At its heart, Theru Naaigal is a very straightforward story. Caught in a violent landscape, dominated by a gangster-politician and his junior rival, a group of youngsters are trying to live their lives in peace. But events around them draw them into bigger struggles.
But, of course, we get no sense of this till the interval, because debutant director S Hari Uthra chooses to turn the film into a mystery through a fragmented timeline. So, the film skips back and forth around an eagerly-awaited election result, showing a wide variety of characters weaving a number of plots whose dots don’t really join up.
It’s only in the second half that the connections and explanations get fleshed out, and we find out the current news addition to the age-old plot – a fight between farmers and corporate interests. But just at the point where the film’s narrative starts to make sense, it also falters in pace and loses the audience’s interest.
That’s because the flashback explaining the protagonists’ motives is a bit too predictable. Though a very contemporary farmers’ issue gets mentioned, the way events play out is formulaic – a corrupt politician acts on behalf of faceless interests to line his own nest. When an honest man unwittingly stands in his way, the politician reacts violently. And the attempts to enliven it with a couple of ill-chosen comedy and romance sequences only make things worse.
The film also struggles with setting an engaging tone for the film. While director Hari tries to give the film a stark and gritty realist tone, it collapses into a mundane monotone. So, the film feels much longer than it should, as too many similar scenes, with an excessive and unnecessary use of slow motion, drag at the viewer. The film is also burdened with a very loud, thumping soundtrack that becomes unbearable very early into the film.
The acting also lacks sufficient variety, though the cast features interesting actors like Appukutty, Imman Annachi, Mime Gopi and Madhusudhanan. None of the actors are asked to do much more than stare hard-eyed into the camera, and spit out their dialogues angrily. The few women characters momentarily present in this testosterone-loaded film don’t get the chance to show any acting skills either.
It’s not that Theru Naaigal doesn’t have the ingredients for a good film. It is moderately engaging but fails to engage fully because it overplays its hand. With a subtler touch and a little restraint, it could make for great viewing.