Synopsis: A cop and her lover are on the hunt for the kingpin of a racket that exploits hapless kids and their parents for different reasons.
Review: The first thing that strikes you about Arthanaari is its TV serial-like production values. There are films that have a scrappy feel about them because of their low budget, but this one doesn't really feel entirely shoddy. Rather the filmmaking aesthetics give the impression of a visual style that is commonly found in out TV series — point-and-shoot framings where the characters are in the centre of the frames, shots of characters talking directly looking at the screen, expository voice overs, cutting to reaction shots every time something 'important' happens or is said and so on.
This and the manner in which the film begins — with the rescue operation of a kidnapped girl — instantly tell us what kind of film we are in. We see how Sathya (Arundhathi, who seems equally comfortable buttoning-down and exposing her belly button), a fearless cop, rescues the girl. The kidnapper finds that Sathya has a gun hidden inside her dress, and forces her at gun point to take off her clothes to ensure that she has no other weapon. And she, after stripping down to her bra, uses the button of her pant to divert him and take him out! Yes, it is as funny as it reads.
Sathya learns that the kidnapper is just a small cog in a larger gang and tries to track down the kingpin. Meanwhile, she is wooed by Karthik (Ramkumar, whose boyish appearance never lets us take him seriously), an orphan who has been raised by Selvamanickam (Nasser, in an underwritten role), a do-gooder. Selvamanickam dies one day and Karthik is heartbroken. But, through her investigations, Sathya learns that the old man was actually murdered. Now, Karthik, too, starts hunting down the men whom his lover is also trying to find. Who finds the villains first, and does that affect their relationship?
Director Sundarra Elangovan is a former associate of Bala, and the plot bears some resemblance to Naan Kadavul — just replace the protagonist(s) cracking down on a racket that exploits the helpless by forcing them into begging with forcing them into child labour. However, the film is the opposite of hard-hitting, something that Bala's films are known for. This is most evident in the way the film treats Rajendran, who played the villain in Naan Kadavul, and who plays a similar role here. While the actor was menacing in that film, here, thanks to his recent successes as a comedian, the audience erupts into laughter every time he opens his mouth — even when he is trying to be intimidating.
The investigations lack the thrill that they should have and everything happens conveniently. But the filmmaker does one thing that deserves praise. He lets Sathya be a commanding character as befits a cop. In fact, in the first half, it is Karthik who is made to do things that heroines are designated to do in most films — woo the cop, get slapped for being a pest and play the second fiddle. In a film that seems dated in most aspects, this kind of feels refreshing. M Suganth