In a way, Indian cinema was one of the pioneers of 3D cinema. When it was yet to catch up as a prominent visual medium all over the world, Malayalam produced My Dear Kuttichathan. But, then somehow, it all faded off and then we were reintroduced to the charms of 3D through the Hollywood wave, which was then adopted in a smaller measure by Bollywood. Nowadays, we have a 3D movie releasing almost every month. Somehow, 3D is becoming a technology that is being used just for the sake of it, as a default measure for a big budget flick. We have seen quite a few English movies in recent times that had no business using 3D but did it all the same. Even Bollywood was not far behind, we saw Don 2 being released in 3D; one could never understand the reason behind a normal action movie being released in 3D. It is in such times, when the marquee appeal of 3D has been heavily diluted by indiscriminate use, that we get the first ever Tamil production in 3D – Ambuli.
First thing about Ambuli: it is not a movie that has incorporated 3D technology just because it is trending in the international market. The makers have a clear vision about the nature of the film and the way in which 3D can enhance the experience. Ambuli is a cleverly spun tale that keeps you on your toes; it keeps you guessing about whether it is a myth or reality; until the precise moment where the director decides to unveil it. Set in the 1970s with a couple of flashbacks into the 60s and the 50s, Ambuli tracks the truth behind a phenomenon that has plagued an entire village for more than 20 years. It contains several scenes that will have you on the edge of your seats; some that will intrigue and interest you; and a few portions that will really have you thinking about the various directions in which the story could move.
The intentions are very clear; to make a thriller that borders on horror. They have got that fine line right. It is not merely a thriller with a whodunit element to it; the movie is not all about suspense and how it is cracked; it also contains a generous amount of scenes where there is clear and present danger from an unknown entity – which is what puts it above a thriller. But, the makers have refrained from going too far with those elements. Sometimes, film makers commit the mistake of creating artificial thrills with manipulative camera angles and blaring background scores; when actually there is nothing. Such styles wear the audience down and make them passive to the real stuff, if and when it happens. The makers of Ambuli have got the balance right. There were plenty of locations and situations in the film where there would have been temptations to sneak in an eerie top angle shot or one from behind the characters, just to add excitement; they have refrained from it. And hence, Ambuli ends up as a thriller which thrills only at the right moments and stops short of being a graphic scream parade; which is a very good thing.
Some things about Ambuli that have to be appreciated are the scripting; to keep the audience guessing about whether it is all a myth or something real, without boring them is quite a good achievement. However, a little less time could have been spent on the romantic angles. While the first romance is necessary for the story, the second one could have been avoided with a bit of tweaking; and the second duet definitely looks out of place. Places where the script really impresses includes those few minutes where the truth behind the mystery is unravelled simultaneously by two groups. The cuts between these two groups have been really well timed. Also, very interesting are the flashback portions involving a British scientist and an Indian woman; filmed with a feeling of eerie reality. The tones adopted here are really good. On the flip side of the script; one feels that the mystery could have been brought out a bit earlier; it could at least have been revealed to the audience before the characters got to it. What happens with such a late revelation is that the final conflict looks sporadic and short lived. When the film is all about that mystery, the script must have given more screen time to it. But, here, 90% of the script is given to the stories behind it and the process of finding out the truth. Ironically, in the film titled Ambuli, Ambuli appears only for 5 minutes or more. And, with such a lengthy build up towards it, one feels that the makers should have spent more resources and effort to make the revelation look even more imposing.
Technically, one must talk first about the use of 3D in the movie. The initial scene really impresses; almost everything on screen seems to be reachable. But, the effect soon wears off and you get only the odd instance of a really good 3D effect. There was plenty of scope for some imaginative use of 3D to create a few gasps amongst the audience, but it is never really used. Apparently, My Dear Kuttichathan is still the benchmark on this front. Otherwise, camera work is really good. There are a lot of portions that occur at night and the lighting in all these portions is just right. The picturisation of songs however, barring the first one, seems half baked. Art really gives you the period feel; though a bit more care could have been taken about the architecture chosen in some shots. The BGM sounds good, but cannot be termed special. Dialogues make an impression at places; like the voice over in the flashback.
The performances in the movie are a definite plus. The newcomers have acquitted themselves really well. The young man playing the college watchman’s son scores the most amongst the group. Jagan surprises you with a pretty serious character of a rebel villager; the moment you see him on screen, you get ready for a few laughs, but he changes the mood very soon. It is nice to see Bosskey with some hair, even though we know it is a wig. Uma Riyaz Khan makes an impact with just a few scenes. Thambi Ramaiah, the British scientist and the lady playing Jagan’s grandmother all add strength to the movie. It is only Parthipan’s character that seems under-sketched; even though he tries to make up with his imposing screen presence.
Ambuli is definitely a pioneer in Tamil cinema. We finally have a 3D film; and we know a few biggies are set to follow, but Ambuli will be remembered as the first. It has an intelligent script, which keeps you guessing, plenty of interesting moments and some thrills. Of course, it also has its downsides; a somewhat forced climax, a clichéd way of promising a sequel and the revelation not quite matching the big things that were said about it. But, it still remains a movie that will entertain you and perhaps spook kids a bit. Overall, it has the grip of a thriller and the charm of a grandmother’s tale or folklore.
Verdict: 3D, thrills and suspense experience: between ‘not bad’ and ‘good’