Cast: Vivek, Venkatraj J, Shwetha
Naan Than Bala opens with a grim, unshaven, beady-eyed man on the run; armed with a bloody knife and killing with abandon. He has frequent run-ins with the law, but the seemingly merciless Poochi has a softer side too: he is putty in the hands of his adopted father.
Then there is the sanctimonious hero – Bala, played by Vivek. Sporting a broad red tilak and a benevolent smile, Bala is a poor temple priest in Kumbakonam who lives in a decadent agraharam with his aged parents. Poochi meets Bala during one of his killing assignments, and decides to be nice to him. What follows is a diluted tale of proliferated goodness, a moral science class with the Valmiki story thrown in for good measure.
There is nothing wrong with the premise in itself : a simple tale of amity between a Hindu priest and a hardened criminal, but there is a lot wrong with the execution. Poochi’s characterisation is poorly conceived and badly executed. There is nothing believable about a hardened criminal who awaits his next killing assignment with the enthusiasm of someone waiting for his lover suddenly developing a soft heart for a naive Temple priest. Poochi kills for money yet hands over his pay packet to the grieving priest without a second thought. The actor Venkatraj J – who plays Poochi – is pokerfaced for the most part, and fails to do any justice to a role that requires him to look menacing and desolate at the same time.
The rest of the characters are near-farcical. A sister (Shwetha just about passes muster) and brother who sells homemade bolis on the streets, and Poochi’s friend who cracks humourless jokes. It just about takes two implausible scenes for the sister to fall for the genteel Bala. The romance is dry as dust and makes you stifle a yawn, although the melody that sizes it up is pretty good. We get that Bala is an earnest priest and is well-versed but then it becomes tiring after a few Sanskrit shlokas too many.
Vivek in the titular role tries hard to salvage the film but with little success. His image as a comedian lingers in our minds, adding an involuntary bit of comic touch to the proceedings. An innocuous pose, a gesture or even a dialogue triggers unexpected laughter. Getting out of your comfort zone doesn’t really help always – especially when you chose a film like Naan Than Bala to make that change.
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