Director: Prabhu Solomon
Cast: Dhanush, Keerthy Suresh, Karunakaran, Thambi Ramaiah, Radha Ravi, Ganesh Venkatraman
Railroad romances have often been a soul mate of cinema. I have seen beautiful love stories emerging from the motion and movement of chugging trains. Shammi Kapoor and Asha Parekh once embarked on the love trail from a train in Teesri Manzil. In Professor, Kapoor gets on a romantic high with his screen sweetheart, Kalpana, on the toy train as it winds through the Ghoom Loop near Darjeeling, and more recently Mani Ratnam imaginatively used the railroad as a leitmotif in his Alaipayuthey. Chennai Express, David Lean’s Brief Encounter -- and I can go on to say how the train has played on-screen cupid through the ages.
Tamil director Prabhu Solomon -- who has given us innumerable romantic features like Kumki and Mynaa -- once again scripts a story of love in his latest outing, Thodari. Shot mostly on the Duranto Express with some scenes canned in places close to Goa and Hyderabad, the film -- whose title means train -- takes its own time to introduce us to its key characters -- like Dhanush’s Poochiyappan serving as a pantry-boy, Saroja (Keerthy Suresh), a touch-up girl for an actor on board, a cynical minister (Radha Ravi), a middle-aged pantry-car manager (Thambi Ramaiah) and a cop (Ganesh Venkatraman). Obviously, it could not have been easy for Solomon, who also wrote the story, to give enough screen time to each one of them. The result is a 168-minute circus on rail that stretches from New Delhi to Chennai.
Yes, I call it a circus, because Solomon throws every bit of logic to the winds while narrating what he probably set out to create in the first place, a love story between Poochiyappan and Saroja. She is tricked into believing that she has the talent to be a great singer and Poochiyappan spins a whole lot of yarns (including his friendship with a famous music director) to get the girl close to him.
But firmly believing that the path of love never runs smooth, the helmer packs in a variety of incidents -- each bizarre than the other. While the manager has a glad eye for the actor and is undignified enough not to hide it, trampling, in the bargain, on his responsibilities, a set of thieves is mistaken by security agencies for terrorists after the engine driver collapses at the wheel.
The ‘driverless’ train picks up speed and races at a crazy speed (100 km an hour) in scenes that reminded me of Taking of Pelham 123 (a 2009 movie with Denzel Washington and John Travolta that, in turn, was a remake of the 1974 original with Robert Shaw). And nobody can stop it, including Saroja who is trapped outside the driver’s cabin, and Poochiyappan, who looks on helplessly from the coach across the engine. And this crisis comes after a whole lot of antics with the couple singing atop a speeding train, and the hero single-handedly pushing the thieves, the whole lot of them, off the roof!
What could have been a simple story of romance and affection has been needlessly messed up with crass humour (of the Ramaiah variety) and stunts that even a circus artist might not quite dare. Adding to this madness is the rescue effort by a helicopter that swings and totters in mid-air while a man from it tries to get on to the engine. And running along with the train at 100-odd km an hour is a van with a television team perched on the roof. Certainly, a case of not just a runaway train, but also a runway imagination.
If this is the idea of entertainment (punctuated with dream songs), it is awfully unrefined and just about unwatchable. Yes, Keerthy is a natural, the one redeeming feature in Thodari, and Dhanush gets down to playing -- all over again -- the underdog. His dialogue delivery and his other mannerisms remain boringly similar to his earlier works.
Watch Thodari trailer here: