Udhayanidhi Stalin doesn’t want to be a “mass” hero. That’s a relief. To be fair, the actor himself doesn’t seem interested in thinking in that direction. Magizh Thirumeni respects this aspect (or limitation?) of Udhayanidhi to his advantage. The last half hour of Kalaga Thalaivan which could just be one of the “big” fights featuring a “big” star in any Magizh Thirumeni’s films, has Udhay flexing his muscles by not quite flexing it. Pay a little more attention on how the director must have thought it through with Udhay in his head and you would appreciate the smartness in thinking. The fight happens inside an abandoned factory, which once used to be a functioning chemical factory of a big corporate company that has something to do with the hero’s past. But we do see Udhay packing a punch. Not in a traditional way at least.
This particular stretch, which is straight up Magizh’s alley, is smartly-written. But the same thing cannot be said about the film as a whole. For the simple reason that the main problem of Kalaga Thalaivan, or rather Magizh Thirumeni, is that it takes the cool stuff from Hollywood thrillers and tries to marry them with CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) Cinema and a lifeless romance. Magizh comes across as someone who thinks in Hollywood lingo — “I want to be paid in dollars,” says the villain. And the way this film plays out in chapters: The Premise, The Siege and The Massacre is a pulpy ode to Hollywood.
The CSR Cinema comes into effect in the form of a usual blackstory involving the hero’s parents. It kicks in when a corporate company invents a lorry that gives the best mileage but causes more pollution. Ex-commando Arjun (Aarav) is hired by the corporate boss when a secret about the company gets leaked. Rather, stolen. Is this a story about corporate fraud or a whistleblower? The film itself is clueless when it comes to defining this. The man behind this is Udhay (who plays Thiru, who works in the same company).
About the bland romance. When Thiru first meets Maithili (Nidhhi Agerwal), she is helping a friend who’s throwing up after a party. In the next meet, Thiru helps her from getting caught in a situation. Later, when they meet, Mai asks Thiru how he found out about her situation. He tells her that he can guess a woman’s character based on her handbag. This is real. Apparently, there is a book on it. Looking at this romance, we feel like throwing up. There is a sensual scene that is anything but that: Thiru and Mai are alone. She cooks for him, he helps her. Let’s say it’s a steamy scene. The hero turns his gaze away when he looks at his girlfriend’s cleavage. Seriously? When can we see filmmakers writing romance for adults?
That said, Kalaga Thalaivan comes alive when the film takes the Thadam route with a half-effective twist during the midpoint. Again, it’s clever on Magizh’s part to lead the audience to think in one direction. But again, we have already seen this in Thadam.
What is most disappointing is that the film exploits women as a device to show pain. Almost all the supporting characters who help Thiru out face a personal loss. And all of them either are daughters or wives who go through physical or sexual torture.
This is the kind of film that tries to cover narrative gaps with editing. This is the kind of film that covers the heroine’s inability to speak Tamil by using wide shots and extreme wide shots; the camera only goes for a close-up when she says things like, “Enna pathi”. This is the kind of film that relies on spoon-feeding information, narrative points over voice-over rather than converting them into emotions. As an audience, ask yourself this: are you satisfied with connecting the dots or how the dots are connected?
Kalaga Thalaivan is running in theatres