What Dhaam Dhoom tried to do, Alibaba does but with a lot more success. It has the same basic theme of an innocent man being framed and trying to clear his name but wrapped around it is a screenplay that is smart, well-paced and most of all, consistently surprising. With a new cast and director, Alibaba arrived in theaters unheralded, especially compared to another thriller, Venkat Prabhu's Saroja. But inspite of the weaker technical aspects and a less accomplished cast, it ends up as the better thriller between the two on the strength of its story and screenplay.
Velu(Krishna) is a petty thief and a key member of a small, closely-knit gang. A couple of misunderstandings make a bank employee Janani(Janani) think Velu is a do-gooder and she falls for him and her attitude makes Velu rethink his profession too. Meanwhile, young girls are being murdered in the city and the case is being handled by the Commissioner(Biju Menon).
The movie's biggest asset is the element of surprise. The director is able to consistently lull us into expecting something familiar and then surprise us by pulling an unexpected plot development out of his hat. This happens right from the first scene, which starts off in familiar fashion with Prakashraj berating his irresponsible son and his friend but then reveals something totally unexpected. And things only get better from there with the plot point that gets Krishna into big trouble being a whopper of a surprise. Red herrings, when employed, are used judiciously so that they actually work and mislead us. The director is able to keep up this combination of misdirection and surprise right upto the end and so even the most jaded cinema viewer is likely to be surprised atleast a couple of times during the movie.
The director hasn't thrown logic out the window in his quest to surprise us. He keeps a tight rein on the screenplay and develops things logically. Almost every scene(like the one where Velu breaks into a house without knowing that it's Janani's friend's house) and character(like the bank manager) has its place in the proceedings and its especially nice when something brought up in a different context(like the concept of the 'third man' or the 'fall guy') ends up gaining importance in a completely unexpected way. The technique where a particular scene leads us to infer something before other happenings shed a completely different light on it, is used here too to good effect. There are a few holes in logic and a couple of unexplained loose ends(it isn't clear how Janani finds the villain based on an old photograph) but there are covered up for the most part by the fast-paced screenplay.
A good thriller usually contains an interesting protagonist, a suspenseful story with some well-timed surprises and a fast-paced screenplay. Alibaba scores on all three points. Unfortunately, it also has the usual Tamil cinema staples like unwanted heroism(complete with an introduction song), an item number and unrealistic stunt sequences. But since these are only momentary interruptions(compared to, say, a comedy track that pops up at regular intervals), they only end up being minor irritants rather than show-stoppers or big speed-breakers.
Krishna, director Vishnuvardhan's younger brother, reminds us of S.J.Suryah in some places but we can't hold that against him. He has a dour expression most of the time but dances and fights well. Janani doesn't stand out. Prakashraj is solid as usual while Biju Menon is more impressive than usual since he doesn't attempt to play the standard bad guy. Thilakan and Radharavi play familiar characters. Neenda Mounam... is a nice melody in usual Vidyasagar style while Harey Harey Sambo... benefits from the different picturization (even if the situation reminds one of a similar situation in Subramanyapuram).