Friends, Jan 14th, 2001

Cast: Vijay, Surya, Devayani , Vijayalakshmi, Abinayasri , Ramesh Khanna , Vadivelu , Radharavi
Music: Ilaiyaraja
Direction: Siddique

This seems to be year of the Malayalam directors in Tamil cinema. First came Shaji Kailas, who was the man behind Vijayakanth’s latest supercop movie Vanchinathan. Another Malayalam director Kamal has just released the Prashanth-Shalini starrer Piriyaadha Varam Vendum, a remake of his own Malayalam movie Niram. In the middle comes Friends, director Siddique’s remake of his Malayalam movie of the same name. As the name suggests, the movie attempts to eulogise friendship through some lighthearted comedy in the first half and an exhaustingly convoluted storyline thereafter.

The threesome who lend reason to the title are Aravindan(Vijay), Chandru(Surya) and Krishnamurthy(Ramesh Khanna). They value friendship over everything else, even family, and for this reason, Chandru resists the advances of Aravindan’s sister Amutha(Vijayalakshmi). When the trio take up a painter’s job at a mansion, Aravindan falls in love with Padmini(Devayani), who lives there and Padmini’s jealous cousin(Abinayasri) makes him believe that his overtures are reciprocated. When the truth is revealed and Padmini rejects him outright, Chandru stands up for his friend and speaks ill of her. This makes her swear to separate the friends.

The movie follows the now-familiar trajectory of a first half where comedy is predominant, and a sentimental second half. While the idea is right and the premise is strong, the movie is not completely effective due to the less-than-hilarious comedy in the first half and the overdose of sentiments in the second half. While there are some funny scenes in the beginning, there are also periods of comic drought which are tough to sit through. And once the story takes a serious turn, we are overwhelmed by the twists and turns the story takes and the convoluted logic the characters base their acts on. So, first there is a dearth of consistent laughs and then an overkill with sentiments. And it is all capped off by a silly, cinematic climax.

First Vijay and then Vadivelu contribute to the laughs at the start. Vijay’s character is likeable and his advances to the women are cute. Vadivelu is loud as usual but instead of being the centerpiece of a separate comedy track, he is the target of many of the jokes here and so ends up being quite funny. The scene where Vijay rains blows on him and his helplessness at the hands of his assistants in the mansion are enjoyable. On the other hand, the scene where Vijay, Surya, Vadivelu and Charlie go round in circles when chasing each other ends up being way too long.

No one can blame Siddique of selecting a lightweight story. The movie rivals Vaanavil for the heaviness of the story in the second half. While that in itself can probably be considered a good thing, the proceedings are not handled in a smooth manner here. The logic behind the actions of the characters is confusing and sometimes, unrealistic. Things do seem to settle down during one particular portion when problems are settled but new ones crop up soon after. The secret in Vijay’s past is surprising and provides a nice twist.

The whole movie is Surya’s flashback and though I have not seen the Malayalam original, I can say with some assurance that it would have ended with the conclusion of the flashback. The rest of the movie feels unnecessarily tacked on keeping Vijay’s current popularity in mind. It doesn’t gel with the happenings before, is completely cinematic and cliched and sticks out like a sore thumb.

Vijay surprisingly plays a subdued role that can almost be termed a supporting role to Surya. But he is cute initially and displays maturity in the emotional scenes in the second half. As expected, he has a few occasions to showcase his dancing and stunt talents and makes good use of them. Surya fits into the serious, silent role in the beginning but struggles to emote in the sentimental scenes. Devayani doesn’t have much to do. Vijayalakshmi seems like a good find.

Though Ilaiyaraja comes of a strong year in 2000 he doesn’t impress a lot in his first movie of 2001. The songs are quite ordinary and none make much of an impression the first time.