Director: Vamsi Paidipally
Cast: Nagarjuna, Karthi, Tamannaah, Prakash Raj
Comparisons may be odious, but they are inevitable, more so in cinema when a film is inspired by or remade from another -- as is the case with Vamsi’s Thozha. Quite similar in plot, Thozha with Telugu superstar Nagarjuna and Karthi is a Tamil version (there is also a Telugu edition) of the 2011 French work by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, called The Intouchables.
Essentially a buddy movie with Omar Sy playing, Driss, a poor black caregiver with a criminal record, for a white millionaire paraplegic, Philippe (Francois Cluzet), The Intouchables is, at 113 minutes, extremely focussed in conveying underlying class barriers and how they are bridged. Driss’ devil-may-care attitude ultimately helps him win over the staid Philippe and push the wheelchair-bound and paralysed from the neck man back into a life of laughter and fun that he enjoyed before a paragliding accident turned him into an invalid.
Vamsi retains all these in Thozha, but builds up a screenplay that loses sight of the fact that this is, above all, a film about two men and how they bond over wheels. Songs and dramatic familial squabbles -- involving Seenu (played by Karthi who reprises Sy’s role), his foster mother, sister and brother -- not just distract us from the core narrative but also seem like a drag. Yes, the Tamil movie is almost 176 minutes, which is a full hour and three minutes longer than the French work.
Also, Thozha -- where Nagarjuna as Vikram, essays paraplegic Cluzet’s part -- is overly sentimental and goes overboard with its emotional quotient. Vamsi could have clipped off all these tear-jerkers to get his film firmly on the wheelchair -- let us say, as a dialogue between two men, one rich and powerful but physically disadvantaged to the core, and the other an impoverished social misfit but with an amazing zest for life. And Senu’s gusto is so irresistibly infectious that Vikram catches the bug and slips out of morose and gloom.
Watch Thozha’s trailer here:
Thozha begins, just like The Intouchables, with a crazy scene on a road. Seenu is driving Vikram in one of his swanky cars, and getting impatient at a signal, begins to race till the cops catch up with the two. In what can be seen as perfect camaraderie, Vikram feigns illness when the police accost the duo, and the men in uniform escort them to hospital!
The plot then unfolds as a flashback. We see Seenu reluctantly taking up the job as Vikram’s caregiver only in order to make sure that his parole from jail translates into a reprieve of his sentence. Soon, the two men -- supervised by Vikram’s pretty secretary, Keerthi (Tamannaah) -- settle down to a routine, which is broken by some hilarity. There is a scene where Seenu completely besotted and distracted by Keerthi, does some crazy things -- like spilling boiling hot water on Vikram, who does not feel the heat at all!
Finally, the three take off to Paris on a trip of nostalgia, a city where Vikram found and lost his love. And for Seenu, a guy from the gutters, this is a dream come true, and there are long sequences of Paris by night -- totally unnecessary in this day and age.
Certainly this is not the 1960s, when Raj Kapoor gave us a Sangam and an Around the World and literally took us on a guided tour of several exotic locales. Vamsi needed to have excised parts like these to make the story telling crisper, and thereby, more engrossing. Unduly verbose (especially when compared with the French original), the film loses its sense of male bonding -- particularly after it veers into love stories.
A word about performances. Admittedly, Karthi has been well cast here, and as the rowdy from the roadside, he sparkles with his uncouth mannerisms. But unfortunately, Karthi’s personality can get so overwhelming that it stops him from sinking into a character as we have seen in some of his earlier works. While Nagarjuna’s role offers little scope, wheelchair-bound as he is, Tamannaah is her usual wooden self. She seems like an ice-maiden, and as Keerthi in a portrayal replicating that of the secretary in The Intouchables, Tamannaah is a huge disappointment.