Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Evil Engulfs (orig. Soodhu Kavvum) [2013]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13) Times of India (4/5 Stars)  KollywoodToday (3/5 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
OneIndiaEntertaiment (OIE) listing 

BollywoodLife.com (IANS) review
DeccanHerald (S. Vismanath) review
IndianDragon,in review
KollywoodToday review
NewIndianExpress (M. Mannath) review
Rediff.com (S. Saraswathi) review
Sifi.com review
The Hindu (B. Rangan) review
Times of India (N. Venkateswaran) review

Evil Engulfs (orig. Soodhu Kavvum) [2013] [IMDb] [OIE] (directed and cowritten by Nalan Kumarasamy [IMDb] [OIE] along with Srinivasa Kavineyam [IMDb]) is a South Indian ("Kollywood") Tamil language / English subtitled _comedy_ about a distressing subject that's all too common across a good part of the world -- (petty) kidnapping for money (or secuestros as the phenomenon is known in Mexico / Latin America).  Note that earlier in the year I reviewed a far more serious Filipino film entitled Graceland [2012] about the same phenomenon.  Note also that the Somali pirates at times hijacking shipping off the Horn of Africa, the subject of two other recent films reviewed here (A Hijacking (orig. Kapringen) [2012] and Captain Phillips [2013]), are arguably motivated by similar pressures/desperation.

Why make a _comedy_ about this phenomenon?  Well, as the common saying goes, when faced with tragedy, "you can laugh or you can cry" ... and sometimes if one is laughing, even if _uncomfortably laughing_ rather than simply crying, one can keep one's eyes open long enough to perhaps understand better why this tragedy is occurring in the first place.  So it's in this spirit (seeking to explain why this phenomenon is going on) that I believe the film was made.  And then the film's title, in English "Evil Engulfs" ought to give Viewers (as well as Reades here) an understanding of how ultimately the film-makers view this phenomenon.

So then how does the movie play-out?  The film begins at the flat of three unemployed (actually two unemployed and one about to be unemployed) 20-something buddies: Pagalavan (played by Simhaa [IMDb]), Kesevan (played by Aschok Selvan [IMDb] [OIE]) and Sekhar (played by RJ Ramesh Thilak [IMDb] [OIE]).  When even the buddy who had been working at an IT firm of some sort gets sacked, the three do what 20-something young men do the world over in such situations -- they get up and go to a bar to get drunk / blow off some steam.

Well at said bar, they run into somewhat older, 40-something character named Das (played by Vijay sethupathi [IMDb] [OIE]) who's there with his (and you're never quite sure if she's real) very attractive, significantly younger and adoring girlfriend Shalu (played by Shanchita Shetty [IMDb] [OIE]) "drinking away his own sorrows" as well.  For he had come-up with an "awesome way to make some money" --  kidnapping people, but then not asking for too much money and treating them nicely -- and yet, when he had tried to do so for the first time, with his (imaginary?) girlfriend at the wheel, he couldn't get the 15 year old girl that he was trying to kidnap as she walking home from a volleyball practice into his rickety van because she kept hitting him in the head with her volleyball.  "Something was missing..." What was missing was a bigger "crew."  And his adoring girl-friend applauds when he "realizes" that this was "the flaw" in his plan...

Well, wannabe crime master (but also wanting to be "nice about" it ;-) Das spots the three 20-somethings drinking to the loss of their friend's job, and decides to walk over to them and "give them an offer" that they _obviously_ "could refuse."  But they are too drunk and, frankly too stupid to do so.  And the promise of "easy money with minimal risk" is just what their quite marinated minds were looking for.  So, they say "yes."

The next scene has Das some time illustrating on a chalkboard in a warehouse somewhere to his new not altogether bright three-man "crew" his theory of how to make Crime (petty kidnapping) "pay": (1) Always kidnap "regular people," (2) be nice about it, treat your er, hostages, nicely, (3) don't ask their parents or families for too much money because otherwise they will really get upset (and call the police...).  Instead, be nice, professional, not too greedy ... and you can't lose.  Das' adoring girl-friend applauds ... the three 20-somethings seem convinced enough to give it a try (besides they need rent or else they're going to get thrown out of the appt where they are living).

