Sivaji -a.k.a.How Shankar screwed up
What Da Boss and two and a half hours of movie time could not do, Mottai Boss managed to do with elan in just half hour. For me, Mottai Boss salvaged Sivaji from sure ruin and disaster.
The credit in bringing him on in the end must go to whoever thought of it. It is the cleverest ploy in the entire movie as its strategic position is that an average movie goer will take home the impression of a swashbuckling yet Matrix-like hero, stylish and heroic even in his violence. If this scene had not been there, the thinking audience would have gone home wondering what the hell the hype was all about after all.
The story starts off on a very creditable premise, though it gets wafer-thin and sometimes disappears completely. Shankar, in his role as conscientious film maker has a reputation for exposing serious glitches in social and economic constructs as they exist today. Though it had garish make-up for Kamal Hassan in Indian, some absurd set of circumstances in Gentleman, histrionics in Anniyan, these movies, all by Shankar, were about exposing the chinks in the Indian society. With Sivaji, Shanker is at his favourite theme again, but in an absurder construct than even his sub-standard flighty movie Boys could manage.
How can a director like Shankar forget that the grammar of cinema does not rest in garish costumes, glamourous heroines (Shriya Saran has NO TUMMY and boy! can she dance!), blond wigs, a few good songs, some bad ones, passable humour, glass houses and angels and stunning special effects. These are just the cosmetics of the trade...they serve to embellish and build on the foundations of core movie components -a solid story line, a plot, a script, screenplay. Only a director who thinks the audience is a bunch of idiots will forsake his commitment to these key elements. Or he himself is lacking, which is in Shankar's case, not a tenable argument.
But before I rave further, 'Do gooder' NRI Sivaji(Rajni, who else!) comes home to India with the utopian idea of running a welfare state all by himself. Naturally enough, it is not a smooth ride to the ideal. His plans to set up engineering and medical institutions of learning to provide free and capitation-free education to the youth and free medical care are repeatedly thwarted at several levels. The big spoke in his wheel is Adi, supposedly a JPR clone, only more suave, classy in his villainy and extortion.
How Sivaji outwits the crafty Adi (a fine performance by Suman) and others in his corrupt coterie, cleverly twisting the arm of the law to serve his purpose, as the line goes, forms the rest of the movie. Predictably, in Kollywoodian Psychomachia, the superhero triumphs.
I've a friend who keeps saying "I may not be perfect, but parts of me are wonderful.' M may not be happy to see its use here, but it is indeed true - the parts of Sivaji that are entertaining unfortunately do not make a whole that is equally or more entertaining.
The families of Solomon Pappiah and 'Pattimandram' Raja rock; scenes involving them are hilarious, well crafted. Vivek has some great lines, splattered right through the movie. Their takes on other actors, from MGR, to Sivaji Ganesan, Vadivelu, Kamal and right down to self-styled presumptuous Little Superstars are enjoyable and indeed even seem clever sometimes.
As for the performance of Superstar himself, there is nothing to complain about. We don't find the crazy humour of Thillu Mullu or the action of say a Mannan in Sivaji, but there is much more that the man has given to this movie. You get the feeling that he has given his all, put in great effort for what might (???!!) be his last movie. His dance is still much the same wooden shaking around, but is energetic; his attempts at mimicry (does a good MGR, S.Ganesan, Kamal) are funny and he really exerts in the action scenes. His Mottai Boss avatar (he claims he is MGR- M.G.Ravichandran, and hey we believe that!) is a crowning glory. In villain mode, slightly reminiscent of similar roles in the classics : Mullum Malarum, Aboorva Ragangal and 16 Vayathinile: he is a total charmer.
For Rajni, the movie is watchable. For Shankar, it is a splendid chance all botched up. And Sivaji, the movie, totters in between. If we were to be crudely mathematical, the sum of the parts do not total upto the whole.