Thotti Jaya is an example of what happens when a director more comfortable directing romances tries his hand at directing an actioner. The film flows strongly and smoothly when the focus is on romance. But once the focus shifts to action, its sputters and struggles to keep our interest.
'Thotti' Jaya is the only name Jayachandran(Simbhu) goes by. Orphaned as a baby, he learned quite early that he could hit people (and hit 'em well) and that people were willing to pay good money for that. So he is now a goon of Seena Thaana(Pradeep Rawat), the biggest dada in Chennai. Forced to go into hiding to avoid the repercussions of a case, he goes to Calcutta, runs into Brinda(Gopika) and ends up escorting her back to Kanyakumari. The trip makes them both develop feelings for each other but problems crop up that make him go against his own boss.
For the first half, Thotti Jaya is a masala film. The introduction songs of Simbhu and Gopika confirm that. But it is a masala film without any masala touches. It has songs but no item numbers. It has romance but no duets, in foreign locations or otherwise. It has stunts but no special-effects-aided superhuman moves. And it has no comedy. These aspects, or rather, the lack of these aspects, make it a rather unique masala film pre-intermission. It is consistently involving, introduces likeable characters and fashions their interactions in a believable manner.
Director Durai proved in Mugavari(and to a lesser extent in Kaadhal Sadugudu) that fashioning a sweet and believable romance was his strength and he confirms that here. Thotti Jaya's romance is one of the best romances I remember seeing in a masala film. Though the basic circumstances, the timing and the reasons are the same as in Gilli, the romance here is even more believable. The way Simbhu and Gopika behave is very credible and in line with their characters. They hardly speak a few words to each other but the way Simbhu understands her requirements and does the needful is very sweet. And Gopika's reactions are measured and never over-the-top(her glance at Simbhu and her body language when she comes out of the restroom in the train look so natural) . So the feelings they experience at the end of the journey are very believable and the way the feelings are haltingly conveyed is very nice.
Durai is completely out of his league in the second half though. With romance out of the way and the battle between Simbhu and Pradeep now gaining top priority, he struggles to move the story forward. The movie is reduced to a series of sequences of Simbhu and Gopika running to a new place and fighting with the rowdies at that place. And many of those elements that were missing in the first half find their way into the movie too. So we get an item number, a folksy duet that sticks out like a sore thumb and unnecessary characters. These elements may go unnoticed usually but after a first half that was very different, the presence of these is more than a little irritating.
There are a few places(like the way Simbhu fashions his escape from the terrace of an apartment complex) that the movie shows signs of some cleverness. But those are too few and too far apart to rescue the film. It sinks under the weight of the one-too-many stunts and other unnecessary distractions. In retrospect, what the second half needed was a director like Dharani who mixed brain and brawn equally in similar situations in movies like Dhill, Dhool and Gilli.
Bearded Simbhu looks scarily like his dad in many scenes. But he confirms that Manmadhan wasn't just a flash in the pan when it comes to performing a role realistically. There is no finger-swishing and no punch dialogs here either. He is very restrained and lets his hands do the talking. Gopika spends most of the movie looking scared and running away from the bad guys. But she does do that well. Her sore point is obviously dancing. Pradeep Rawat is unnecessarily loud and gets on the nerves(he could've taken some pointers from Kanaa Kanden's Prithviraj). And his get up makes him look like the bhootham in those old Vittalacharya movies!
The movie has one song(Gopika's group song) that wasn't part of the soundtrack but it isn't anything special. On the other hand, I don't think Yaaridamum... appeared in the film. Uyire En Uyire... is picturized pleasingly and plays in the background instead of being picturized as a conventional duet. The cinematography matches the serious mood of the movie. Black and other dark colors dominate the palette and the atmosphere is gritty.
First half - Vetri Jaya
Second half - Vetti Jaya