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Even Rajinikanth cannot save badly written Annaaatthe

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During the scene which sets up the intermission in Annaatthe, we see a woman in trouble walking out of a club in which the people who have been troubling her are lying in bad shape, thanks to a mystery man. As she walks away, we see this saviour standing atop a building casting a large shadow that seems to go along with her, like some sort of a protective shield. It’s a great visual motif that perfectly encapsulates the plot of Annaatthe — a brother protecting his sister from every harm that comes her way. But it also adds another layer of meaning to the film. A Rajini film these days works better when his presence is signified in the form of a shadow or a silhouette than when the camera chooses to focus on the man himself, who has increasingly begun to look more like a shadow of the Superstar that we know of. There are moments when we catch him trying to play the Rajinikanth fans know of from 15 years ago, like in a scene set outside a court, where he admonishes Prakash Raj, who appears in a thankless role of a minor antagonist who gets reformed by the hero.

Yes, even at 70, he does everything that we expect to see him do on screen. He mouths punchlines (which lack punch now that he has made things clear about his political entry), playfully romances the heroine (here, it is Nayanthara, who is content to play a role that is more of an extended cameo), gets emotional, gives us throwbacks to his previous films (here, this comes in the form of Khushbu and Meena, one-time Rajini heroines who are now comic supporting actors), shakes a leg to D Imman’s peppy songs and even sends a dozen men flying. But there’s one villain whom even Rajinikanth cannot vanquish — bad writing! And in Annaatthe, this villain is just too strong.

The story revolves around panchayat president Kaalaiyan (Rajinikanth), fondly addressed as Annaatthe by everyone around him, and his sister Thanga Meenatchi (Keerthy Suresh, who seems to be auditioning for the sad face smiley in an emoji movie). They dote on each other like crazy. How do we know that? We are told so. In an early scene, we see Kaalayian taking home Meenatchi, who has just returned after completing her studies in Kolkata, in a car. An old woman mentions how sad the brother was without his sister, and Meenatchi immediately gets all sentimental, and we get a flashback about a mother dying during childbirth and a brother taking on the mother’s duties and looking after his sister. Yes, the writing is that generic.

Then, Kaalaiyan decides to arrange a match for his sister . Why? Just because a couple of old women ask him when he is going to get her married! But then, he wants his sister to be within a 5km radius, so that he can go to her help whenever she calls him. And when an alliance comes their way (the groom is a doctor), Kaalaiyan agrees to it. Why? Even if his sister marries a multi-millionaire, she will anyway have to go to a doctor, so why not get a doctor as the groom? No, this is not mentioned in a playful manner, like in the scenes preceding it, when grooms say no to the man because of his violent ways, but in a very straight-faced manner. Frankly, this moment is comedy gold compared to those supposedly funny scenes.

Meanwhile, fate intervenes and the brother and sister are estranged. He tracks her down to Kolkata, where he witnesses her in deep trouble. With Meenatchi not wanting to let her brother see her in such a state, Kaalaiyan decides to go after the man who has made his sister’s life miserable.

If Petta felt like a pastiche of Rajinikanth’s films, Annaatthe seems like a collage made out of the weaker moments from director Siva’s filmography. We have the villains from Siruthai, the ‘saviour who cannot reveal his identity’ angle from Veeram, the brother-sister sentiment from Vedalam, and the rural backdrop from Viswasam. The result is a movie whose emotional beats feel blatantly calculated and manipulative. Given that the sibling bond is its core, we expect scenes that show us why and how Kaalaiyan and Meenatchi are close. Instead, like in the recent Udanpirappe, characters only keep talking about the relationship! With this leading to an unaffecting tale, D Imman’s use of a sentimental score hardly adds an emotional punch to the action scenes, which are shot in a generic manner.

It also doesn’t help that the villains are also weakly written. For much of the time, Abhimanyu’s Manoj Palekar is built up as the villain, but then, all he does is watch his henchmen get beaten up and run for his life. Then, we get another, seemingly even more ruthless villain, in the form of his half-brother Uddhav Palekar (Jagapathi Babu, who has become the go-to actor for lazily written antagonists). And he ends up being even less of a threat! We only ending feeling sad that from Mark Antony and Neelambari, villains in Rajinikanth films have come down to this level! Not just villains, the Superstar deserves better writers and directors as well.


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