Pandigai may have a celebratory ring to it, if you walk into the movie blind. Even if it doesn’t, it’d certainly bring to mind something cheerful. A rural romance, perhaps, or something a la Appuchi Gramam and Kanavu Vaariyam. And, that’s the first round of victory for director Feroz. He begins the movie with a cricket match on television, and pans across audiences behind the screen.. There’s the den of a rich, villainous overlord, a bar with a cheering crowd, and the very homely living room of a middle-aged man, whose pregnant wife berates him for gluing himself to the television. Just when you think these are regular audiences, with regular lives, the man at the bar cheers India’s loss, while the father-to-be tears up. His lips quiver comically, and it’s all so absurdly funny till his wife yells. He had gambled his house away on the match. Pandigai has that kind of lovely, dark comedy.
Meanwhile, the man in the bar, who had bet on England’s victory, is cheerful; he tips the bartender (Kreshna) generously, even as the latter watches him with accusing eyes. So call me anti-nationalist, the man says, I just made a little money on a game that is the country’s largest money-spinner.
The rich overlord, on the other hand, is impassive; it was as if he knew what was about to happen.
Director Feroz could be a 90s video-game junkie. A poster of Pandigai is eerily similar to that of the bruised face of William Blazkowicz from the popular first-person shooter video game, Wolfenstein 3D, originally released for MS-DOS in 1992. The dark, sinister corridors that the protagonists navigate in the film, while escaping a bunch of hardened criminals, are familiar as well. Nothing compares to those jerky, digital movements of old, though. Or a ‘Nazi’ taking aim just as you turn a corner, greedily collecting all the ammo and the ‘lives’. The similarities stop with the poster, of course, and perhaps the overall setup. And when Feroz makes one of his protagonists own a local video game parlour, you can’t help wonder if that’s some kind of a hidden tribute to the director’s inspirations.
The other poster looks delightfully pulpy. The kind you snatch off a peg from the book-store for a long journey. There’s Kreshna, uniformly bloody and bruised in both posters, and there’s Anandhi, who takes on the mantle of Indian cinema’s favourite trope for heroines. The two-wheeler riding, very annoying, trying-to-be-cute-but-failing girlfriend. She has Kreshna buy her a frothy beer, (for washing hair, she insists), gets drunk, and calls him up for a hangover remedy. Kreshna, after some mild flirtation, and a song, forgets about her. The movie does, too – which perhaps isn’t an entirely bad thing.
Kreshna as Velu, who works as a bartender at a luxury hotel, comes with an unenviable past. Just as he’s looking to make a quick buck to fund his travel abroad, a chance encounter with a man who owns a local video-game parlour, introduces him to ‘pandigai‘ – a series of late-night, unauthorised wrestling matches that take place in an old theatre. Velu is soon entangled in a web of deception and crime, plans a heist, and gets caught. The music – by RH Vikram – is new and nuanced in these sequences; nothing about the score would reveal that the movie is, in fact, a thriller. Even when on an intense chase, Vikram doesn’t slip into those banal thriller notes. He’s so reminiscent of Santhosh Narayanan of the old.
Pandigai, as a canvas, is a splash of red. Not a minute passes by without a bloodied face or eye. The script is pacy, and there’s enough intrigue, but nothing prompts an …investment. When Velu struggles for a job, and gets beaten in the ring, the movie tries to show him in a sympathetic light. But you are content staying a distant spectator; and not even the sequence with the heavily pregnant woman – an obvious emotional cue – works up enough sympathy. The clumsily-orchestrated sequence though, reveals a desperate intent: to blatantly sentimentalize an engaging script in an effort to get the audience to root for the protagonists. And, there lies the tragedy.
The Pandigai 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.