And so a few days later, they head off and kidnap their first child/teenager.  And with the additional "man power" the kid can't run away this time.  But they buy him an ice cream cone / let him play video games ... while they call the parents.  They tell the parents not to "freak out" but that they had their kid, that they were _not_ asking for a lot of money but only that they (the parents) "could afford" and enough to make it "worthwhile" to them (the kidnappers) ...  Terrible really... "kinder/gentler" kidnapping.  Naturally the parents scream initially but then calm down, realizing that the kidnappers were not complete animals, agree to a modest price, drop off the money somewhere and get their kid back ... all done in the course of day.  "Just another day in Madras/Chennai ..."

Well initially "all goes well."  Viewers see Das and the three 20-yearolds play repeat this drill with all kinds of other "little punks/spoiled brats" (one kid is shown playing with his gameboy all the time while the kidnappers are arguing with his parents over a ransom) UNTIL they mistakenly kidnap the kid of someone beginning to be "important" -- the boy of some low-level government official.   The low-level clerk still follows the same procedures as the other parents had done BUT after paying the ransom and getting his son back, HE WANTS to talk to them further.  Why?  He wants to try to get Das and his crew to kidnap a much older son of a much higher ranking government official who he had a grudge against.

Das is initially against this ... after all, he didn't want to "get into politics" or for that matter "get too greedy."  His whole philosophy was "keep this small."  But the other three, want to go for the bigger fish.

So ... they go for the bigger fish.  (Interestingly Das' adoring girlfriend abruptly leaves Das at this moment saying that she's had enough).  When they get the "bigger fish" TO THEIR SURPRISE THEY FIND THAT THE GROWN SON OF THE HIGHER RANKING GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL (1) WANTED TO GET KIDNAPPED, (2) DEMANDS THAT THEY ASK FOR MORE MONEY FROM HIS FATHER THAN THEY WANTED TO ASK FOR and (3) (of course) WANTS A CUT ...

Much ensues ...

Obviously, common morality demands that this story _can not_ end well (and if the Reader has been worried, look at the title again).  But since the film is also _a comedy_, it can't end too badly either. 

How to satisfy both demands?  Well that's the rest of the movie.  And it becomes an ever smiling (though ever more scathing) commentary about a society that's so corrupt that "kidnapping for modest sums of money" seems "almost normal."  And why would it be "almost normal"?  Well, look at how corrupt things get when one goes up a few notches above "ground level" on the social ladder.

Das and his crew become "beside the point" _pawns_ in a petty fight between a local politician and his grown son.  And once it becomes clear that the father/son are fighting in this way, THOSE TWO become pawns to the Party to which the local politician belonged to.  After all, regardless who'd win such a fight, the Party would want to make sure that it ended up looking good.

So in the end, the message of the film becomes that one can never really manipulate Evil to one's benefit (even if Das wanted to "keep it small," and the politician's son apparently wanted to "keep it personal").  Instead, Evil is bigger than all of them (and certainly even bigger than the politician's Party).  It's big enough to "get to" and "engulf" them all.

And all this is said in this film ... with a smile ... ;-)  Interesting film!

ADDENDA: The part of India that my religious order the Friar Servants of Mary is present in is Tamil Nadu, the capital of which is Madras/Chennai where this movie was filmed.

Recently, I also read Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid's book How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (2013) in which the book's protagonist was far more "conventional" in his business plan (he comes to build a "bottled water empire").  However, the humor / cynicism by which he's described building said "bottled water empire" is rather similar to the film's here: "It's a dog eat dog world" but also one in which all one's actions do have consequences.  Mohsin Hamid is also the author of the book The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2008) on which the 2012 film by the same name (and reviewed here) was based.

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