Anniyan should certainly be considered a path-breaking movie in Indian cinema. Like Mudhalvan, this gets credit only because of what it tries to do than what it actually ends up achieving. The movie has logical flaws. Several of them. It is almost as if Shankar's fantasy story that is full of ambition is competing with the huge craters like holes in his script. Like Mudhalvan, this is a very bold movie, which only a director like Shankar has the guts to make. But this movie is unlike Mudhalavan in one aspect. Mudhalvan, like any other good movie, laid down certain rules for the movie ( "antha padathirku undaana thanmai" ) and followed those rules to a reasonable extent. That is what a good fiction should do -- set some logic at a fantasy level and follow that logic even if it doesnt confirm to the real world ( e.g Crouching Tiger, Matrix, Batman, Spiderman etc). Anniyan does not do that and that is its biggest flaw. Barring this -- Anniyan is simply a great movie. Almost as if Shankar has said to the rest of India, " I have raised the bar this high .. now you guys see if you can beat this". This movie is the costliest movie by South Indian standards -- but Bollywood has made several rich movies, albeit none of them this good. This movie is an instructive lesson to everybody in Kodambakkam as well as Bombay as to what a little ambition can do.
Anniyan kills people who violate certain rules for men that our mythologies have set. Garuda Puranam, is our ancient Hindu text for handing out judgements for the dead. This text has a comprehensive list of the sins men are not allowed to do and also prescribes punishments for such sins. These punishments are handed out by Yaman while Chitraguptan keeps track of all the sins each man does. Garuda Puranam also has the mantras that are to be read during the dying moments of a person. Anniyan simply saves a lot of work for Yaman by handing out punishments and pronouncing the mantras himself. He also writes in blood (like in the movie seven where the killer writes the name of each sin near the victim) the name of the punishment in a jumbled format. It is surprising to note that much like seven sloth(laziness) is a sin in our mythology too. There are six letters to every sin's name and as Prakash Raj, the cop calculates, there are 6! (six factorial) combinations to every puzzle. The police decode these while they pursue the killer. And there is a wonderful cameo flashback scene that Shankar is so famous for.
To enjoy the movie you have to set aside 3 of the major logical flaws.
(a) Having multiple personality disorder does not make one of the personalities - A Superman. Anniyan cannot fly around and kick people unless this was a Super hero movie. This is not. The first half kept this option (of this movie being a super hero movie ) alive. In the second half, we are told that this is not a super hero movie. Which means none of Matrix sequences fit in. And like most of Shankar's movies this has special effects for the sake of special effects. While you have to give credit that the Matrix tribute (where Neo fights 100's of agents) has been taken wonderfully well. The bullet-time sequences have been shot excellently. Almost as good as how it was shot in The Matrix ( considering that Shankar has much less money to operate with).
(b) Having Multiple Personality disorder does not change your appearance beyond identification: If Sada (the female lead star) knows Ramanujam Iyengar for a decade, she would be able to recognize Remo is Ramanujam Iyengar just by looking at his face. C'mon after all the only change is to his hair-style and dress. It is very disturbing when she appears not to realize that Remo is Ramanujam and in fact she seems to fall in love with a complete stranger ( so soon and for no apparent reason). Which makes it even bad.
(c) This movie is implausible even in the fantasy world it creates for itself. There is absolutely no need for Prakash Raj and Vivek to be (so comically ) undercover. They do very little detective work to find Anniyan. Anniyan just shows up in Nehru stadium ( how and why media is assembled and public are assembled is a mystery). Why Anniyan wants to declare himself to the public is also a mystery. The Police just fill in the dotted lines from that point. Also at the time Anniyan appears in Nehru stadium, he is not yet a sensation or even a person who is know to the public. As to how a few posters can result in 50000 people assembling in Nehru stadium is also baffling. That whole sequence fails on the logical front. So do the multiple personality disorder explanations by the doctors. I felt they were feeble and so put-on. Indian cinema should really find out how to explain a concept without actually make it look like a gospel.
If this movie is commercially successfull, it is a good sign. It means the audience are mature and willing to forgive all these logical flaws and are willing to go on with the spirit of the movie. So with all these "minor" problems out of the way, the movie is thoroughly entertaining to watch. I was especially happy because the movie talks about what I blogged here, here and here. It takes a neutral view of our country. This view is unflattering and thoroughly critical, as any good and mature opinion of our country should be. India is not as good as what it is hyped up to be and patriotism gets in the way of us seeing this point of view. Shankar's patriotism resonates so much with mine that I almost had tears in my eyes. This movie talks about some basic truths in a very effective way. It says to all the movie-goers that they too are corrupt ( the house-document scene alone covers the entire population of India).
