For more than three-quarters of debut director Cibi Chakaravarthi’s Sivakarthikeyan-starrer Don, which has a longish runtime of 160-odd minutes, you’re busy stifling laughter or seeing the previous laugh spill over to the next. And, quite a few of those gags are so rooted in Tamil cinema and its tropes, you recall them and laugh some more. You will never ever watch Baasha again the same way, trust me. And, for an added dose of nostalgia, Raghuvaran’s voice and Silk Smitha’s voice make an appearance too.
Director Cibi Chakaravarthi makes an assured debut with Don, which effectively uses a cloak of humour to cover an emotional core. The film stumbles in places when it transitions from fun and frolic to seriousness, but Sivakarthikeyan (playing Chakravarthy), Samuthirakani (playing the father) and a gloriously hammy SJ Suryah (discipline freak Boominathan) sell it to you well.
At its core, Don is about a happy-go-lucky boy Chakravarthy (Sivakarthikeyan, who is glowing in the film) who so wants to avoid joining engineering that he even jams his hand in the rice grinder before the board exams. His father is super strict, and some of his reactions border on abuse. The child grows up resentful of the father, and craving fatherly affection. He is in quest of something that will show him his dream career, so that he can get out of engineering college and its attendant discipline. Samuthirakani seems unfeeling, but then you see the depth of his love for his child, which he is unable to express in his actions — and his feet. The actor has been amid a purple patch for a while now — he just instinctively gets what the role demands.
In school, Chakravarthy crushes on Angayarkanni (an effective Priyanka Mohan), and his thought bubble immediately plays FLAMES, to see if the two will match. She has an understanding cop for a father and Don craves that presence in his life. But then his father happens to chance upon it and a tender love is seemingly crushed.
When Angayarkanni joins the same college as him, she begins with slapping someone for misbehaving with a girl and tells her that an immediate slap does wonders, but when she’s stuck in a similar situation, it takes the man to rush to her defence. Some better writing was needed here.
Director Cibi manages to keep the laughs coming every five minutes or so, and helping him is Sivakarthikeyan’s excellent comic timing and body language, and his sync with fellow actors Munishkanth, Kali Venkat, Bala Saravanan and Soori.
For those of us used to advertisements for realty being sold “Chennaikku miga arugil” (very near to Chennai), just about 60-70 km away, the reference to something similar in Coimbatore is a scream. That same distance in the Western Tamil Nadu district will see you cross the highway and hit the forest zone, or cross districts. That ties in neatly with scenes of wildlife and thick vegetation in the film. The director allows you to make the linkage.
At one stage, the college chairman (Radha Ravi), who loves the idea of new advertisements, shakes his head as Don gets him to agree to test the teachers. It might initially bring in the laughs, but at a deeper level, that scene also shows you exactly what is wrong with our education system. A system where learning stops at one level, and teaching just what one knows begins.
I quite liked some of the dialogues — they come from a place of understanding. Chakravarthy’s father and Boominathan change their minds after a longish period, but you don’t wonder why the sudden switch. As Samuthirakani’s character says, “we are also learning to be parents as you grow”. And, Boominathan says that teachers don’t always carry through with their threats to fail children in college.
The film, despite humour being its chosen vehicle, pauses to speak some bleak parenting truths, the sense of abuse children face, and the hidden sacrifice of parents who simply don’t know how to be expressive — the father never goes near the son, but always asks for a piece of liver when he brings home meat to celebrate the son coming home. But before he can eat it, there’s an argument and the son goes without eating. And it takes the mother (Aadhira Pandilakshmi gets the struggle of a woman torn between her son and husband just right) to speak some home truths to Chakravarthy.
Sivakartikeyan is on a roll after Doctor, choosing scripts that allow him to play to his strengths. Music by Anirudh is a tad disappointing (the songs don’t really lend much to the movie), with much of it sounding like something we’ve already heard (think Petta). Cinematography is by KM Bhaskaran, and he captures the vast landscape of the college well. Editing is by Nagooran, who manages to keep proceedings taut despite the runtime. He edited the superb Saani Kaayitham too (Amazon prime Video).
How should parents deal with children’s dreams is the question you’re left with after the movie. Is silent understanding and encouragement needed or should it be more obvious? And finally, when dream after dream is crushed in colleges where children are forcefully sent so that they can tick society’s bucket list, what about the kids who struggle to cope and seek a way out?
The only issue with Don is that these issues will hit you long after the movie is over. The humour, funny as it is, stops you from immediately grasping the depth of what director Cibi is trying to convey.
But, we all need these laughs, most of which are organic, in a post-pandemic world. The big screen is a good space for some escapist fare, and this ticks that box, while pushing the envelope and speaking about uncomfortable home truths too.
This Don 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.