Considering that his previous film Iyarkai(which was also his first film) was a love triangle, director Jhananathan has been bold in selecting a heavier, more ambitious and more topical subject for his follow-up feature E. But at the end of the film, after a convoluted screenplay, some uneven characterization and an overblown climax, we feel let down that he has just managed to trivialize the important issue that he selected.
E(Jeeva) lives with his grandmother in the slums, doing anything people ask him to do, as long as the money is right. Jyothi(Nayanthara), a dancer in a hotel, moves into the house opposite his and develops a liking towards him. One of the men who uses E regularly is Dr.Ramakrishna (Ashish Vidyarthi), a popular doctor who helps the poor by offering them free treatment. But in reality, he is developing a virus that could be used as a weapon and performs his research on patients who come to him for treatment.
E sure aims bigger than most Tamil movies as it tackles issues like biological warfare and pharmaceutical companies using the poorer, illiterate masses in the Third World countries as unwitting research subjects. But having picked this topic, it fails to do justice to it. It barely skims the surface of the issue and is frustrating because of that. The duppanguthu songs and the romance and the wisecracks are fine initially. But as the movie proceeds, we expect the issue to take centerstage. Instead, the focus increasingly turns to Jeeva and the movie then becomes about his character and the tough choices he has to make.
Jeeva here is certainly a very interesting protagonist. Along the lines of Tamil cinema heroes recently, he walks on the wrong side of the law and does so without trying to justify it. We are frequently surprised at his actions and behavior be it towards Nayanthara or Pasupathy. His romance with Nayanthara reflects this. The two are interesting characters very different from the usual hero and heroine in Tamil movies and the romance exploits this. While she firmly believes that she can change him, he is unable to change for the sake of love. This naturally leads to fireworks. Though the romance starts off weak, the two then have some very interesting conversations and meetings.
While the trend in Tamil cinema is to produce mostly feel-good films, Jananathan can be applauded for presenting what could be termed a “feel-bad film”. The main theme of patients being unwitting guinea pigs in illegal research is scary enough to make us view every doctor with doubt. The fact that even a few bad apples in the medical profession are enough for the scenario to come true and the truth behind some of Ashish Vidyarthi’s statements make the movie scary. There are individual scenes, like Jeeva’s trip to the morgue, that turn our stomachs with their depiction of the conditions of the place and the treatment meted out to the inhabitants. And on a physical level, there are a couple of close-ups that made me wince and avert my eyes.
We are used to our filmmakers dumbing down any new concepts that they present to the viewers. So the extravagant graphics that show how the drugs work are acceptable. We can even overlook the doctor naming his project with the not-so-subtle title “Project Bio War”! But the characterization of the bad guys could have used a little subtlety. Ashish Vidyarthi is so blatant about his acts that we feel someone so stupid could not have done all this! The movie also stumbles badly when it enters sci-fi territory towards the end. The path to a lab is so futuristic and unreal that it takes away from the realism Jhananathan had strived to bring out so far. And the final scene, with Jeeva smiling at the camera, is possibly the worst way to convey the turn of events, considering the seriousness of the issue.
Jeeva cements his reputation as a dependable performer here. He has become one of those actors who can transform himself into the character and be completely believable. With a disheveled appearance and great body language, he is completely at home as E. There is more “acting” here and he is not as natural as he was in Dishyum but he is definitely impressive. Nayanthara has a tough time fitting in with the other residents of the slum. There were reports she’s lost weight but that must’ve been after this film! She still looks plump and her moves in the Kala Kala… dance remind us of Ghajini. She looks good even sans makeup though. Pasupathy is solid as always in a role that requires him to be immobile a lot of the time. Ashish plays the doctor just as he plays any other villain and the glasses make his job easy. Karunas doesn’t try too hard for laughs and so is tolerable.