Bharatiraja has been one of the most versatile directors in Tamil cinema, crafting both psychological thrillers like Sigappu
Rojakkal and rustic films like 16 Vayadhinile with equal skill. His latest film Bommalaattam is a thriller set
against the backdrop of the film industry and considering that his last foray into the thriller genre was the silly and
amateurish Kangalaal Kaidhu Sei, it doesn't arrive with much hope. But the experienced director does make amends to a
certain extent with Bommalaattam. It is an engaging, suspenseful film though the director's sleight of hand makes the
film's conclusion a little disappointing.
Rana(Nana Patekar), an experienced and respected film director with quite a few movies and awards in his kitty, is currently
working on a movie titled 'Cinema'. Frustrated by the heroine's demands, he fires her and halts the shooting until he can
find a replacement. He finds the heroine of his dreams in Trishna(Rukmini) and completes the film with her. But just before
the film's release, Rana and Trishna, while fleeing from the press, get into an accident that kills Trishna and leaves
Rana injured. Vikram Varma(Arjun), a CBI officer, is convinced of Rana's guilt in Trishna's death, especially since there
have been other questionable incidents in other locations where the film was being shot. And Vikram has a personal axe to grind
with Rana too since Vikram's girlfriend Anita(Kajal Agarwal) is a big fan of Rana and is working closely with him.
The film is constructed skilfully, not giving us the full picture too early but never confusing us so much that we lose
interest in the proceedings. Things are somewhat frustrating in the beginning as there are huge gaps in the story (as the
movie fast-forwards through several events) and there are references to past events that we do know about. But as the gaps
get filled in through flashbacks and the story begins to take shape, the suspense and the questions do draw us in. The
red herrings(I counted 2) are added judiciously and not too obviously and so they do work in misdirecting us, even if only
for a short time.
The film falls prey to the same thing most Tamil thrillers fall prey to - lack of focus. Partly due to the need to pad the
running time and partly due to the need to ensure that the film attracts a wider audience, Bharatiraja adds extraneous
elements that kill the pace and dilute the intensity requisite for a successful thriller. These elements - like Arjun's
romance with a duet thrown in, Vivek's comedy, two other song sequences - are not intolerable or bad per se but interrupt
the flow. The good thing is that they come early in the movie when the damage they cause is less.
Successful thrillers lull us into believing something and then surprise us using something that's been right before our eyes
all the time. Bommalaattam too has a big surprise up its sleeve but it is brought in out of the blue, giving the
viewer no chance of guessing what's coming. So it is a surprising twist alright but it doesn't elicit the pleasant surprise
that usually accompanies a good twist. The feeling here is more along the lines of having been cheated - not just because we
didn't see the twist coming but because the editing and the choice of actors ensured that we were never even given the
opportunity to see it coming.
With its film-inside-a-film structure, Bommalaattam seems as much an exposition on the workings of the film industry as
it is a thriller. So we get to see the unreasonable demands of actresses, the harsh treatment meted out by the director to the
artistes(this is rather surprising considering the rumors that the film director's role was loosely based on Bharatiraja himself),
the sorry state of the producer, the rumors accompanying a film shoot, the stress a shoot could put on the personal lives of
those involved and the difficulties faced by some of the cast members, both from other team members and from the locals. Though
none of this is new, it is still interesting since it is not something we see often. At the same time, since the movie is
primarily a thriller, the goings-on don't have as much of an effect as they did in a more focused, emotional movie like
Nana Patekar, in his first Tamil film, imbues the director's role with the right mix of confidence and arrogance. His behavior
on the sets is pitch-perfect and realistic. Arjun's role is more of an extended cameo though he does pave the way for the
film's conclusion. Kajal Agarwal and Rukmini are adequate. Vivek has a few funny lines but is more of a distraction while
Manivannan earns our repulsion easily.