– Mani Prabhu

The Wikipedia calls Yaman a political thriller. That’s quite an emphatic statement to make, for the implications are instantly striking. We know what makes for an engaging one in our cinematic context, taking into account the apparent incapacity of our films to sacrifice the mainstream must-haves to stay true to their spirit. Having been exposed to a dreadful handful, we also know what doesn’t make one, after being given the longest rope possible. Walking out of Jeeva Shankar’s latest film, it didn’t quite feel like the latter variety. Yes, it gets a lot of other things wrong, but ‘timing’ is definitely not one of them.

In fact, Jeeva couldn’t have asked for a more opportune moment for the release of his film that incidentally deals with vested social interests and chameleon politics. No, don’t smile yet… for the film, as feared, is less a riveting political pawn-game than a setting for another of those okayish ‘masala’ revenge dramas, which is in fact familiar territory for the actor-filmmaker duo. Remember Naan, the director’s debut film which rendered Vijay Antony the shady hues the actor has been stubbornly milking, since then.

So, it’s the music director turned actor again, pulling off yet another of those grey-shaded protagonists in his very own grey-shaded way; that keeps you from pointing a finger at an unnervingly obvious incompetence, but doesn’t turn out completely convincing either. At times, Vijay gives an illusion of bringing an unique vulnerability and realism to the whole scheme of things that might have otherwise seemed a little too filmy – a little too convenient – but that doesn’t entirely brush off the nagging imagination of what a more-rounded performer could have accomplished in such a high-voltage setting. But the thing – perhaps a bitter one for real-talented actors frantically scouting for that elusive ‘spark’ – is that the man scores on a strange scale in many an instance, and this time, even in a handful of scenes that required some serious screen-presence.

But then, that perhaps may be the occasional sign of the film-maker displaying a firm hold on the proceedings, because the actor pales out when he is required to share screen-space with seasoned performers. On that front, Jeeva Shankar picks out an almost impeccable supporting cast. And writes compelling characters with a lot of depth and dimension for all of them. No one is outright good or bad; ‘good’ people go to unimaginable levels to survive another day and the ‘bad’ ones turn out seemingly angelic for a very selfish motive. That way, I can’t think of a recent film that looked at political parasitism with such apathy. If not for anything else, this ‘matter-of-fact’ indifference keeps you watching.

But the film, at no point, gets close to the one that it could have actually been. Detailed back-stories get lost in dreary subplots and a forcefully-thrust romance. The conflict stays static for long stretches, never pulling us into the minds of the stakeholders. And when we eventually are, we get never-ending masturbatory action frames where Vijay makes random henchman float in space like The Matrix. Whew!  When the ruthless web of lies, deceit, and betrayal gains momentum again, the man coolly walks off to shake a leg with fancy-dress damsels in pastel mountains. After a while, it seems like the film can’t really decide what it wants to be. It finally ends up being middling. Yet again.