Director: H. Vinoth | Script: H. Vinoth | Cast: Ajith Kumar (Dark Devil), Manju Warrier (Kanmani), Samuthirakani (Commisaris Dayalan), John Kokken (Bankmanager Krish), Mahanadhi Sankar (Agent Antony), ea | Time to play: 146 minutes | Year: 2023
Who is the biggest thief? The robber who robs a well-insured bank or the bank manager who swindles the poor out of their hard-earned savings with dubious investments? Thunivu has a clear answer to that question and doesn’t exactly convey that message in subtle ways. The action thriller is a vehicle for early gray man Ajith Kumar, with as many moralizing speeches as over-the-top action scenes and an almost infinite number of surprising twists.
Kumar is a big star of Tamil cinema. His nickname is Thala, which means leader. It’s no coincidence that in the 21st century he often plays something of a folk hero, regardless of which side of the law he finds himself on. In Thunivu he is the master robber Dark Devil, who with his team is just one of several groups trying to rob a bank. He gets a typically bombastic introduction, in which he takes charge of the bank robbery while the soundtrack singer asks the rhetorical question: “Who’s the gangster?”
The battle between the criminal teams in the bank and with the police and the army outside the bank is particularly effective in the first half of Thunivu many spectacular action scenes. One of those in which Kumar attacks a group of guys alone with blows or shots (machine gunners) that immediately make them fly a few meters into the air. Credibility and realism are subservient to style and hero worship.
Every once in a while, Kumar also takes the time for a dance number, though it’s almost always in one of the many flashbacks, gradually revealing his motivation. It is presented as a mystery that the police must solve. There is also room for comedy, such as when it turns out that he talks to the police on the phone with the help of a voice changer. This makes him sound like Michael Jackson to them, as evidenced by his advanced speech recognition equipment.
That joke in itself is a revelation, as until then we only heard him speak from his perspective, in his typical gravelly voice. Even afterward, we rarely hear him talk on the phone, scenes are usually edited in such a way that when he does speak, he’s in the picture too. Your macho image of him should of course not be tarnished!
As is often the case with Indian movies of the last decade, the joke ends up on the news and within minutes there are internet memes ridiculing the police commissioner. To celebrate, Dark Devil moonwalks the bank, which he holds hostage. Apart from Kumar, there is also a good hero role for actress Manju Warrier, who should do more action movies given her name.
After all this nonsense, there is still a serious message to get across. The banking system is corrupt and squeezes the citizens with the help of corrupt politicians and police. And even the honest cop needs to learn from the Dark Devil that if he beats up a ten dollar thief, he should do the same to the thief who steals millions instead of showing respect. The role of the media in glorifying those in power and financial institutions is criticized in passing.
This is all a bit more subtle than in, for example Nerkonda Paarvaibut it doesn’t matter much. In that earlier collaboration between writer-director H. Vinoth and Ajith Kumar, the moralizing monologues came more or less directly into the camera. Now that is more widespread and incorporated into the story, but the fact is that in the second half of Thunivu the explosions, shots and chases have the same time as the dialogues and monologues in which the message is packaged.
In a way, this doesn’t even bother me too much, because the obvious moral fits with the bombast of the action sequences and the presentation of Kumar as a hero. However, he lacks an emotional core, especially if enough people die. Vinoth has sometimes said in interviews that he is good at tackling social issues and doing action scenes. he succeeds with Thunivu however, again so as not to wrap them both up in an emotionally satisfying story. The brain and the body work together, but the soul is missing.
Thunivu can be seen in Netflix.