This review of Thadam is spoiler free. However, I do advice you to watch the movie without knowing anything about it at all.
Every day, the sharply dressed Ezhil (Arun Vijay) takes the elevator up to his office on the 7th floor at the exact same time. “You see….” he explains to his friend, “that’s the only chance I have to catch a glimpse of Deepika.” Deepika, by the way, is a film critic who works one floor below him. One day Ezhil picks up the courage to ask her out. “Can I take you out for a cup of coffee?” he asks. “You’re asking the wrong question,” she replies playfully as she walks out of the lift.
Naturally, he thinks it’s a feminist thing and so do you. The next day he asks her if she would like to take him out for coffee, but once again, she says he’s doing it wrong. “Can we go out for a cup of coffee?” doesn’t work either. One night, as he’s tinkering with the design of a project he’s working on (he’s an engineer), he gets an epiphany. “Can we go out for a cup of tea?” At long last, she says yes.
The cinema burst into laughter. What a twist! But this lighthearted romance sequence is more than just witty and cheeky bit. It’s also a concept in which the entire film rests on. In the first half of Thadam, writer-director Magizh Thirumeni tells the story of Ezhil and Kavin (also Arun Vijay) in a series of intercutting scenes. After the opening, brightly lit romantic block, we see the Arun Vijay character, this time dressed simply in a pair of dusty jeans and t-shirt pulling an ATM machine con alongside his best friend (played by Yogi Babu). My immediate thought was “double life?!”
But as the scenes played along, I began to wonder if it was more of a past and present type of situation. We begin to wonder if we’re following a story about a street smart sewer rat who turned his life around or a successful engineer whose life spiralled out of control. But just like with the feminist/coffee twist, perhaps we’re asking ourselves the all wrong questions. (Note that I went into the film blind without watching any of the trailers or reading any of the previews.)
Later, a murder occurs and the cops arrest Ezhil and this is where the film fully kicks into gear. More (wrong) questions start to pop into your head. Your wheels start spinning. We’re only halfway through the movie and the murderer is already caught? This doesn’t seem right. Magizh Thirumeni keeps you on your toes. Thadam isn’t an intricately detailed, cold and bleak character exploration like Zodiac and Seven but Thirumeni does take you on one hell of a ride with twists and turns at every corner — most of which work.
Even the romance that takes place in the early portions aren’t just there to make the film more marketable to the masses (though, this is a movie for the masses); it actually ties back into the crux of the narrative. Let’s just say that when you start asking yourself where the beautiful heroine has disappeared off to, the answer isn’t: she’s waiting for the next duet song to pop up and shake her booty.
I just wished certain creative decisions were made differently. Why does the elimination of a crucial bit of evidence happen in a jarring comedic fashion? Also, Sonia Agarwal’s performance in the flashback sequences is cringeworthy. The dramatic weight of these scenes calls for someone with a little more range and control — Sonia Agarwal’s performance made me look away in moments where the director clearly wanted me to tear up. And similar to Ratsasan last year, the revelations and backstories we get aren’t nearly as interesting as the mysteries that preceded them.
But ultimately, Thadam is a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable time at the movies. I appreciate that it isn’t a tale about heroes and villains. Here, Thirumeni has painted a morally ambiguous world where our protagonist is a con artist with a gambling addiction. Its sooty frames are filled with characters who do interesting things, like the elderly lady who breaks a cigarette in half before smoking it because that way it’s “healthy.” It’s also a movie where the meatiest role apart from the protagonist is a female cop, both warm and resolute, embodied wonderfully by Vidya Pradeep.