For being Tamil cinema's controversy kid, Silambarasan TR is also an enterprising man, going by the way in which he's spent 2020. Right in the middle of a COVID-induced lockdown, he acted in Gautham Menon's short film Karthik Dial Seitha Yen, a fairly unique endeavour for its time (even though he played the same nagging man-child role). A few months later, he's back on the silver screen this weekend in Eeswaran " as a remarkably different, but largely the same actor.
When he first appears on screen, lungi-clad, carrying a cricket bat, folding his hands in both prayer and greeting, we can't resist rooting for him. He looks fresh, with a skip in his step and a spark in his smile. It's not just that he has lost weight " which he has " but also that he's less sombre and sulky than his recent outings. He hasn't changed much in any other way, though. His introduction sequence is an elaborate show in self-aggrandising. So is the rest of the film.
Eeswaran is the story of Periyasamy's large family and their internal squabbles, almost Pandiraj-esque in writing and treatment. These villagers are landowners, who video chat with their families, drive fancy cars, travel abroad and interact with the political and the powerful. The characters, though there are many, feel grounded in reality, their quarrels have a realistic ridiculousness about them.
The eponymous Eeswaran, played by Silambarasan, is Periyasamy's favourite orphan, he works around the village and takes care of the old man. Silambarasan shines as the omnipotent handyman, he's both mythical and real at the same time. Little is written for him to perform, all he needs to do is crack a few jokes, tame a few snakes and break a few human bones, which he does adequately, in parts even engagingly.
Bharathiraja, who plays Periyasamy, brings both maturity and fragility to his role. Manoj, his son in real-life, who plays the younger Periyasamy is a pleasant surprise. Bala Saravanan as Kutti Puli, Eeswaran's comedy sidekick feels just right " a welcome change to those of us used to seeing VTV Ganesh with Silambarasan. Kali Venkat has a fun cameo too.
In bringing together this colourful and relatable cast of characters, Suseenthiran scores. But that's that. Once he's established the milieu, he doesn't know where to take the film.
The love track is so pointless that it stands out as a sore thumb in an otherwise grounded film. Nidhhi Agerwal looks horribly out of place " do we still need fair, thin, unable-to-lip-sync northerners to be our heroines? For all the Tamil pride we're fed, don't Tamil women belong?
For someone who had two releases on the same day, poor Nidhhi Agerwal has been served the worst deal. Thank god for Nandita Swetha's track narrated off, we couldn't have survived that. Eeswaran's own backstory is obvious and ordinary. There are two villains: One within the family and one from outside. Neither of them stand a chance in front of the omnipotent hero, so we just wait for it all to be over.
By Silambarasan standards, in the line of films like Anbanavan Asaradhavan Adangadhavan (2017), Vantha Rajavathaan Varuven (2019) and the damp squib of a role in Chekka Chivantha Vaanam (2018), Eeswaran is fairly tolerable. With finger-snapping mannerisms, self-aware humour and some Dhanush-bashing, it might even satisfy the fans. For the rest of us, Eeswaran is sour buttermilk in a new bottle.