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By Arun Gopinath
Movies that involve the protagonists pulling off massive heists, fooling an entire system, foiling well laid security plans and escaping with humungous amounts of money in their bags have always caught our fancy. The concept of one man (or a team) going up against improbable odds to do something awe inspiring, all for the big bucks, catches our fancy. There are not too many movies in Tamil cinema that have used this premise which automatically involves the protagonist being on the wrong side of the law, even if it’s for a good purpose. The few movies which have shown the courage to put their hero up against the law and in amongst the big bucks (for better or worse) include Gentleman, Thiruda Thiruda, Sivaji,
Naanayam (debatable), Kandhasaamy (perhaps). And now, we have Mankatha. Too early to be sure of whether the film fits into this category. But, from what we have heard and understood from the trailers and other sources, it is all about 5 men fishing in murky waters to pull off a mega-heist worth Rs. 500 crores.

So, what is it that makes a good heist movie? Well, if we look into the brief collection of such movies that we have, there seem to be four factors that go towards making of one.

1. Motive: Why does the protagonist want the money for? If it is a Shankar movie, it is always for the cause of building a better society like in Gentleman or Sivaji, which automatically puts the protagonist in the good books of the audiences. So what if he is on the wrong side of the law, he just wants to help the people? The moral side of things is thus taken care of. A very good motive to go with.

But, what if the director wants to get a bit more realistic. The world has got more narcissists than Robin Hoods. Yes, keep the motto simple. The protagonist does not want to develop the society or help the needy; he just wants the most flashy cars, big houses, girls and expensive lifestyle and other whatnots; most importantly, the thrill of the quest. Something like the Ocean’s franchise. Not too good a motive to start off with because the audience wouldn’t readily sympathize with such a protagonist who will then have to rely on other factors to win them over.

2. Modus Operandi: How does he pull it off? Perhaps the most important factor of any heist movie. You can have as strong a motive as you like, but if the modus fails to interest audience, the entire movie collapses like a pack of cards. This was something Kandhasaamy taught us. The motive was top class; bring out all the black money, give it back to the poor. But, the modus went haywire, got too ‘cocky’ and fell flat on its face. Result - a movie that could not sustain interest. It is almost solely on the basis of the modus that the Ocean’s franchise saw success; moves that were clinically designed to counter every aspect of the system that they were up against. While a movie like Gentleman did not get too much into the modus, just relying on action rather than tact, Sivaji went one better, using tact and action in tandem. Naanayam was almost Hollywood like in its modus. But, if you really want to see the strength that a good modus operandi can lend to a movie, then you must have watched the Hindi movie Johnny Gaddar.

3. Conflict: Is he running away with the money or is he being given a run for his money? This is one aspect that can make or break a movie. Yes, cinema’s rule book states that the protagonist must eventually win the battle, but there must be a battle to win. There have been films that have made the mistake of making it all too easy for the protagonist. There was a point in Sivaji where it looked as if the protagonist was going to have it all his way until Shankar decided to bring in a twist which ultimately led to the appearance of Mottai Boss, which all agree is the highest point of the movie.

There are some movies which have survived solely on the basis of the conflict, like Thiruda Thiruda. Here, the protagonists knew little or nothing about the modus hatched by the antagonists, neither did they have a motive or plan, but were still unwittingly drawn into the conflict.

4. Outcome: In films where the motive is clearly spelt out, the outcome is hardly a factor, it will be predictable. There was no trouble in guessing what would be the outcome of a Gentleman or a Sivaji. The outcome becomes significant when the motive remains hidden for a good part of the movie, like in Naanayam. There, the outcome as well as the motive comes as a surprise. But, this kind of approach seldom makes up for flaws that may have surfaced in the modus operandi and conflict portions.

Objectively speaking, movies need to tick at least two of the four factors to produce entertaining stuff and it is the modus and conflict factors that carry the highest weightage. Looking at the trailers and snippets of Mankatha, it seems like a film that relies on these two more than anything else. So, how many boxes will Mankatha tick? Lets wait and watch.
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