Jeethu Joseph is back in Tamil cinema with Thambi, after Papanasam (that I rather liked more). In Thambi, the filmmaker intentionally opts for a slow narrative to reveal the mystery behind a murder, much like the premise of Drishyam. Well, it does try the patience of the audience at many points, but the film opens up various layers of suspense. While the first half has a lighthearted tone, Thambi gets a tad serious post-interval. Both Drishyam and Thambi have many similarities. The central theme of all this is simple: family and relationships.
Saravanan (Karthi) is a conman. How his life gets intertwined with an affluent family that lives in Mettupalayam, forms the crux of the story. Initially, Saravanan’s pursuit seems money; but eventually, he develops a bond towards the characters played by Jyotika, Sathyaraj and Seetha. Throughout the film, Jeethu Joseph knots and unknots the mystery by introducing one character after another, one suspense after another. Yes, Thambi has some clever writing and plays out brilliantly most of the time as a thriller. At the same time, it has many subplots, which are confusing.
Drishyam scored high both on logic and emotions, and this is where Thambi fails. We seamlessly could connect the dots ‘logic-wise’, but ‘emotion-wise’, not so much. The film talks about the sister-brother relationship, but it is not all that moving. These portions deviate Thambi from its thriller format. It could have made for an engrossing watch had Jeethu Joseph focused on its main plot. Thambi wants to be an ambitious project like Drishyam but doesn’t pan out that way.
The performances are competent. Karthi is terrific as Vicky/Saravanan, and it looks like the role was written for him, while Jyotika lights up the screen and doesn’t overdo expressions. But it is Sowcar Janaki, who scores high as the mute and deaf grandmother.
The Karthi-starrer does have a good story. A common element in thrillers is that the protagonist falls victim to someone else’s scheme and gets stuck in a moment of dread. Jeethu Joseph tells the story from the point of view of the person with the most to lose, that is Vicky, who comes with baggage and emotional complexity. The director lets Karthi’s character build more dramatic tension as the film progresses. Vicky faces grief and near-death experiences. After Kaithi, I’d say, Karthi gets another tailor-made role.
But despite great performances and a compelling story, Thambi doesn’t offer a wholesome cinematic experience like Drishyam or Papanasam. Often the narrative seems disconnected. Thambi is not as efficient at hiding some of its other shortcomings, like the romantic angle involving Saravanan and Sanjana (Nikhila Vimal). Every major twist and turn in the script is just narrated to us, not shown. Even today, without revisiting Papanasam, I can discuss my favourite scenes. That way, Thambi doesn’t give any particularly memorable scenes or even lines. Really, the film’s biggest accomplishment is the manner in which it compels you to expect the unexpected, even as you begin to predict what’s going to happen next—which plays both to the advantage and disadvantage of the film.