By Mani Prabhu

Thodari’s most ‘existential’ moment, if I am allowed to call it one, unfolds on the top of a speeding train, at perhaps the most unexpected of moments, making you question every single screenplay myth that two generations of Hollywood thrillers had brain-washed you into believing.  It’s almost like ‘nirvana’. The automobile carrying a little more than 300 people, now running amok at 120 Kms/hr, encounters a wobbly bridge with all break systems jammed, electric controls short-circuited and the female lead stranded in the lethally-battered engine coach. It’s that juicy ‘dare-you-breathe’ moment, any screen-writer would readily jump on. But believe me, this happens. Dhanush standing on top of the adjacent compartment (which incidentally is ablaze on ‘chalkboard-scraping’ VFX) breaks into something of a modern Bhagyaraj jig with ‘Pona Usuru Vanduduchu’ playing in the background for a full four minutes. I stared for some time at the screen, and then went palm over face, trying to gather my emotions around this aural pun. And then, it hit me. It was Kollywood having fun, with one of its favourite themes – the ‘immortal love’ angle – inside of Hollywood’s favourite genre ‘The disaster movie’.

Not that it’s a bad cross-over trope. Nor is it sacrilege. If done well, it could lend a whole new ‘desi’ dimension to the genre, dragging us emotionally into the usual popcorn fare. But for that to happen, don’t we first need to start caring for the lead couple on-screen! Unfortunately, that never happens in Thodari, almost till the very end.  And coming from Prabhu Solomon, it’s a true shocker. People who know the film-maker would concur with his uncanny ability to find gold even in the most cinematic of romances, despite his inadequacies. But here, neither of the leads is fleshed out enough to demand any form of empathy. The meet-cute and the subsequent ‘loose ponnu’ episodes play out like they were written on auto-pilot mode by a robot fed on mediocre commercial movies from the last ten years. Why does Dhanush playing Poochi fall for Saroja (Keerthy Suresh)? We never get his obsession over her – more so, when she increasingly comes across as someone who had wandered out of an asylum. And to add insult to injury, we get a badly written clown in the garb of a villain and atrociously inept fare in the name of humour. At the half-way point, before anything worth your attention happens on screen, the film is a train-wreck. A dreadful one, at that!

And so, when we are subsequently shown glimpses of another impending one, we are like “Already came bro!” New characters appear out of nowhere and give five-year-old explanations for crater-sized loopholes in logic and reasoning. None of them, with the exception of the usual Radharavi, leave an impression. But then, despite all these, the film redeems itself partially in the last one hour. You get some solid procedural drama you could at least hold on to. You get flashes of sarcastic brilliance in the form of on-screen interviews. And now, you start seeing why Solomon wanted to make this movie. What if an out-of-control train, considered to have been hijacked, was actually just a comedy of errors, happening in quick succession? How would the authorities react? How would the media exploit the political hullabaloo? That sarcastic- disaster thriller on his mind needed better writing, more relatable stakes, a non-star and most importantly, confidence in his craft – in his ability to narrate a taut thriller cum satire, while staying true to the context.

But as such, what we get here is a dead movie that tries a late resurrecting act, only in vain.