Based on all the films we've had on the same theme, it looks like gangster films can be broadly divided
into two categories. On one hand are films that follow the protagonist's rise from a small-time hood to
the leader of the rowdy gang. On the other hand are films about rowdies at the lower levels of the food
chain. Naalai falls in the latter category and inspite of telling a familiar tale, does so
in an interesting manner.
Justin(Richard) and Natraj alias Nattu(Natraj) have been friends since childhood, doing all the
dirty work for Nair(Nasser), the local dada. When the brother of another dada
Thanigai('Kaadhal' Shanmugam) speaks ill of Nair, they kill him. Thanigai now wants revenge and
asks Nair to give the two up.
Like Don Chera, Naalai is a victim of bad timing. If released about
six months ago, it would have been a surprisingly realistic depiction of the lives of dadas and
rowdies. It doesn't sugarcoat the lives they lead and maintains a sober tone that illustrates the dangerous
nature of their lives. But with the glut of gangster-themed films we've had recently, it ends up feeling
like a retread of many of those films (there are scenes that remind us of Pattiyal
and Thalainagaram and it even includes the line "Survival of the Fittest", which
happened to be Pudhuppettai's tag line!). To the film's credit, the familiar
story is narrated in an entertaining manner with the screenplay going through enough small twists and turns
to keep us engaged.
Naalai depicts the cruel nature of the the world Richard and Natraj live in as well as most other
films in this genre. The lack of true loyalty and the bottom-feeding nature of many of the players
keep us unsure about what the next moves of the characters will be. It also illustrates that once you've
lived a life of violence, it is not easy to stay away from it. Past sins always have a way of catching up.
The romance and the comedy(which is part of the movie and not a separate track, thank God!) help lighten
things a little but the underlying grimness is never ignored.
Like Thalainagaram this movie also shows that the director has a good sense of style. Action
sequences, right from the chase undertaken by the two young boys near the start of the film, are energetic
and a couple of moves in the fight sequences catch the eye. Some shots, like the one near the carousel
towards the end, are executed particularly well.
Richard, who has played softer, more refined roles so far, slips into a rowdy's role easily also.
But newcomer Natraj, who plays his friend, is the scene-stealer. He is completely natural whether
he is teasing Richard about Madhumita or shouting at someone. Madhumita has proved her acting chops in
movies like Kudaikkul Mazhai but gets little to do here. 'Bose'
Venkat has a nice turn as a police officer who has his own rules for dealing with antisocial elements.
Karthik Raja reminds us of his dad in both the songs and the background score. Oru Maatram...
is a very melodious number and is picturized well also.