After the bewilderment over the income tax raids and the confusion over whether Puli would release or not, I finally manage to watch the film at the ultimate shrine for movies in Chennai: Sathyam Cinemas. Surrounded by fellow scribes, I think, this isn’t what I signed up for. A Vijay film should be watched early in the morning. Amidst hordes of screaming fans who whistle and cheer their idol’s opening scene. So much so that the dialogues are drowned by the thunderous applause.
Well, I console myself, something is better than nothing. And tuck in to watch one of the most anticipated films of the year – Puli.
The film is about Marudheeran (Vijay), a simpleton from a tribal village ruled by an evil clan called the vedalams (Ahem!). The vedalams whisk away Pavalamalli (Shruti Haasan), who until then, was happily singing and dancing with Vijay. To rescue his beloved, Vijay embarks on a journey to Vedala-koattai, where he has a secret past.
Now, Puli has been marketed as a fantasy film since day one. And director Chimbudeven has a good record with this genre.
But here, it’s almost as if the director’s imagination went completely overboard in an attempt to force-feed the story certain ‘fantastic’ characters and scenes, just to fit into the genre of ‘fantasy’.
For example, the talking-bird who accompanies Marudheeran everywhere. It’s reminiscent of Pirate Cotton’s blue-and-gold talking parrot from Pirates of the Caribbean. With one difference. That parrot consistently belted out funny one liners with a great sense of situational humour (‘Walk the plank!’). This bird, named ‘Sooran’, when not spouting something mundane and unmemorable (‘Yes’), is busy praising Marudheeran.
Or the talking giant tortoise (who appears in the trailer). There’s no particular reason for this giant tortoise to exist. He guides Marudheeran towards his goal with a riddle. But any old man could have given the hero the riddle.
But no, it has to be a giant tortoise. Because hey, it’s a fantasy film.
The dwarves, played by Vidyu Raman, Robo Shankar, Imman Annachi and Ali, try hard to salvage their scenes. But their comedy is nothing to laugh about. Although, a 5-year old might disagree.
Vijay’s attempt to work with a completely new genre is certainly laudable. But even his on screen charisma and energy can’t rescue Puli. No performance or superstar image can carry poor writing. Or keep the audience engaged. Shruti Haasan functions as the ‘eye-candy’ in the first half. In the second half, Hansika replaces her. That’s all there is to them.
Sridevi certainly made a bold choice in making her Tamil comeback with a role like Yavana Rani. But her unchanging facial expression through the entire film is uncanny. It’s almost as if someone made her watch Helena Bonham Carter from Alice in Wonderland and Tilda Swinton from Narnia. Back to back. Surely more versatility is achievable in grey-shaded female characters? (Why not take a leaf out of Carter as Bellatrix instead, Sridevi?) What is impressive though, is her dubbing.
Her voice does half the work her acting should have.
Sudeep, who was brilliant in Naan Ee, is reduced to a stone-faced-long-maned villain who isn’t even half as menacing as the other characters valiantly try to make him out to be.
The screenplay, especially for the first half aimlessly drags its way through random romance, action and comedy scenes, vaguely cobbled together. The plot takes its own sweet time to unfurl. Songs pop out of nowhere. Marudheeran heads out to find his missing wife Pavalavalli, and runs into a group of Lilliputs. They start dancing to welcome him. Marudheeran isn’t too worried about his missing wife. In fact, he’s busy imagining his wife in bright and sexy clothes. Dancing to this ‘timely’ song.
Later in the story we arrive at a major plot twist. Immediately cut to a dance number with Hansika and Vijay. The songs in this snail-paced screenplay are like speed-breaks on a 15 km/h road. Dialogues oscillate between the corny, the mundane, and the wannabe-funny. Example: the ‘romantic’ exchanges between Vijay and Shruti where he expresses his love for her by saying he wants to have children with her. Any normal girl would run away for good.
But, it’s a film. And Vijay says it. So of course, a coy Shruti Haasan accepts this (labour of) love.
There are moments when narrative conventions could go jump in a wishing well. Vijay seems to be talking directly to his ‘Nenjil kudi irukum’ fans when he looks into the camera and delivers lines like “Makkalukkaga en uyiraye thyagam seiven” (For my people, I would sacrifice my own life). That’s certainly going to feed rumours about Vijay’s political aspirations.
Granted. Logic can be left outside the door when it comes to fantasy. But Chimbudeven could have executed his core story (which had great potential) better. Each and every scene is predictable and falls flat. Baahubali too has a predictable and simple story. But rich performances, situational detail, and intense dialogues made the film an enjoyable watch. Unfortunately, all Puli manages to be is an almost three hour long wannabe fantasy.
The Puli 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 an advertising relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.