I’ve always maintained that it’s the screenplay that makes or breaks a film. You could assemble interesting characters, burden them with legitimate problems and introduce some suspense with respect to the eventual resolution the relationships between them. But without a smooth, gripping screenplay that ties all these together, the result is a disjoint, uninvolving film. Case in point - ABCD.
Like Pepsi (which was then renamed to Ullam Ketkume), ABCD too is named after the first letter of the names of its four main characters - Anand(Shaam), an unemployed MBA graduate who stays at a rental house; Bharathi(Nandana Kumar), who opts out of her wedding when the suitor’s parents ask for dowry; Chandra(Sneha), who is a widow but a relieved one since she is free from the clutches of her sadistic husband; and Divya(Aparna), an orphan who has been raised by a nun. The three women run into Anand under different circumstances and become his friends.
The very fact that ABCD is a character-driven film makes it different from other recent releases. The characterization tends to be a bit extreme(especially in the case of Shaam) but the director sculpts four characters who are different from each other and makes the events in their life seem believable. In other words, the characters may not be realistic but if they exist, these events could happen in their lives. It is easy to accept the actions of Sneha, Nandana and Aparna and it is perfectly understandable when they fall in love with Shaam. They may be very different from one another but they are looking for the same thing in life.
The relationships Shaam shares with these women are also portrayed elegantly. Sneha gets the most screen time among the three women and so it is natural that her segment has the most effect. It is given time to develop and is the most eventful. Shaam at time appears to be leading the women on but this is necessary since the key question driving the movie is who he will be united with in the end. But the presence of some convenient supporting characters makes the final outcome a little predictable.
Director Saravana Subbiah seems like a man who knows where he wants to go but not how to get there. He has a plan for how the movie should proceed but hasn’t thought much about how to push in that direction. So he comes up with extraneous characters and inane situations that serve no purpose other than to set the stage for the next scene. For instance, he wants to put Shaam and Sneha in an uncomfortable situation. So he invents an uncle for Shaam and makes Shaam worry in the middle of the night about a lie he told the uncle! Scenes like this are scattered throughout the film and pretty much kill its flow.
Further damaging the smooth flow of the film is the way it is structured. Almost the entire story consists of Shaam interacting with the three women. So we get segments that simply portray Shaam’s meetings with Sneha, Nandana and Aparna, one after the other. Added to that is Vadivelu’s comedy track which, though it has a flimsy link to the main story, is essentially a separate track. So the film has an episodic feel. All that is missing is a title card for each segment with the episode number, in Tamil megaserial-style!
A character-driven film like this needs to be fairly realistic for it to work. It needs to give us the feeling that we are watching a slice of real life on the screen. But ABCD fails to do this. The relationships between the protagonists are depicted fairly neatly and without much melodrama but there are just too many unrealistic things (like, a girl has an accident that requires surgery but then goes out on her Scooty a couple of days later!) that jump out at us. These are admittedly small things that I wouldn’t even be talking about in a masala flick. But when the director’s aim is to present a relationship-oriented film where sentiments and emotions have precedence, these things stand out and affect our involvement in the film.
The film has quite a collection of bad performances and Sneha is the only relief. She is as natural as actresses get and her face is able to switch expressions at a moment’s notice. She is easily the best actress working today. Shaam seems to have mistaken ‘good’ to mean ‘pazham’. His voice is strangely nasal and without any modulation and his dialog delivery is irritating at times. Nandana has a rather odd walk and while her voice bristles when delivering all those dialogs, her face fails to match the intensity. Aparna (is she the same actress who was the heroine in Pudhukkottaiyilirindhu Saravanan?) has probably the weakest role among the three actresses but she looks pretty and is adequate. The actor playing Sneha’s father delivers almost every line with a sad voice and overacts.
There are a number of small songs scattered throughout the film. The duet between Shaam and Nandana has the weirdest picturization I’ve seen in any movie this year. Its picturized with sepia overtones and for some reason, includes images of a toddler flying over some buildings. It is actually quite creepy!