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Thunivu (dir. H. Vinoth, 2023)

Last updated on November 7, 2023

“This heist is MINE!” roars a man we come to know as Dark Devil (Ajith).  Dark Devil is on the scene just as another gang enters the privately owned Your Bank in Chennai to, well, undertake a heist of their own.  Dark Devil makes a deal with the incoming gang – they help him out, and they’ll take a cut, otherwise?  He’ll kill them.  They quickly take the deal, though not without thoughts of double-crossing Dark Devil – that is, until they realize they’re no match for him.  But Dark Devil realizes that there is one more gang inside the bank attempting to steal the money as well.  A heist, within a heist, within a heist.  The Thunivu universe, it seems, contains multitudes.

But who is this mysterious Dark Devil?  And who is Kanmani (Manju Warrier), who only calls her partner, well, “Partner”?  It’s clear that the two of them are highly skilled and have everything well planned.  As we learn, they are part of a team of heist professionals, having undertaken a number of successful heists.  But this bank heist?  This is one they turned down, and much of H. Vinoth’s film peels back the layers of the plot and allows us to understand more about their motivations for stepping in where they’d first refused to tread.

Thunivu is a complex and frenetic film.  The cameras spin and the action is full on, gun fights blazing, explosions, well, exploding.  At the centre of it all is Ajith’s Dark Devil, not so much a hero, nor a villain.  As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Dark Devil is a vigilante, and his reasons for turning down the heist, as well as his reasons for stepping into it again have clear socio-political motives, as well as personal ones, because he considers his team his family, and his family has been harmed.  It’s hard to argue with a film that places justice for the common man at its core, and views those in positions of power – bank executives, police, and politicians – as complicit in causing severe financial hardship for ordinary people.

Admittedly, Dark Devil’s motives aren’t clear in the first half of the film, and it takes a compelling and charismatic performance from Ajith to keep us watching until the pennies start to drop.  When we’re introduced to him, he’s casually reading a book (World View by Jeffrey Garten, a book about the challenges and implications of the new global economy, something hinted at when they reference scams targetting the NYSE by one of the characters in the film).  After eliminating one of the bank robbers he strolls into the main bank area, oozing swag, spitting out a bullet as the soundtrack roars with “Who the gangsta?”  Ajith is clearly in top form and having a blast, and that’s what keeps us watching to learn more.

And Ajith is more than capably supported by Malayalam actress Manju Warrier, here in her second Tamil film, and first full on action role.  Warrier is, thankfully, not in the film as the love interest, though it is clear there is a relationship between Dark Devil and Kanmani.  Kanmani’s role in the heist is an important one:  she’s the one managing things from a van outside the bank, monitoring CCTV and electronics, and carrying out parts of the plan as Dark Devil manages things inside.  It was such a pleasure to see an actor of her calibre take on this role and just run with it.  My only complaint is that there wasn’t enough of her.  Yes, I get it, this *is* an Ajith vehicle after all, but I would love to see them again in an action film that gave them equal screen time.  That said, there are moments – in particular a shoot-out where a hit has been placed on Dark Devil and his team – where Dark Devil refuses to simply rescue Kanmani.  He makes her pick up her gun and carry on, both of them fighting together to survive.  It’s clear that Dark Devil sees Kanmani as a capable equal. 

Is Thunivu a perfect film?  No, and it does get bogged down at points simply by the sheer number of antagonists in the film, and how they are all connected, and why they’ve become a target for Dark Devil and Kanmani.  And yet, the film left me wanting more of Dark Devil and Kanmani and their whole “no guts, no glory” approach.  Perhaps we’ll get to see them in action again?  I, for one, would enjoy that very much.

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