Bairavaa, written and directed by Bharathan, has a few things – just a few things – that work (at least in the sense of interesting concepts that deserved far better execution). A fight scene where Bairavaa (Vijay) is pelted with packets of petrol. A scene where a disgustingly misogynistic teacher is taught a lesson. A courtroom episode where Bairavaa launches into a monologue about the System. (It’s the only time Vijay looks invested in the proceedings.)
Otherwise, Bairavaa is what happens when someone tosses in a bunch of must-have mass-movie ingredients into a mixie and forgets to add spice and seasoning. We get the comic sidekick (Sathish), and then the hero introduction, and then we get a heroine (Keerthy Suresh) who demonstrates her heroine-ness by smiling and feeding a little girl a spoonful of ice cream, and then we get duets, fights, Thirunelveli accents that appear and disappear like a magician’s trick, and then we get a senior villain (Jagapathi Babu) and a junior villain (Daniel Balaji), and U certificate-worthy action scenes like the one where the hero sticks a knife in an enemy’s throat.
And we get lectures. About how a husband should behave with his wife. About how an educator should go about his duties. Even about the futility of saving money. Yes, that’s right. In these demonetised times, Bairavaa says money that’s saved up is like cold food in the fridge. You have to be like a hunter, always after fresh kill. It’s only when you have a zero balance that there’s a spring in the step when you face the challenges of a new day. I’m probably getting the metaphors all mixed up, but surely I’m not the only one flabbergasted at the irony of these words coming from an actor whose salary makes the rest of our bank accounts look like a zero balance.
But that’s what a mass star does. That’s what a mass star has been doing from the days of MGR, making us believe that a real life have is an on-screen have-not. As a reminder, we get a nod to an MGR number (Budhdhan Yesu Gandhi pirandhadhu), where the actor claimed that the reason those great souls were born was for the poor, like him and those around him. And then come the nods to Rajinikanth, the other major mass star who trod a similar path. Enkitta modhaadhey from Rajadhi Raja. Then, from Sivaji, a reworking of the coin toss and the plot point about the corruptions surrounding private educational institutions. And from Kabali, a punch line modelled after “magizhchi” (this one goes “sirappu… miga sirappu”) and Santhosh Narayanan’s Neruppu da-like anthem (this one goes Varlaam varlaam vaa) that aims to bring the audience to their feet every few minutes.
In other words, this riff does the screenplay’s job. It quickens the pulse at least till the scene begins and we realise even the riff cannot save it. There are no memorable punch lines and even the major why (aka the Shankar Flashback™) is answered a little into the first half. Why not prolong the revelation (however underwhelming) to the second half, so there’s some semblance of mystery? And the production values are non-existent. Compare Bairavaa with Chiranjeevi’s new film, which looks like every scene has been polished with Brasso. (There may be nothing for the brain, but there’s lots for the eye