In director Nelson Venkatesan’s Monster, SJ Suryah plays Anjanam Azhagiya Pillar, a spiritual, highly moralistic, sometimes unreal man who is employed with the state electricity board in Tamil Nadu (TNEB).
When the film begins, we are introduced to a young Anjanam at school, being taught the sayings of Vallalar, a 19th century Tamil saint. He is introduced to kindness towards all beings through the spiritual sayings of Vallalar and this stays with him even as he grows, as a form of devotion, a conditioning, and consequentially becomes his way of living.
In one of its early scenes, we are shown how a young Anjanam rescues an ant that has fallen into his tumbler filled with water. While it is hard to categorise humans into black or white, given their multitudes of grey, in Monster, like in any other light-hearted film, we get a feeling that the world is made up of black and white. Anjanam falls squarely into white.
You hope that the film does not turn into a sermon on kindness, but it does get preachy at some points, especially when characters are given lines like ‘we have to learn to co-exist with everyone’, ‘I don’t have likes or dislikes, I learn to like what I get,’ etc.
While kindness towards all beings is a quality that everyone should ideally possess, Monster seems to ask whether kindness should be considered a way of life.
Coming back to the film, Monster tells the story of a pest (in the form of a rat) and a kind man; a conflict without a resolution.
Although it sounds like a one-liner, Monster has great scope for improvisation and director Nelson does it appreciably well. Actor Priya Bhavani Shankar plays Mekala who is employed at a jewellery store, and actor Karunakaran plays Ravi, Anjanam’s colleague and friend.
An arranged marriage between Anjanam and Mekala goes for a toss but it sparks a connection between the two when they least expect it. We are introduced to the “monster,” our rodent star, when Anjanam moves into a new flat, a criteria he wants to tick off in order to be the eligible, marriageable bachelor.
The film has its funny characters, like the land lady who warns Anjanam not to be too generous with water when the pipes are already trickling, the man from downstairs who comes up to warn Anjanam the minute he makes loud noise in his flat and, of course, Anjanam himself who is torn between his morality and his need for one peaceful night’s sleep.
The film also has a bad guy, a diamond smuggler, who previously lived in Anjanam’s flat and had to vacate because he was caught. The villain enters Anjanam’s life to retrieve the diamonds he stashed in the house before he fled.
This track, however, feels like an addition that Monster could have done without. Where the film could have played with its man versus animal face-off a bit more effectively, creating psychological unrest, Monster falters and settles for a lighter treatment. The rat is a nuisance in Anjanam’s life but it's only towards the end that you get a whiff of it.
This lack of tightness in its script makes Monster a bit tiresome even before we even reach the intermission. In that sense, Monster feels a bit stretched, and would have been much better with a shorter run time.
As much as the rat is real, Monster also has some unconvincing portions that feel like a bit of a let down. Anjanam buying the sofa and its obvious fate could have been written better. However, the entire team’s effort in filming the rat, its point of view, especially the ones inside tunnels and holes, have been done extremely well. When it comes to the rat and the sincerity with which the scenes have been executed, it makes you want to forgive its other flaws.
Priya Bhavani Shankar portrayal of Mekala is very convincing, despite the character having limited scope. It is, however, SJ Suryah’s portrayal of Anjanam that takes the cake. (Coming second only to the rat, of course!) His dilemma and the decisions he is forced to make are some of the most convincing portions in the film.
The scenes with the mouse trap, especially the ones that seemingly put the rat's life in danger, may make one feel very uncomfortable. For all that Monster advocates, we hope the animal was not hurt in any way in the process.
The climax feels a bit contrived but given that this is predicament we’ve all been through, even if once, makes Monster an experience worth watching.
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.