Synopsis: A girl trying to land a job in the IT industry and a gangster's underling are neighbours. They gradually become friends. How long before they become lovers?
Review: An educated girl falling for a ruffian has become such a cliche today that we have even stopped rolling our eyes when this happens in a Tamil film nowadays. But with Kadhalum Kadanthu Pogum, Nalan Kumarasamy shows that in the right hands even a cliche can feel fresh and new. The film is a remake of Kim Kwang-sik's 2010 Korean film My Dear Desperado. In fact, that film's alternate title, Gangster Lover, is such a blatant description of its plot. But Nalan has localised the story (with quirky humor that is unmistakably his) so wonderfully that right from the initial scene, when we see Yazhini (Madonna) explain how she 'ran away' from home, we are in Tamil cinema terrain.
She is an engineering graduate (as she puts it in a later scene, who in Tamil Nadu isn't?) who has come to Chennai from her small town Vilupuram in the hope of standing on her own. For a while, her dream seems to have come true. She gets a job, and does things that a single girl in the IT industry is expected to do. Until, one day, when this dream turns into nightmare. Her company closes down, and she becomes one of the innumerable job hunters in the IT industry. And the fact that she has studied in a namesake engineering college and her lack of experience ensure that she cannot land one soon. But she is too proud to go back to Vilupuram and admit defeat even if it means she has to downgrade her life from living in an apartment to living in a housing colony.
And this is where she meets Kathir (Vijay Sethupathi), who happens to be her neighbour. He is an underling of a small-time gangster-politician, whose naivete and loyalty has been exploited by his boss, resulting in a jail term for a crime he did not commit. Nalan takes his time to show how these two vastly different characters warm up to one another and become neighbours. When he first meets her, Kathir doesn't even offer to help her with moving her stuff to her house, and when they meet for the final time (or so one might think), he has successfully held up an interview for hours with his rowdy act so that she can make it on time.
The director is clear that this is as much Yazhini's and Kathir's story as it is the story of their romance, and so we get elaborate story arcs that make these characters feel almost real. We know that Yazhini's father cares for her and despite his reservations initially (when Yazhini points out that scores of girls study or work alone in Chennai, he admits that he doesn't have the courage of their parents), he realises that he shouldn't stand in the way of her career ambitions. And when Kathir asks a younger gangster to quit the profession, we understand why he feels so. The stylish nonchalance of Vijay Sethupathi and the earnestness of Madonna complement each perfectly that we root for these characters to succeed.
As for the romance, it might sneak upon the leads invisibly but, we can always feel where things are heading to, even with the smallest and unintentional of their actions, like Yazhini embrace of Kathir in her hometown. Rather than being predictable, it seems inevitable. Some might have issues with the sedate pacing, but this is a film where the magic lies in lingering on — rather than rushing through — in this world. And when the filmmaking — full of breezy visuals (which are made more cheerful by the appearance of rain at crucial points), smooth segues, and expressive musical notes — is so understated and tasteful, what's there to complain?