Kamal Haasan’s 'Thoonga Vanam' is better than the French original film
Less, is definitely more in Thoonga Vanam.
Some Indian actors, very rarely I admit, prompt you get on your knees in gratitude for pushing the envelope. At a time when Indian cinema makes superstars out of non-actors and celebrates mediocrity as a neo-religion, the indefatigable Kamal Haasan continues his quenchless quest for unexplored galaxies.
Thoonga Vanam, his latest release takes a poorly scripted French film Frederic Jardin’s Nuit Blanche (Sleepless Night) and turns it into a thumping thundering thriller with attitude and balls.
The only other time I remember an Indian filmmaker bettering the original was when Shekhar Kapoor did something magical in Masoom. He converted a schmaltzy novel by Erich Segal and an even worse film by Dick Richards, into a saga of retrieval of one’s past trespasses, and redemption.
The Masoom parallel is relevant, since a lot of Thoonga Vanam is devoted to building Kamal Haasan’s rapport with his screen-son(Aman Abdullah) just as Masoom did between Naseeruddin Shah and Jugal Hansraj .
Is it a mere coincidence that Kamal Haasan and Naseeruddin Shah are among the two greatest living actors of Indian cinema? Kamal Haasan’s ability to slip from one antithetical role to another is by now legendary. This year has been seen playing diametrically opposite characters in Uttama Villain and now Thoonga Vanam.
In Thoonga Vanam, Kamal Haasan plays a grey, ostensibly corruptible cop who lands up in a mess when he tries to outsmart some very dangerous drug dealers. They retaliate by kidnapping the cop’s young son. Interestingly, the little kidnapped boy looks more bored as a hostage than frightened, probably because the boy knows if you have Kamal Haasan as a father there’s no way the baddies would beat you.
Not by a long shot.
Or maybe the boy has watched the French film Nuit Blanche while Dad’s been cruising the crime beat. We are told, in fleeting moments of domestic revelation, that the cop-hero Diwakar has not been a good husband (to Asha Sarath, so effective as the cop-mother in search of her murdered son in Papanasam, here deduced to a shadowy apparition).
Diwakar tries to be a good father. But there is little time for moistening the thriller with family lubricants. Director Rajesh Selva doesn’t squander the film’s playing time in character-bonding. Briskly, the narrative, done up in shades of black and bright, moves into a crowded all-night club named Insomnia (‘Sleepless Night’ in the French film) where the activity on the dance floor is far out-witted by the stunning shenanigans of gangsters and drug dealers from behind the scenes.
The film’s real action eventuates in the club’s loo, kitchen and back rooms where a fierce game of cat and mouse is played out between the cop-hero Kamal Haasan and a drug dealer(Prakash Raj) whose is powered by dangerous gangsters. Then there is Trisha’s complete image-breaking part as a ballsy cop, which enhances the film’s heart-in-the-mouth quotient.
Kamal Haasan’s cop, played as a mix of a ruthless self-serving cop and a caring father, provides a backbone to the story without lording over the proceedings. Forever the master of his craft, Kamal Haasanis, on this occasion, is determined to let the sizzling plot play itself out without his overt interference. Kamal’s Diwakar is a man in a rush. The storytelling stays just behind its protagonist, letting Kamal’s Diwakar take charge of the proceedings without losing a grip over the larger picture.
The clenched plot is smart enough to remain ahead of audiences. But also sensible enough to not run amok with its own smartness. The tension is enhanced by the reined-in violence. Less, is definitely more in Thoonga Vanam. Drawing a deep inward breath the one-night narration moves through the crowded club with relentless curiosity. An undercurrent of intense anguish that never lapses into desperation cuts through the plot. The febrile crime-drama dares to explore the theme of narcotic nemesis without getting judgemental about the two sides.
There is a never a doubt as to whose side we are on. But this clever compelling thriller lets us peep on the other side without guilt or apology. Quite an accomplishment, that.