Agilan movie review: Jayam Ravi’s film follows the same tiring template of an anti-hero with a cause, something Tamil cinema needs to retire quickly.
When Mankatha came out in 2011, it brought about a paradigm shift in the way protagonists were shown in modern Tamil cinema. Throughout history, an allure for the antagonists and anti-heroes has been prevalent, and Tamil cinema, heavily influenced by Dravidian Movement, predominantly had heroes with moral and ethical codes (For instance, MG Ramachandran and his altruistic characters). The success of Mankatha, where Ajith played a treacherous anti-hero who betrays everyone including the woman he loves, established that a moral compass is irrelevant for a filmmaker as long as the film is entertaining. This led to a slew of such films that glorified the not-so-salubrious side of heroes and villains. However, very few filmmakers were brave enough like Venkat Prabhu to go all the way while creating a monster for a protagonist, and that’s exactly why films like Thunivu turned out to be a middling affair. These films flaunt their heroes as flawed characters with no moral codes, only to redeem them with flashbacks that justify their actions. The latest to join this tiring template is Jayam Ravi’s Agilan.
When we first meet Agilan (Jayam Ravi), a crane operator at Chennai harbour, he comes across as an interesting character, who would do anything for money and power. With his access to the harbour, Agilan smuggles drugs and other contraband in and out of the country for a kingpin named Paranthaman (Hareesh Peradi). However, they are small cogs in the big wheel of the underworld smuggling network, which is controlled by Kapoor (Tarun Arora), who decides the ‘King of the Indian Ocean’. When an opportunity arises, Agilan goes all out to win the title by pulling off a high stake mission despite having a stringent and maniacal special officer Gokul Mehta (Chirag Jani) on his tail. All of this pans out in the first half of the film, where the film is actually gripping and for a moment one ends up believing that Agilan is actually a ruthless and selfish hero, and for a change, the film wouldn’t take the normal ‘flashback’ route.
In the second half, our worst nightmares come true. Agilan is up to something and all his actions are for some greater good, and hence we are supposed to absolve him of all the brutal crimes he has committed so far. The problem with such films is that the filmmaker wants to have the cake and eat it too. That is, we are expected to have faith in the man-eat-man-world philosophy of Agilan in the first half, and later we are sold a sob story of this anti-hero, where he becomes a super righteous saviour. It is evident that N Kalyankrishnan, an erstwhile assistant of late director SP Jananathan, wants to make a well-meaning and left-leaning film like his mentor. However, unlike SP Jananathan, who mostly used films as a tool to spread his communistic ideology, Kalyankrishnan also wants to entertain the audience and that’s why he resorts to this anti-hero gimmick, which doesn’t sit right with a film that has greater good at its core.
However, Kalayankrishnan pulls off a lot of gripping moments that make Agilan watchable for most of its runtime. I also liked how even auxiliary characters were given their own arcs in this hero-driven film. The director and cinematographer Vivek Anand Santhosam have also managed to make the harbour a character in the film. Yet, everything loses its value the moment the film starts taking the formulaic route post-interval. Agilan works and it is engrossing as long as the film was about the titular character even though he is flawed, and the film starts to fizzle out the moment the character starts becoming a template ‘hero’.