Isn’t diving into flames that could melt the skin off your bones and saving helpless people, all the while knowing you could die at any moment, exciting enough for Kollywood’s heroes? Do they have a compulsive need to also fight gangs of blood-thirsty rowdies along the way, no matter how exciting their day-jobs are?
This was the only question burning in my mind as I walked out of Neruppuda, starring Vikram Prabhu. The film tells the story (and I use the word very loosely here) of five young men who have grown up with the ambition of wanting to be firefighters. So powerful is their desire that even before they get selected, and though they come from clearly disadvantaged economic circumstances, they manage to buy themselves a fire truck and are saving lives across the city.
For a group of men so committed to fire safety, they do precious little firefighting in the film. One entry sequence and one cutesy song is all you have to establish their milk-white goodness, incredible altruism and nearly foolhardy bravery. After that, they can conveniently get on to the real business at hand: old-fashioned good-versus-evil battles with the most fearsome rowdy in the city after they get entangled in his business by accident.
Strangely though, everyone other than Vikram Prabhu is powerless in this film. So, the film’s villains boast about laying waste to the city when they are angry, but retreat like meek kittens after getting a single beating from Vikram. And if you’re wondering why the cops are letting firefighters hog all the glory, it’s because they’re standing around complaining that other people are killing the rowdies that they wanted to shoot dead in encounters. (I want to ask if mainstream Indian cinema will ever get past its obsession with police encounters, but that’s a question for another day.)
Nikki Galrani’s character as the female lead starts out interesting, as she proves she has quick-thinking and fire-fighting skills of her own. But there’s no place for her to go from there in this testosterone-laden script.
They say if you put enough monkeys with typewriters in a closed room, you’ll eventually get Shakespeare. The Neruppuda team was clearly short at least a dozen monkeys. The story is the kind of train wreck that you watch only to see how badly it will end.
Debutant director B Ashok Kumar tries to compensate for this with a lot of dramatic camera sweeps and heroic close-ups, accompanied by a loud soundtrack. But clearly mass effect doesn’t just come from high volume.
The real pity is that the starting sequence is actually quite exciting on its own, and has the seeds of a good film in it. If the Neruppuda team had stuck with an honest story about fire fighting, building from there, they might have had a cracker of a film on their hands. And Vikram does give you a sense in moments that he could handle a more genuinely heroic film like that.
So, when Vikram declares for the fifth or sixth time that he lives not to take lives but only to save them, you have to sigh and ask why he and the rest of the Neruppuda team couldn’t have shown as strong a commitment to save this film.