There is something deeply sad about being a woman in a superstar movie. It means erasure and replacement of one’s self with a personality that he grants her. Nayanthara plays a reputed lawyer in Annaatthe. She is preparing to defend a rich man in a civil case in the court when the hero, played by Rajinikanth, barges into her office with the hapless plaintiff in tow. Snubbing the lawyer’s client, who claims to have enough evidence to prove his ownership of the property, the hero thunders, “Sometimes justice takes precedence over truth!”. These words explode within the lawyer. She walks into the court and parrots the hero as though she is possessed, betraying her client. For the rest of the film, she faithfully treads on his heels.
However, time and again, quite strangely, she disappears from the narrative. Annaatthe, directed by Siva, unfolds episodically, pushing aside the concept of narrative continuity. After a romantic song where the couple walks past each other, strictly asexually, through synthetic gardens and a mock waterfall, the film moves on to a comic track featuring actors Meena and Khushboo who play loud-mouthed rural women in tacky make-up, completely in contrast to Kali’s elegant girlfriend. The humour is not just flat but painful, like a dagger thrust into the chest of the viewer who is, by now, at their wit’s end.
Another episode involves Prakash Raj as an evil landlord who undergoes a miraculous moral transformation after he gets beaten up by Kali. His early scenes with Kali show a faint promise. To begin with, Rajinikanth and Prakash Raj are actors with a great flair for comedy. They come from a sturdy school of acting where villainy and heroism are not treated as water-tight compartments. There is a clear hint of evil in Petta’s Kaali and a clown in Ghilli’s Muthupandi. But Siva seems to believe that a Rajinikanth movie cannot afford to have a straightforward storyline with a single, powerful villain or understated and well-thought-out humour. Prakash Raj is discarded soon. Enter new villains, bulkier, dull and far less talented, who, for petty reasons, unleash a series of violence, prompting Kali to step in and save the world.
Annaatthe is centred on Kali’s love for his sister, Thanga Meenakshi (Keerthy Suresh). The relationship between a man and his younger sister, bordering on toxic, is an oft-repeated theme in Tamil mainstream movies. Siva uses all the clichés known to the human race to express Kali’s affection for Meenakshi. In a counter-intuitively meta moment, Kali’s sidekick, a role passionately performed by Soori, describes the siblings’ interactions at a particular instance without actually witnessing it. “I see it all the time,” he says. He knows the syntax of their expression of love to the T. The audience knows it too.
Meenakshi has a longer screen-time than most of the characters in the film, but she is not very different from them. An educated individual, she, at one point, decides to live her life away from her brother’s constant attention. Hell breaks loose in Annaatthe when she proclaims her independence by rejecting the groom her brother finds for her. The film’s loud tone gets louder by several notes as it mourns with Kali. But soon enough, she comes back to him, for there is no separate existence for these supporting characters. In one of the weirdest instances in the film, Meenakshi, after being told by a doctor in Kolkata that she is pregnant, starts to cry, not in memory of her husband who is in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, but because she misses Kali.
Why doesn’t this film, which tries to spoof Rajinikanth’s successful mass movies before 2010, work? Age has left obvious marks on the star’s face, but his spirit remains undeterred. Siva, like a nervous chef at a high-profile party, keeps topping the film with tributes, hat-tips, jokes and stunt scenes. He makes the superstar repeat his hook-steps in every song sequence forcefully inserted into the film. But for a filmmaker, it is pivotal to know when to stop ﹣the saturation point ﹣as much as it is to know how to build a narrative.
Siva’s Viswasam (2019) was a decent melodrama, despite the cliches and familiar notes, thanks to the restraint he maintained in storytelling. He toned down Ajith Kumar’s larger-than-life image by enlarging his female co-stars Nayanthara and Anikha Surendran. In Annaathe, Siva struggles to find a point of focus although he is on familiar ground. The film’s pop-colour palette and the brutally loud background score only point towards the giant void at its heart. The sentiments are overdrawn, jokes are stretched out, and the hero, buried under a wall of poor writing. One of the most tragic festival gifts from an idol to his fans.
The Annaatthe review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.