Ethir Neechal is a film about taking control of life and finding comfort in one's own skin. Or so I think. It starts off like any other Tamil comedy which we see these days, but post-interval it becomes an all-out sports film. While it searches for a link to connect its two halves, Ethir Neechal is basically two different films, split right down the middle.
Kunjithapatham (Siva Karthikeyan) is a twenty something college student whose name is the source of all his troubles. Starting from humiliation in schools, extending to girls turning him down due to their unwillingness to be associated with someone with such a name, he feels he would be better off under a different moniker. After the film milks this 'Kunjithapatham' element to squeeze out as many jokes as it humanly could - most of which were never funny to begin with - our lead accordingly adopts a different name (Harish) and, suddenly, life is so much better. He finds himself a girl and he reaches the equilibrium he long ached for. Then, a very, very tiny problem takes us to a second half where we see an entirely different film.
Ethir Neechal has a wafer-thin plot- as in barely there. It prematurely shoots its wad and the story runs out of juice very early. There probably weren't many ways to continue this tale of a boy with an unfortunate name; thus we enter the second half where Harish decides to run a marathon to prove something. Prove what, you may ask? The film appears to have the same doubts. Hence they manufacture a completely new motive to lend a degree of gravitas to the proceedings.
As Harish trains for the marathon, we meet an uptight young girl named Valli who coaches him. She's clearly guarding a secret and spills the beans soon enough. Post-flashback, we have Harish going all Karate Kid + Rocky Balboa with his practice. The thing with sports films is you either win or you lose. Wins are usually clichéd but good films keep finding novel ways to get about it. Take Shimit Amin's Chak De India for instance. The victory of Indian Women's Hockey Team is necessary to redeem the coach who we undeniably root for. That's a film which gives its audience exactly that which it wants to see, and hence the ending works. Ethir Neechal's ending sort of works too but not without a few hiccups.
Why is it so hard to glorify a person without showing another in a bad light? While Harish trains under Valli, the one person who is hailed to win the Chennai Marathon trains under a high-profile coach who has a history with Valli. Now this competitor could have been just another good guy with motivations just as big or small as Harish's. He too could have a girlfriend and he too may be out to give his own life a purpose. But instead he is turned into a one dimensional jock who cheats to stay in the lead.
Whether Harish manages to win the marathon or not, the one clear winner of this film would be Anirudh Ravichandran. I had my doubts and was quick to brush him off as a one-hit wonder, but his soundtrack breathes life into the film. The film's music elevates the film to a point which it couldn't have reached otherwise. It is not groundbreaking and it is clearly too early to call him a replacement for some other popular composer, but his contribution certainly made Ethir Neechal a better film.
Siva Karthikeyan is very likable and the crowd loved him. For a film which speaks in length about empowerment of women, the character of its female lead Gita is surprisingly cut short to play a second fiddle to Harish. While Priya Anand lights up the screen, I would have liked to see her play a bigger role in the story. Dhanush's 'Soup boys' and Nayanthara's 'Soup girl' cameo are flavorless. But the other one near the end was probably my favorite part of the film. Watch out.view less