Paramapadham Vilayattu, directed by Thirugnanam, begins in an abandoned bungalow where Dr Gayathri (a graceful Trisha) is being held captive. A gang has abducted her daughter and is blackmailing her for a microchip that contains a video that they want. There is incriminating evidence in the video (Tamil cinema villains are conveniently sloppy in this department), and they will stop at nothing to get it. But what is this evidence?
The film has been marketed as a political thriller and is clearly inspired by the events surrounding late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa's death. As in real life, the chief of a political party, Chezhiyan (Vela Ramamoorthy) is hospitalised and there is mystery surrounding his actual health condition. Top leaders vie with one another on who will replace him. One leader is called Kalingnan (AL Azhagappan looking sufficiently creepy) and the other is called Manimozhi (Sona).
Even as it looks like the party will split into factions, the leader looks like he will recover...only to pass away suddenly. And just when you think the film is going to explore the delicious possibilities and political games (we were, after all, promised a political thriller) that will follow, it veers into another direction completely.
Baby Manasvi Kottachi plays Sugi, Gayathri's daughter, who is hearing and speech impaired. The child actor is impressive, and is able to communicate her anxiety without uttering a single dialogue. It is her performance along with an assured Trisha's that makes you sit through the convoluted screenplay. Most of the action scenes have been shot at night, and Trisha and Manasvi make us care to an extent.
Richard Rishi as David tries to strike fear as a goon with psychopathic tendencies. But by the time he takes off his shades and puts eye drops each time, you lose your patience. His "Where is the microchip?" dialogue sounds like a stuck tape and you wonder why he's there in the film at all. The only good thing about his role is that he always comes with an adorable chocolate Labrador. Nandha Durairaj is equally wooden as Tamizh, coloured contact lenses notwithstanding.
Watch: Trailer of Paramapadham Vilayattu
Vijay Varmaa is introduced in a cringe-worthy item song (ironic that directors who want to make women-led films still can't let go of such tropes), playing an amoral cab driver. The storyline, which was already weakening by this point, plummets even further. Thirugnanam tries to mix up comedy with suspense but it simply does not work. The background score becomes distracting, adopting a serious tone for one thread of the story and then using playful sounds for the 'comedy' that intersects with it.
Apart from the watch on Sugi's wrist, nobody else in the film can lay claim to the adjective ‘smart’. Characters run around like headless chickens, not heeding warnings, not predicting anything that you as the viewer can smell a mile away. Take the scene when Dr Gayathri is locked in the boot of a car. A policeman stops the vehicle and actually hears the woman screaming and banging on the metal, but he doesn't think at all that the men in the car would attack him. I mean, what did he think was in the boot? Life-size Talking Tom?
There are several other logical loopholes in the film, starting from a busy doctor who leaves her small child alone in a huge bungalow and goes for work (no nanny, no caretaker, nobody). But none of these would have been inexcusable if only the film had held up otherwise.
The title of the film means 'Snakes and Ladders' but by the time the film comes to a meandering end, you wish you had not rolled the dice at all.
The film is now playing on Disney+Hotstar.
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.