One of the things that strike you right in the initial scenes of Theal is how quiet it is for a film involving violence. The scenes play out in an unhurried manner, there is a lot of silence, allowing the scenes to breathe, the shabby-chic visual tone, with moody lighting (the cinematography is by Vignesh Vasu), is striking at the same time. All these contribute to make the film quite engaging. It is then that you realise how effectively debutant director Harikumar (a well-known choreographer and actor already) has imbibed the essence of this film’s inspiration – Korean auteur Kim Ki-duk’s Pieta (2012). The filmmaker acknowledges the Korean film’s influence right in the title card, including a thank you note to Kim Ki-duk, who is given a story credit.
Harikumar sets the story against the backdrop of the Koyambedu market, where Paulraj (Shathru), a loan shark, lends money at high interest to the shopkeepers. Those who fail to pay back the money are given a special treatment by his debt collector Dorai (Prabhudeva). Having grown up as an orphan, Durai has no qualms about physically assaulting the hapless victims of Paulraj. He thrashes a man in front of his little son, cuts off another’s arm, and even hits a pleading woman who offers to have sex with him so that he doesn’t harm her husband.
Meanwhile, a middle-aged woman (Eswari Rao) appears in his life claiming to be his mother. He pushes her away repeatedly, and even assaults her, but she refuses to leave him. Gradually, he starts softening inside, accepts her and mellows down while collecting money. But can he turn over a new leaf, especially after having ruined the lives of so many people?
Theal is a surprisingly effective drama that is well-made with performances that hold our attention. Yes, much of the film’s emotional impact comes from the writing, which it owes to the Korean film (this is largely a slavish adaptation), but the filmmaking is also solid enough. Barring a duet in the second half, between Durai and Thilaka (Samyuktha Hegde), which is tonally off from the rest of the film (the romance angle is one of the film’s few letdowns), Harikumar refrains from adding unnecessary commercial elements. This focus helps in keeping us hooked. Prabhudeva is impressive as the silent but violent Durai, and Eswari Rao is very good as the mother. The scenes between the two actors are affecting enough, and also have an air of mystery around them as the director keeps us in suspense about the mother.
Openmic Rating: 2.5/5
Openmic View : A surprisingly well-made adaptation of Pieta