Venkat Prabhu’s 2011 heist film Mankatha had an unforgettable Ajith in a white suit, sniffing a pile of cash and exclaiming, “Money, money, money, money!” If it was Rs 500 crore at stake in that film, the figure is much higher in H Vinoth’s Thunivu. Here too, Ajith’s character is out to loot a bank; he’s wearing white but his character is all grey.
Not that we know much about this character. Even his name is a mystery. Ajith is a riot as a nameless gangster who uses Michael Jackson’s voice to talk to the police and moonwalks on the bank floor ever so coolly. That’s star power for you. He doesn’t speak much but when he does, it’s witty one-liners that land well. When a terrified bank employee insists that he has two kids and should therefore be set free, the star shoots back with, “Enna keta pethukitta?” (Did you ask me and have them?) His trolling of how banks communicate is also hilarious. If nothing, Ajith seems to have had a blast on the sets, and Ghibran’s background score elevates these moments.
As in Mankatha, here too there are gangs that are out to double cross each other but Vinoth makes the same mistake that he did with Valimai – including a badly written ‘emotional’ flashback that doesn’t fit within the film’s vision. Mankatha’s strength was its amoral anti-hero. The gangster-in-chief in Thunivu is a seasoned international gangster but he decides to risk it all for a reason that looks like it was hurriedly taped into the film.
Vinoth stumbles – and stumbles badly – in fleshing out the flashback. The gangster loses family members in seconds before we can even figure out who is who. Was that an actual person who was shot down or a mosquito killed by HIT? The incident is supposed to be a major factor behind what’s happening, but unless you pepper spray yourself, your eyes are going to stay dry at the unbelievably amateurish scenes. Manju Warrier’s Kanmani speaks only with guns, and she has little to do in the film other than nod intelligently and fire weapons.
Still, there are bits and parts of Thunivu that keep the machine going. Like the leery journalist Mai Pa’s (Mohana Sundaram) ‘tips’ to a junior colleague on how to manage his news editor’s expectations, and his underhand deals with a dirty cop Rajesh (Bagavathi Perumal). Or GM Sundar’s amusing performance as a bank employee. Samuthirakani as a senior police official is positioned as the gangster’s worthy adversary but though he makes an impressive arrival, there’s hardly anything he does by way of strategy. He seems to be there only to transform into a fanboy. John Kokken does the honours as the villain, and it's a pretty generic suited antagonist who chews up Tamil like it is rubbery bhatura.
The thrill of a heist film lies in how the crime is planned, executed, and the last-minute situational adaptations that the gang has to make. But Vinoth makes the film about the ‘why’ of the crime (“Money, money, money, money” wasn’t good enough apparently) rather than the ‘how’. The second half, therefore, unfolds like a Mohan Raja or PS Mithran film with simplistic messaging and random shots of the ‘public’ approving all that’s happening on TV screens.
Thunivu has lavish stunts – colliding helicopters, flying bikes, leaping motorboats, speeding jet skis. Even sunglasses don't merely fall to the floor without first somersaulting in the air in slow motion. Money, money, money, money. It’s clear that producer Boney Kapoor has spared no expense in the film’s making, and cinematographer Nirav Shah ensures that you get the full impact of all that’s exploding. But you watch it with a distanced appreciation for the technical crew, never becoming involved with the characters. There is more emotion between the colliding helicopters than the human beings on screen.
In one scene, Ajith’s character tells Kanmani that they must remember who they are. But who are they? How did this Tamil family turn gangster? How did they become such experts in crime? Not important. Here, drop your jaw at a flaming car turning into ash instead. Just chilla, chilla and don’t ask annoying questions. The screenplay and pacy editing seem designed for a generation that watches films on 1.5X speed on Netflix, and it’s true you don’t get bored. But you don’t feel exhilarated by anything either. And that’s because of the superficial writing of the characters and the connections between them. Heist films like the Ocean’s 11 have rewatch value because we are drawn into the film by its characters and their stories. Thunivu, on the other hand, hopes to stay afloat on Ajith’s swagger and Boney Kapoor’s moneybags. It probably will coast to the box office, but nobody is going to be talking about it five years from now.
The tagline of the film is ‘No guts, no glory’. What we get is all guns and some glory, courtesy Ajith Kumar.
Sowmya Rajendran writes on gender, culture, and cinema. She has written over 25 books, including a nonfiction book on gender for adolescents. She was awarded the Sahitya Akademi’s Bal Sahitya Puraskar for her novel Mayil Will Not Be Quiet in 2015.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film’s producers or any other members of its cast and crew.