In exactly 15 minutes, it’s clear that Pichaikkaran is inversely proportional to Rajinikanth’s Arunachalam (1997). Rajini had to spend 30 crores in 30 days (conditions applied) to inherit his father’s 300 million. The song where he spends the 30 crores is still fun to watch. Ambassador cars queued up, fancy hotel suites, expensive clothes. Rajini was lavish. In Pichaikkaran, however, the billionaire Arul (Vijay Antony) has to live like a beggar for 48 days, to save his comatose mother. He cannot reveal his real identity. Cannot use his name to get any special treatment. For him, every day starts with zero money. This is Pichaikkaran intriguing storyline.

*****

Pichaikkaran is a nostalgia-inducing film. From the story to the characters, everything about it feels like a film from the 90s. Of course, the lead actress wouldn’t have owned a pizzeria then. But the characterisation is similar. And it has been a while since the first song of a Tamil film was a tribute to mothers. In Pichaikkaran, the ‘amma’ sentiment is the centre-point of the film.

Pichaikkaran is an unusual film in many ways. Arul’s mother has stopped responding to medical treatment. When he consults a babaji, he is told to beg. A penance to save her. A typical hero would have agreed in an instant, after saying, “Ammavukkaga naan uyire kudupen” (I’ll sacrifice my life for my mother). But Arul says he needs to think about it. Eventually, he decides to do it. He leaves everything and flies to Chennai, and tries to beg. In well-executed scenes, we witness his initial embarrassment as he struggles to utter the word ‘pichai’.

*****

The best scenes in the film showcase the interaction between Arul and the beggars he works with during the 48 days. Filled with witty one-liners, these scenes evoked the most laughter and cheers from the audience. In one scene, two beggars buy halwa at a sweet shop with the day’s earnings. Meanwhile, the priest from the temple where they beg walks into the shop. He comments that they earn enough to buy halwa, while all he can afford are scraps of mysorepak. In another scene, one of the beggar teaches Arul the art of begging. He tells him not to disturb people who are walking into the temple. Because, ‘Let them finish their begging, and then it’s our turn.

And whether or not the glimpse into the ‘after hours’ and ‘days off’ of the beggars’ lives was based on actual research, it certainly made for interesting cinema.

*****

The main drawback of the film is the lazy writing. Coincidences frequently occur, and for no ostensible reason. During his first day in Chennai, Arul just happens to see Magizhini, whose profile on a matrimonial site had earlier impressed him. They form a relationship, and somehow, she isn’t concerned about what he does for a living. In heavily dramatized scenes at the end, Arul refuses any financial help from his girlfriend. So, she gives it to him, as alms. Then there are the cliché ‘amma’ sentiment scenes. In one shot, Arul uses a flex banner to stay warm. The banner has ‘Amma’ printed on it.

*****

Everybody knows that Vijay Antony isn’t the best of actors. Here as well, his face remains stoic and deadpan. His dialogue delivery is flat. His pitch is so soft, that one decibel lower, and he would be whispering.

The emotional ending has some good moments. The writing throws up interesting characters (such as the goons who always fail at fighting Arul; or Arul’s uncle, who is so greedy that he can only sleep to the sound of whirring currency notes in a counting machine). But characters randomly come and go. And the film’s subplot of illegal drug testing feels like it belongs to some other movie.

*****

Despite the implausible and at times forced storyline, we don’t worry too much about whether any of this could be possible. Just like our reaction to the scene where a beggar makes suggestions for uprooting corruption.We run with it. Because director Sasi has intelligently packed a different kind of story inside a generic story. The 50-something woman next to me buried her face in a handkerchief at the climax. And that is exactly what the filmmaker wanted to achieve.

*****

The Pichaikkaran 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.