hand is in this? Drug baron Love, the cross-dressing antagonist, played by Vikram again. As a front, Love runs a cosmetics company, and can rattle off chemical equations or even devise a powder compact that burns through skin.
But what he can also conjure up is Speed, a drug that can boost adrenaline levels, cause a heightened sense of awareness and aggression, and which wears off in 5 minutes. Speed actually exists in real life. “Pervitin”, a methamphetamine-based drug, was manufactured from 1937 onwards. It played a key strategic role in Hitler’s army, creating a feeling of euphoria and invincibility among his soldiers. In the film, the drug is stored as a gas in an inhaler, which Love distributes among his army. The chemistry lessons are aplenty and “Iru Mugan” gets its science right most of the time. At other times, the explanations are too tedious.
Love is a proud cross-dresser, sinister and sassy in equal measure. He toys with androgyny in pink polo shirts, bowties, skin-tight pants and dark waistcoats. Certain irksome mannerisms of waving his nails, air kissing and speaking in an odd accent are mildly cringe-worthy.
But just when you celebrate that he hasn’t fallen prey to any clichés or wrong pronouns, a disjointed scene shows him in the women’s trial room. Opening the door, he hears a woman yell “This is the ladies room!” He looks past and walks away proudly. I’m not sure if this is a scene of reclamation, but even if it is, it looks like a token one plonked into the screenplay. The attempt to establish a cross-dresser as just another person, no questions asked or eyebrows raised, is laudatory. But there’s nothing more to him. He’s a monolithic textbook villain with little to no characterization.
Nithya Menen as Aarushi is for decorative purposes only. Her talent and grace are pitifully wasted as she quietly takes orders and her retorts sound like mere squeaks. She’s a RAW field agent working with Akhilan, but her role reflects very little of the strength, charisma and determination of one. The most depth that her characterization is granted is when she yells at Akhilan to take a dying girl who accompanies them on the mission to the hospital. His wife’s tragic end has numbed him and so, nobody else’s death can shake him. But Aarushi is capable of empathy and that’s really it.
Nayanthara’s role has no substance to it and the script is entirely to be blamed. When she’s not parading around in fantastic ensembles, she’s making serious faces and holding guns.
The first-half is tight, with Nassar making a quick cameo. The Malaysian police inspector, Muthiah, played by Thambi Ramaiah, is nothing short of tacky and irritating, and it’s best to refrain from forced laughter – you’ll be drained by the second half. There’s a fairly good plot twist midway but the screenplay gets far too contrived and messy after.
The background score is overpowering, with the usual stock opera vocals and effects. Two out of the three songs composed by Harris Jayaraj are forgettable. “Kannai Vittu” a smooth, melodious number in which Akhilan grieves for his wife, is worth listening to, especially for Madhan Karky’s lyrics.
And finally, Vikram. Vikram is a character artist. Even if the script goes wayward, has visible loopholes, or can’t be saved from a fire, he’d be happy to work with what he has. In his ambitious dual role, playing a macho Akhilan and a cross-dressing Love, he wears both the masks seamlessly and with ease. It’s fascinating to watch his changing body language, which in Love’s case, gets a little too gimmicky. But it’s clear that while he’s put a lot of effort into Love, he’s taken Akhilan for granted, falling into the “macho boys don’t cry” trap. Nevertheless, he’s done a great job.
Contrived second half, choppy screenplay and poor characterization aside, “Iru Mugan” is a must-watch, if only for Vikram’s performance. And if you failed chemistry in school, here’s your chance to learn a little.