It's been a while since we've watched a finely crafted (murder-)mystery thriller like Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru (well 'Nibunan' wasn't that bad but it never quite soared to the heights that it could have) and 'Thupparivaalan', I guess, is somewhere close to an answer. The movie, written and directed by Mysskin, and starring Vishal (and produced by him as well), pits an Indianized version of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes - named Kaniyan Poongundran, against a vile, murderous antagonist who calls himself Devil (Vinay).
While there are barely any commercial compromises made (#1 No songs, just a haunting violin-ruled background score by Arrol Corelli #2 No forced romance track) in the making of 'Thupparivaalan', it is the unorthodox, idiosyncratic writing style of Mysskin that leaves a solid mark. The humor is subtle, at times unintentional, and sprinkled at the most unanticipated of instances (such as a man getting converted into a plant-vase during an action scene; Santa getting kicked in the crotch; and the camera doing repeated 360 degree rotations while the chief antagonist breaks eggs into a frying pan; the manner in which the cops keep running - almost circuslike).
Mysskin proclaims his love for international cinema through the methodologies by which he stages some of the kills (chainsaw - actually employed for body-disposal than killing, poison darts, lightning emission, sepukku even!). His 'stylized bunch of antagonists', played by Vinay, Andrea, John Vijay and K Bhagyaraj (who was almost entirely unrecognizable for a good part of the film) and a couple of others, are first shown gathering over a home-cooked meal (a la. Texas Chainsaw Massacre, albeit quaintly).
The lead protagonist Kaniyan Poongundran (Vishal) is clever as a fox but is also unapologetically eccentric and exhibits the behavior pattern of a sociopath. That renders him less of a character worth backing, but Mysskin supplements Kaniyan with a thoroughly grounded Watson-like Mano (Prasanna, in excellent form) who raises the kind of queries the audience would actually want answers for, whenever Kaniyan moves too far ahead in fitting the puzzle-pieces. The subplot involving Mallika (Anu Emmanuel), a pick-pocket, is Mysskin's way of depicting the emotional side of Kaniyan (although the climactic outcome isn't great, to be frank). The treatment of the heroine is a little cringeworthy too (when she comes knocking on his door looking for a job, he places a broom in her hands and shoves her inside!). It also stretches the movie a bit more than required and adds an angle of (the much-seen) personal vendetta towards the end.
One thing always stands out in Mysskin films is the immaculate staging of fights. The venues for much of the action too are unlike the usual ones (a building under construction, a Chinese restaurant, a mangrove-filled forest) seen in Tamil cinema. Add a superbly executed bike-chase sequence (with an astounding finale) to that (Andrea is terrific!). If Vishal is deemed a couple of steps behind in terms of his acting chops (the expressions are mostly leaden, except for one scene which was a little over-the-top), he makes up for it by excelling in the stunts department. The punches and reversals are meticulously landed - the harmonica and moon-walks only sweeten the pot.
Some scenes might make the viewer raise eyebrows - like Kaniyan and Mano falsely identifying themselves as Stanley Kubrick, Karl Marx and Tamizhvannan (and Shankarlal) amongst others, but they happen so swift that we forget them when the bigger 'crime' picture takes over. 'Thupparivaalan' also features the most hilarious laughing-gas induced murder scene in the history of Indian cinema (I really laughed out LOUD for this segment, however terrible the aftermath turned out to be).
That said, 'Thupparivaalan' is more a 'whydunnit' than a 'whodunnit' - the identities of the murderers are revealed almost halfway into the flick. The film puts more weight on how Kaniyan unfolds a business conspiracy and eventually encounters the gang of antagonists, after starting off with the case of a dog's killing.
The one scene that I keep talking about in this review where Kaniyan showcases his emotional side (however wooden his outward persona is, he is essentially human, 100% Tamilian) stuck out like a sore thumb because of a lot of reasons: I'd have liked an expressionless Kaniyan here too, essentially falling in place with his character-build. It's supposed to be a 'rescue scene' (turned all-too-melodramatic) and why they instantaneously give up altogether without attempting to 'save a life' by rushing to the hospital, also seemed quite ludicrous. This bothered me as it went much against the overall tone of the film.
Even if the death-toll is sufficiently high, 'Thupparivaalan' isn't as dark as some of Mysskin's other films (like 'Yuddham Sei' or 'Onaayum Aattukkuttiyum') - a concession given to the star, maybe? The villain's motives are also not clearly expounded either - red herrings are thrown during the climax, but the pay-off is almost negligible. There are plenty of known faces taking up supporting roles: Simran, Jayaprakash, Thalaivaasal Vijay, and Aadukalam Naren - all of them perform well. Ignore some of the peripheral flaws and you still have an engaging 150 minute cinematic piece, spurting thrills every now and then.