Kalaga Thalaivan review: Udhayanidhi starrer features a cat and mouse chase

Kalaga Thalaivan review: Udhayanidhi starrer features a cat and mouse chase

If protagonist Thiru leads a rebellion against public sector privatization and corporate damage, the movie doesn’t do a particularly poignant job of making us feel strongly about him.

Actor and politician Udhayanidhi Stalin is back on the big screen with Kalaga Thalaivan – an institutional spy thriller. The film, directed by Majiz Thirumini, combines a cat and mouse chase, but fails to convincingly deliver its larger message: the problem of corporate finance in politics. The spectacle of the intro hero Udhayanidhi gets is somewhat of a cliffhanger for Kollywood. He secretly remotely enters a computer to assist an older colleague who is struggling to complete a task while a supervisor watches, waiting for the older man to err. This is decidedly less dramatic than his entry in his previous film Nenjukku Needhi – imagine a car window reflecting a mountain sunrise (DMK party code), rolling back to reveal our hero’s face. This pretty much set the tone for the rest of this movie.

Kalaga Thalaivan is not entirely devoid of political commentary, of course. The title translates to ‘Rebel Leader’, which is quite confusing, given that DMK has been in power for over a year in the state and Udhaynidhi himself is the elected MLA leader and leader of the youth wing. If the rebellion led by the political actor’s character, Theroux, is against public sector privatization and the environmental and democratic damage being done to corporations, the film doesn’t do a particularly poignant job of making us feel strongly about it.

Thiru works as a financial analyst for a giant auto company called Vajrah. The company makes headlines that its new line of trucks can cut fuel consumption by 50%, but hides the fact that the vehicle’s emissions will be much higher than the permissible level. The remainder of the film revolves around several past corporate crimes committed by the Vajrah, his relations with various governments, and Thiru’s attempt to expose them. Once the Vajras realize a leak has occurred in their midst, they hire Arjun (Arav) and his team to find the leak. An ex-military man who now works in corporate security, Arjun is described as a “psychopathic killer”. At this point, I’m about to give in completely to Kollywood’s demand to do a little more on the bad guys than just throw in random psychological terms. But of course, Arjun’s bloody and obsessive pursuit of Thiru breaks out, with the odds stacked against the hero.

Director Magizh pulls off the slow reveal of who Thiru really is and why he’s haunted the Vajrah Well, which builds up interestingly until the intermission pause. The director also introduces us to a neatly orchestrated chase sequence at a railway station before the time-lapse. The sequence is a slow burn, set to just the perfect temperature, to lure us in. It also throws in just enough plot twists to keep us guessing about the second half of the movie. Magizh also serves, Karthik (Kaliayarasan not used criminally).

How Arjun tracks down Thiru and discovers his reasons for wanting to destroy Vajrah is the rest of the film, with some romantic twists made to introduce the obligatory heroine.

Thiru’s love interest, Mythili (Nidhhi Agerwal), is a presence who contributes little to the story except Thiru for showing off his deduction skills. Shortly after meeting her, Theroux concluded that she was “a strong-willed, independent, and highly organized woman” based on some popular psychology about the type of handbag she uses. All this seems to have been forced into the film only to tell us that Theru, unlike most other Kollywood heroes, appreciates women with such characters. Unfortunately, there is not much about the superficial representation of Nidhhi or her characterization in the text that would recommend us to reach similar conclusions about Mythili. The romance only serves to shake up the pace of the plot, rather than being a meaningful part of it.

Thiru was written as a reserved man, not usually given to highly emotional outbursts, which suited Udhayanidhi as an actor. He seems to do a good job in such roles, giving us a convincing impression of a man tormented by his past but who hides it in order to see justice done. Despite his deep flaws, his character in Nenjukku Needhi also came across as an individually driven man. Both are far and gracious apart from his romantic roles as Oru Kal Oru Kannadi.

Where this movie fails to impress us is with its larger politics, with the exception of a few scattered scenes. As much as Kalaga Thalaivan claims the villains are corporations that grab land from indigenous communities and destroy the local environment by associating with political authorities, the movie doesn’t do enough to prove it. For the majority of the film, Thiru is in direct conflict with Arjun, whose obsessive determination to stop the hero is simply incredible. Arav is a menace due to the body counting rack of his character, but nothing more than that. He comes off more detached rather than threatening to deliver his deliberately unemotional dialogue.

There is one point at which the film succeeds in presenting its politics, though it’s not nearly enough. One person running against the Vajra asks, “You all talk about money for votes, have you ever asked how much corporate funding goes to political parties?” This is an appropriate question. Movies like Vijay-starrer Sarkar blame political corruption on the poorest people, who they claim sell their votes. Personally, I’ve always had a nagging question about these films: Why should the weight of protecting democracy fall on the most financially vulnerable? Kalaga Thalaivan also hopes to redirect attention to where the rot lies, but fails to write a screenplay that digs deep enough into the problem.

If the film did more to demonstrate what corporate powers do, rather than focusing on a poorly written villain like Arjun who is merely a means to an end, Kalaga Thalaivan could be a much stronger film.

Disclaimer: This review is not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any kind of commercial relationship with the film’s producers or any other members of the film’s cast and crew.


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