Narcotics bureau officer Aryan (Arun Vijay) is studying the drug mafia in the city. He's intently peering at his computer to draw out the connections, and he's doing his research on...Wikipedia. Well, that's an early sign of how Mafia: Chapter 1 will unfold.
Directed by Karthick Naren, who shot to fame with Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru, Mafia is yet another Tamil film on the drug cartel that seems to have chosen this subject only because it offers scope for stylish villains and a sophisticated hero. The screenplay begins with a shootout in a hotel that happens on a Saturday and then takes us a few days back. The characters are air-dropped on screen with little information on who they are and what they are like as people. This is fine, of course. Nothing wrong with a story beginning in medias res, but the script fails to develop their characters entirely.
Priya Bhavani Shankar plays Sathya, Aryan's colleague. The third corner in their team is Varun. However, these three characters could have been replaced by anybody and it wouldn't have made any difference to the story. Karthick overly depends on slow motion shots to establish the swag of the team but offers no heft to them beyond their shades, suits and stylish background music from Jakes Bejoy. Sathya and Aryan are in a relationship but their equation, too, is just left hanging in the plot.
The same goes for Diwakar (Prasanna), who plays the antagonist. The camera focuses on his snake-like eyes and we're given about 3,000 shots of him lighting up his cigar (ok, I'm exaggerating, but it sure felt like it). The hero and the villain are supposed to be playing a cat and mouse game, but neither of them seems to be very bright because the audience can guess what's going to happen way before it happens on screen. Take the interval block – it's exactly what you predicted and you start feeling impatient that Aryan is taking so long to figure it out.
Karthick falls back on voiceovers and an excessive use of English in the dialogues (reminding one of Gautham Menon thrillers) to keep up the sophisticated tone, but the writing falls flat. When someone Aryan knows gets murdered, Sathya says, "This doesn't look like a normal murder. There seems to be a motive to it." What? Don't all murders have a motive? What is a 'normal murder'?
The action sequences work better, particularly in the second half. But without the characters drawing the audience into the film, there's little point to it. We don't feel the tension, because we don't care what happens to these people. At a time when criminals use bitcoins, encrypted messaging, and the dark web to conduct murky deals, the film falls back on age-old tricks to tell the story of the drug mafia. A whiteboard with sketch pen markings. A Word document with vague details. A stuffed chair with a maniac boss. A handwritten letter conveniently explaining everything the hero needs to know. In fact, Aryan looks pleasantly surprised when he's informed that a SIM can be traced if the phone is switched on, even without a call going through (I mean, did he not watch Drishyam?). There's no new insight whatsoever on how the cartel runs.
Karthick saves a big twist for the end, setting things up for the sequel. But by the time that twist arrives, you just want to be done with the film despite it being under two hours.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.