Tamil Nadu audience first saw Sivakarthikeyan, a TV star, step into the film industry as the conventional hero's friend. Soon enough, he stunned audiences as he transformed into a bankable hero who appealed to all ages. But now, for perhaps the first time in his career, he has donned the role of a villain in Director M Rajesh's Mr Local.
Confused? Well, don't be. What else do you call a character who, minutes into his introduction, says, "Girlfriends are always the enemy of boys." Not convinced by this misogyny? Don't worry. Rajesh, who has also written the screenplay for the film, makes sure you go home without any doubts.
The hero in the story that unfolds over an unbearable three hours, is Nayantara, who plays the role of Keerthana Vasudevan, a businesswoman who produces Tamil serials. An orphan, she works hard to set up a successful production house and is simply minding her own business when the villain Manohar (Sivakarthikeyan) decides to wreak havoc in her life. The two meet when Manohar crashes into her car at a signal, and despite a traffic police confirming that the signalling system was at fault, he decides to blame Keerthana for the mishap. Why, you ask? Because how dare a woman not apologise when a man demands it (even if she made no mistake).
Our hero however, refuses to fall prey to this sexist trap and leaves the scene unapologetic. Angered by her confidence and decision to not bow down to patriarchy, the villain begins to hound her multiple times at her workplace. He even goes on to question her morals, the way she was brought up, and abuses her dead parents despite her protests. If this wasn't enough, when given another chance to publicly apologise, Manohar defames Keerthana and makes sexually coloured remarks about her. Even jokes about the crucial #MeToo movement find place in the script.
Despite the hardships she is forced through, our hero remains honourable and looks for legal recourse. And while Nayantara has faced slut shaming off screen and fought back, on screen, her character Keerthana is crushed under the weight of the sexism spilling across the script. What follows is more stalking, harassment, and threats from the villain who decides he will proclaim to be in love with her to further 'torture' the hero.
At one point, Nayantara yells, “Oh god! This guy is disgusting.” Our thoughts exactly, but perhaps Manohar had a difficult childhood that has turned him into a serial harasser? I waited quite a while for an explanation.
But the director didn't feel the need to explain why he is such a bad man. I mean, Manohar shows immense respect and love for his mother (Radikaa Sarathkumar) and his sister. Turns out, you are safe if you are his blood relative, or if he finds you unattractive. Plus, he is from a stable and modest middle-class family, by his own admission. But somehow, he just gets sadistic pleasure from torturing our hero Keerthana.
Several reports prior to the film had described Mr Local as a modern retelling of 1992 Vijayshanti and Rajinikanth starrer Mannan. Despite its blatant sexism, the earlier film at least gave you scenes where you could dislike Vijayshanti's character. In Mr Local however, all you can do is feel sorry for Keerthana and root for her through the series of problems she faces due to Manohar.
The movie ends rather tragically, with the hero succumbing to Manohar's 'love'. And if watching her fail through the film is not painful enough, the director further troubles you with what he claims to be comic sequences. Yogi Babu, Robot Shankar, and Satish, who play Manohar's friends, have been roped in to fill the space of Soori who has successfully evoked laughs with Sivakarthikeyan in the past. But the jokes fall flat and bad writing is to blame. The director wants to elicit laughter through lines that rhyme, but seems to forget that his audience also has members who are over five years old.
I would give you a few examples but I am not sadistic like Manohar. Moreover, why does the villain need friends anyway? He is too busy making life hell for the woman who won't fall prey to abusive behaviour and proclamations of love.
The songs composed by Hip-Hop Tamizha, while oddly placed, are still enjoyable. They however contribute to the already extended runtime of the film. The song visuals meanwhile are of the villain harassing the hero to a tune, instead of his awful dialogues. The stunt sequences were stunning though, with sports equipment used very creatively in the first fight.
Overall, Mr Local is far ahead of its time. Kudos to Sivakarthikeyan. I mean, how many mainstream actors would agree to play villain so early in their career and even act in a tragic story such as this. Nayantara has done an admirable job, portraying the harassment faced by women no matter how powerful or rich they are. Keerthana fights valiantly for the most part but loses to patriarchy in the end.
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.