Fast, furious and mostly smart, Rangoon is an impressive debut by director Rajkumar Periasamy. Is the plot strikingly original? Perhaps not. But there's enough in this crime drama that keeps you interested.
Parts of it remind one of Ayan. Characters who are in the shadows and inhabit the grey landscape of crime and yet have a strong moral compass and code of honour. As in Ayan, here too our hero Venkat (Gautham Karthik) works for a smuggler. The trade is in gold and Venkat, who was born in Rangoon and came to India in the '80s as a child, is entrusted with pulling off his boss's (Siddique) biggest deal yet in the place of his birth.
The scenes are busy. There's a lot going on in every frame. The lines are spoken as they'd be in real life, never mind if you don't catch them as the discussion heats up and one person speaks over the other. There is a mother, there is a sister and they exist for the usual reasons in a Tamil film - milking some sentiment. And yet the film doesn't go overboard with it. The director is not interested in ticking the 'family audience' box.
In fact, he doesn't seem to have thought it necessary to tick any of the boxes that you typically see in a Kollywood script. "Youth" (wise lines on ponnunga - the one from the trailer seems to have been chopped), "Comedy" (the hero's sidekick), "Mass" (hero sending people to Mars), "Message" (there's one on acid attacks but the tone doesn't get preachy). There's some humour (someone calls the heroine Natasha, 'Natesan'), there are quite a few action sequences but they appear organically and don't stand out like pustules. Every character is there for a reason and they all have something to do.
At one point, Venkat cries to his girlfriend (Sana Makbul), fed up of his life which never seems to go right. It's a moment mixed with self-pity and you expect that suddenly, a plum solution will land at his door. The villains will do something mind-numbingly stupid which will make life easier for him. Or he will turn into the Hulk and destroy everything in sight. But Venkat, quick with his math and glib with his tongue, only spirals further into a blackhole.
Thankfully, unlike many filmmakers who use their films as a kind of tourist brochure to show off the countries in which they shot, Periasamy brings us Myanmar in snatches. It's in the khow suey, in the lines of a song in a pub, a portrait on a wall. Nothing is over explained. Nobody, for instance, bothers to tell the audience why people in Myanmar have yellow paint on their faces (thanaka) or what the word 'siya' means. You don't have to know. It's Myanmar and you're not on an anthropology trip. There are some stunning visuals of Myanmar's beauty but the camera doesn't linger - there's no time.
Gautham Karthik carries the film on his shoulders impressively. There's a vulnerability in his face which comes as a refreshing departure from your average cocksure hero. The rest of the cast, especially Gautham's friends Kumar (Lallu of 8 Thottakkal), Sashi, and Manivannan hold up the scenes with understated and realistic performances. Sana, however, is little more than her dimples and flowy hair. Their romance, which begins with the usual I'll-stalk-you-home but mercifully turns the corner quickly, works...but only because of what Gautham is able to bring to the table.
The songs are fun and energetic, producer AR Murugadoss appears as a wedding guest in one of them. The riveting screenplay hardly takes a breath. All the elements come together and blend into a fine dish. Just like khow suey.