Anbarivu Movie Review: An exhausting film punctuated by bad writing and craft
The twins switch places, but there’s no one to do it with us
It never stops to astonish how it can be that a film like Anbarivu that runs for close to three hours can be devoid of a single truly honest emotional moment. There’s separation, death, isolation, parental neglect… And yet, Anbarivu, oblivious to the weight and importance of these topics, is keener to check what it deems to be commercial cinema boxes. Have both twins been assigned girlfriends? Is enough pride communicated about Madurai and Jallikattu? Are the handlebar moustaches in place? And yes, in case you aren’t in the know, Hiphop Aadhi plays twins in this film, Anbu and Arivu (and I caught myself thinking that even these names seem inspired by the popular stunt-choreographer twins, Anbariv). In true-blue Tamil cinema fashion, they are differentiated by many expected factors, but none more so than the ability to fight. Towards the end of this film, around when I had lost all hope and couldn’t wait to be put out of my misery, the film turns mildly interesting by its support for the docile, affectionate Arivu, and its refusal to set up a climax fistfight, in which the twins might be expected to literally join hands to defeat adversaries. However, this is too little, too late…
…and perhaps insincere too. It’s hard to bestow this film with good intentions, given its conflicting choices in many matters. For much of its runtime, the film valourises—through the use of slow-mo shots and loud music—the violence of Muniyandi (Napoleon) and his grandson, Anbu, and yet, we are supposed to buy that this film is against it. Muniyandi and his grandson are both evidently casteist, revelling, for instance, when the downtrodden are refused chairs to sit in, in their presence. And yet, the film makes sure that the oppressed son-in-law Prakasam (Sai Kumar, who I rather liked in the role) communicates gratitude to this man and even offers to touch his feet. These are sneaky, insincere writing choices in this film that despite speaking of caste oppression, seem to deliberately gloss over it. The insincerity isn’t just in these complex spaces though. For instance, Arivu expresses his desire to marry a rooted, Tamil girl, and who’s he saying this to, while swooning? A character played by actor Kashmira Pardeshi, who neither looks the part nor seems comfortable speaking Tamil, let alone the Madurai dialect.
Director: Aswin Raam
Cast: Hiphop Aadhi, Vidharth, Napoleon, Kashmira Pardeshi, Shivani Rajashekar
Streaming On: Disney + Hotstar
I would get into more details, but though it has barely been a couple of hours since I finished watching this film, luckily, I already seem to have blocked out portions. I remember something about an embarrassingly staged ragging scene, and Arivu learning, almost comically, an important secret about his family. There’s something about a corporate deal (duh!) and the concern that they may be taking advantage of the villagers. There’s something about the politician-local casteist leader nexus. Even Vidharth, who I have quite liked in many films in recent years, struggles to get going here, despite earnest attempts at evil cackling.
And that brings us to Hiphop Aadhi, who pretty much oversells everything, from background music to performance. He plays the Madurai casteist ruffian Anbu, like the character were rather deranged, laughing often in inopportune situations. He plays the Canadian twin, Arivu, by engaging in complex handshakes with father (so, he can look ‘Western’ and ‘cool’) and delivering dialogues in a really affected way that makes the whole performance feel like a parody of NRIs. In fact, each time he rolls the ‘R’ in Arivu and says, “Azhivu”, I thought it was a pretty accurate summary of what this film was doing to the time-tested twins-switch-places idea in Tamil cinema.