This review contains spoilers…
Kaappaan opens with Suriya planting bombs on a train before setting it off and jumping off right in the nick of time. While the direction wasn’t as crisp as it could’ve been (compare the weighted nature of an explosion in Vada Chennai and Petta — you hear the rumble of the bass — to the buoyant and “so-obviously-CG” nature of it here), it at least told me that outside of the Singham franchise, Suriya doesn’t box himself in and only star in generic for-the-whistles “mass” movies.
But the next time you see him, he’s on a farm. He’s suddenly a man of the people. There’s an opening dance number about hardworking people on a farm and I started to get a little worried. A TV host interviews him on organic farming, but she’s such a clueless and obnoxious bimbo, you start to wonder how she managed to even land the job. But this isn’t her character trait, it’s just a vehicle to get Suriya to look into the camera with fire in his eyes and lecture the audience on the importance of farming. It genuinely made me cringe like I would hearing the sound of fingernails scratching a blackboard. I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again and I’ll keep on saying it over and over. I’m so done with Tamil Cinema’s (the big-budget films at least) obsession with “message” movies.
Look, I’m not against messages in MASS movies. But these messages should be ponderous and relevant. Captain America: Civil War had strong political UNDERTONES and they were relevant to the characters and story. Did you see Iron Man inorganically and forcefully look into the camera and start nagging us like a highschool teacher? Remember the good old days of Baasha and Annamalai? Or the days of Sivakasi and Ghilli? Now almost every big star (or the producers or the director) feels the need to make action films that have camera-staring lectures in them. And people wonder why I enoy Maari to pieces.
Want to make a mass movie with a strong message? Do what Pa. Ranjith did with Kaala. Make the entire film about the subject matter and deliver the messages through flowerful and interesting dialogue between characters.
Kaappaan is also the type of film where the writer-director — in this case, it’s K.V. Anand — thinks he’s making something absolutely smart, but in reality, we’re always 5 steps ahead of the film. The first 20 minutes or so of the movie desperately tries to convince you that Suriya is a bad guy. There are guns hidden under a haystack at his farm. You see him bomb an Indian army base camp. I’ll be honest, I was genuinely intrigued. The problem is, this isn’t the kinda film like Pokkiri, where we literally see Vijay as a gangster for the entirety of the film before the absolutely brilliant hair-raising reveal that he’s actually an undercover cop. Here, because of the poor staging (we see the Suriya character, Kathir, and a creepy-looking guy giving each other dubious looks, we see the lead actress so obviously doubting him) that it becomes blatantly clear that he’s actually a good guy. Weirdly enough, the film then just casually reveals him to be a good guy very early on. We learn that he’s a special forces agent that’s not appointed to be the head of the Prime Minister’s security. It isn’t a big reveal or a rug pull. So, what was the point of trying so hard to convince us that he’s a bad guy in the first place?
Worse yet, K.V. Anand doesn’t just use this device for the lead character, he uses it for two other characters as well. We have Anjali, our lead actress played by Sayyeshaa. Her father, a Chief Minister gets killed by terrorists after the Prime Minister (Mohanlal) decides that it’s worth sacrificing one government official to save a hundred innocent civilians. When Mohanlal holds her hand to apologise, the camera not-so-subtly focuses on her removing her hands from his clasps, slightly angry. That’s only one instance.
Throughout its runtime, the film repeatedly goes, “hey hey! I know Kathir and Anjali have a romantic subplot, BUT what if Anjali turns out to be bad? Winkwinknudgenudge.” Like Kathir’s special forces best friend (Samuthirakani) saying, “dude, what if Anjali is part of the terrorist organization?” Kathir doubts his friend. He’s convinced that Anjali is a good person and they’re genuinely in love. So we wait and we wait and we wait for the big moment where Kathir’s face turns black upon learning that Anjali is in fact, the antagonist. Imagine a moment akin to the Amala Paul reveal in Thalaivaa. But alas, after so much of over-writing, the film’s big reveal is that Anjali is, in fact, a good girl who’s deeply in love with Kathir. So again, what was the point?
The most baffling of all is the Arya character, Abishek, the Prime Minister’s son who would much rather spend his time partying and drinking than doing anything productive. Once again, there’s so much emphasis on his laid-back, free-spirited behaviour ala Vijay Deverakonda’s character in NOTA, that it becomes such an obvious setup for a character transformation in the second half. After the death of his father (in a palpable and moving scene), Abishek is elected as the new Prime Minister.
At first, he’s uncertain of what to do, but he wants to learn. He’s still free-spirited and fairly nonchalant, but he’s also smart and earnest. He’s down to earth and admits that he’s not the best pick to be Prime Minister but will do his best to reform the country. But a few scenes later, he’s still the same useless dude he was in the first half, even more useless actually. He does things that are so bloody dumb — like put on a turban as a disguise and get drunk at a birthday party, which leads to the death of an important supporting character — that it just feels jarring. (There’s a difference between a lazy dude who tricks his father into believing he’s been jogging for an hour when in fact, he’s been on the treadmill for only 18 seconds and someone that’s so self-indulgent and absent-minded, he causes the deaths of a number of people.)
But the head-scratching nature of the writing doesn’t end there. The villain is first set up as a highly intelligent figure. He’s always 10 steps ahead of our hero, always observing and very meticulous. He also has a big beard. Overall, he reminded me a little bit of The Mandarin in Iron Man 3. He leaves around bombs in Captain America bags. Kathir says something along the lines of, “He’s deliberately trying to tell us something.” But that thread is dropped entirely. I guess he’s just a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Towards the climax, the villain had this “smart” plan about planting a bomb in Kathir’s bulletproof vest — the last place he’ll look, right? Except, the bomb was casually discovered by a sniffer dog as Kathir walks through a metal detector. That pretty much sums up K.V. Anand’s idea of thrills.
In the middle of all of this, there’s some stuff about a billionaire who’s trying to build factories, biological weapons that can destroy acres of farmlands and farmers threatening to commit suicide… you know, just so we’re clear that agriculture is important and Suriya is a mass hero who wants to spread moral values or something.
Let’s not forget the jokes. In one scene, Mohanlal tells Suriya that if he and Anjali don’t get together, he will be forced to pollinate them. In another scene, Anjali, who was drunk the previous night, thinks Suriya had raped him. This is played for laughs. When she finds out that he didn’t, in fact, rape her, she falls in love with him. Oh and at one point, the Samuthirakani character says, “if a girl says no, it means yes.” Take that Thala Ajith! And Harris Jayaraj continues his post-Vaaranam Aayiram streak, delivering yet another forgettable soundtrack album.
This isn’t to say Kaappaan is all bad. The non-lighthearted moments in the first half show plenty of promise, the action blocks are well-choreographed and the interval sequence makes you eagerly anticipate what’s about to happen next. Too bad what happens next is a series of poor writing decisions that makes you forget about even the sliver of positives in the film.
Kaappaan is currently screening in Malaysian theatres.