I remember, when I was in college 2nd year, I was walking along the side of Doraisamy subway ( on the side of subway that leads you to the railway track from where you can board the train). There is an auto stand on that path and while I was walking an auto driver spit from inside an auto and the spit - naturally - fell on my arm. What later hppened was even better, in my rage ( I didn't know what I was doing) I smeared that spit on his face and shirt and much to his anguish spit on him. A sprawl ensued with the auto driver trying to wring my neck and I was spitting on his face and hitting him until some other people split us up. I felt then and still feel now that people who spit on the road should be handed out instant death sentences. But I also feel being an auto-driver by itself should make a person eligible to be executed without prior notice. Another pet peeve is driving on the wrong side of the road. While driving to get my tickets on saturday, I saw that as soon as one side of the road got jammed, the vehciles on the other side started to travel on the wrong side of the road, thereby exacerbating the problem. As the lone vehicle travelling on the side where people were driving illegally, I tried to threaten them by driving fast and pretending that I am going to bang those folks with my vehicle. It upset some people and I wonder why? They should be killed too. Shankar (almost) feels the same way too and I am glad. Shankar's anger against such people is perceptible and we can feel it. The real question is -- So why does Shankar make a movie like this where he has to marry small detail-oriented real world problems with high-fantasy commercial fare. How does he think this incongruence will work with the public ? The answer to this may not be difficult to guess after all. As anybody in the movie world will tell you, more than the story, the script, there is something called "high points" that actually decides the fate of a movie. The are moments in the movie that pumps up your adrenalin and make you feel high. It makes you forget the whole context of the movie and makes the tree blur the forest. So when Anniyan is in the middle of Jawahar Lal Nehru stadium giving out his lecture, we don't wonder why the police haven't nailed him yet or at least shot his head off (the police for some funny reason continue to be under cover.. why?.. this bugged me like crazy). Instead of thinking about this we actually focus on his films division style presentation of his view of India and we are carried away by the power in his speech. The instant narration clouds our sense of the big picture. These movie has tons and tons of these "high points". This movie infact overwhelms us with such moments. This should ensure that the movie runs in the villages, regardless of whether people there get the story or not (This is a city oriented problem, so I doubt if they would relate to it).
The songs are nothing to write home about! They are mediocre for a Shankar movie. I said that before and I still think so. I didn'nt even want to hum any of those songs after I left the movie theatre. Yes the picturization is good and then there is the traditional Shankar's Andhra style song. It was colorful and creative as usual. But it stops there. As far as his establishment of characters goes, I feel he could focus on the details more. The Thiruman-Sricharanam, ( namam in colloqioal terms) which Iyengar's wear on their forehead looks pretty lame on Vikram. Kamal Hassan, for all his atheism, wore it authentically in Hey ram. Here... what Vikram and Vivek put is more like the emergency paint, people in Thirupathi, put on minutes before the darshan. These are details which are important for authenticity. Also, how many times should these movie people be told that the pacha kacham and the madisaar are dresses that married people wear and they are never worn by un-married folks. I also think Ramanujam Iyengar is a caricature than any resemblance to a real character. You walk into any house in Triplicane, W.Mambalam, Mandaveli or even Kumbakonam you wont find a person like Ramanujam. I think this character is more in tune with 1960's or 1970's than today.
Ramanujam's father has given a good performance. Especially in the flashback scene. His arguments against the gross negligence of different functions of the government and state make your eyes swell. Vivek's comedy alone is worth the ticket money in the first-half. He has been given a good role in this movie. The train scene in the first-half reminded me of the other wonderful train-scene comedy in "Thillana Moganambal". I truly enjoyed the comedy scenes. The make-up and costume folks should also be given due credit. Vikram in some scenes is dressed almost Jedi-like. And in one song scene his hair-style so closely resembles Liam Neeson's Qui-gon hair style in Star Wars. Sada is saadha or sodha. The chick ain't impressive. Vikram's potrayal is good as expected. In some song sequences he does resemble Arun Govil, the yesteryear actor who played Rama in the the tele-serial Ramayana. The last scene where all his multiple personalities come one at a time involuntarily is a pretty impressive performance. Sujatha's dialog is pretty impressive. I thought the dude has lost his touch but he still has the spark. The dialogs are powerful and I loved the "Clark Table" " Logrithm" references. It was pretty cool and incisive at the same time.
Shankar is a pretty good director with an eye towards detail and a lot of creativity. But he is also a wily commercial money-maker. He has an eye on the cash registers while making his movies. While K.Balachander and to some extent Manirathnam allow the story-line to dictate what the movie should contain. Shankar actually goes off track to deliberately put in some commercial elements to make sure the movie acheives some of its minimum guarantee. Also, while KB and Mani Rathnam are subtle and have an aesthetic quality to their movies, Shankar is blunt, crude and on-your-face. He does not waste time in eloquence and just gets right down to the subject matter in no time. In the first few nano-seconds after the movie opens Vikram and Sada are introduced and before the title sequence is over you know what kind of character Ramanujam is gonna be. Movies with such powerful social messages and ones especially dealing with issues that are dealt in this movie are always welcome. We must feel happy that somebody is actually concerned about such things. IMHO, 4 Tamil movies every two years are worth a trip to the theatre (While Bollywood provides 1 good movie every two years). Kamal Hassan, Manirathnam, Shankar and (sometimes) Gautham provide those four movies ( I will exclude Rajini movies as there are really few of them coming out nowadays and people watch Rajini movies for completely different reasons). If you go to movies that fall under these categories you will live thinking Tamil movies are in a good state. Otherwise you will learn the truth and feel sad. Like I did when I recently saw Sachin ( a pathetic yucky movie) which made me realize that I was not missing anything by not seeing any other Tamil movie. The last two years saw dissapointing-to-average fares by Kamal ( MBBS), Manirathnam ( AE) and Shankar ( Boys). Anniyan is an indicator that this year has been good start from one of the quartret. Shankar is back doing what he knows best and its truly Wonderful. The next movie that should be worth a watch is "Vettaiadu Velaiyadu" due to be released end of this year. This movie is a doubly whammy starring Kamal hassan and directed by Gautham. That should be a good movie.