There can be such a thing as being too good for your own good. Madhavan is a case in point: the classy metro-centric loverboy of Tamil cinema, and the apple of Mani Rathnam's eye, is arguably the most versatile "hero" of his generation (speaking of the Hindi and Tamil film industries), and there isn't much on the hero-terrain he can't do well. Don't believe me? Down-to-earth young lover/husband in classy flick (Alai Payuthey) -- Check. Middle-class loverboy (Minnale) -- Check. Angry young crusader-professor (Lesa Lesa) -- Check. Smoldering thinker/activist-type (Kannathil Muthamittal and Guru) -- Check. Masala action/lovestory hero (Run) -- Check. Comic relief/sentimentality (Dumm Dumm Dumm & Nala Damayanti/Ramji Londonwaale) -- Check. Rotten family "social"/weepie (Priyasakhi). Massy messiah (Thambi) -- Check. Out-and-out goonda and man-child (Aayitha Ezhuthu) -- Check. And... you get the picture; I could keep at this all night if I wanted. You see, I'm the kind of guy with time on his hands -- time enough to watch Rendu. And the moral of the story I began with is, if you can do just about anything onscreen, people will have you do Rendu. And that isn't a good thing: for the first half of Rendu is not a gripping masala movie like Run, it's crassy fare that figures if it aims for your feet it might be aiming too high (the second half is much better, but not by enough to redeem the film).
But that being said, who can blame Maddy for doing the film? Thambi and Rendu have been his most successful films in recent times, and more importantly than their grosses, both have won approval for Maddy from quarters he was a stranger to, namely the relatively small centers of Tamil Nadu (Thambi apparently did not do well at all in Chennai and among Maddy's relatively well-heeled fan-base, but made up for it with moolah at the other end of the spectrum; Rendu was a solid performer all over, though spectacular nowhere,and even that is pretty creditable given how uninspiring the film is). This broadening of his base is probably good news for Madhavan (if -- a big if -- he can get the right sort of project to appeal to segments in multiple audiences), though bad news for those who would rather see him do Rathnam's brand of cinema alone.
That bunch does not include me -- there just aren't enough such films around, and the ones that are don't secure sufficient patronage to encourage many others (though in Maddy's case, turning down Kaakha Kaakha couldn't have helped his cause on the relatively classy film-front). After all, who am I kidding? The target audience of Rendu is me. That is to say, this is the sort of film one watches simply for the star at its epicenter (and it could feature any one of a number of heros without changing much in the script; the only thing that would change would be the number of fans who would go to watch it), not for anything quaint such as a fresh story, chracterization, etc. And on that front, Rendu does not disappoint: for the second time in a year, Madhavan essays a role that should by rights be beyond him as a creative matter -- tailor-made for the likes of bigger stars, or among lesser stars, for those with far longer masala/action pedigrees -- and for the second time in a year, Maddy pulls it off without breaking a sweat. And does it with his most "Bollywood"(in the sense of 1980s Bollywood-ishtyle) performance ever in a Tamil film, a turn more informed by the Amitabh Bachchan of the 1980s than anything else I have seen from him (think Khuddar, Barsaat ki Ek Raat and the younger Amitabh of Aakhree Raasta, not Shakti or Kaalia). That weird cross-cultural juxtaposition alone -- of Hindi cinema's greatest overman persona refracted through Kartik, Tamil cinema's impish everyman hero from two decades ago, makes Rendu worth watching. Sadly, not much else does (though Tamil audiences evidently disagree with me, as Vadivelu's comedy was a big draw).
The plot too is something out of a Hindi film from a bygone era: someone is brutally killing people who appear to be unrelated to each other, the date and time of the next murder affixed to each corpse. Meanwhile, Sakthi (Madhavan) is your everyday boy from the boondocks who's come to the big city to make a living, which he does working for his uncle Kirikalam (Vadivelu) a fairground magician, and not a very successful one at that. While there, Sakthi spends most of his time romancing Velli (Reema Sen), the fairground's star attraction. Not to mention that being a typical Joe, Sakthi is eminently capable of taking on 100 rowdies all by his lonesome. The action switches between Sakthi's romance and Kirikalam's comic capers on the one hand (one might even say the Maddy-Vadivelu pair is more engaging than the Maddy-Reema Sen couple), and the mysterious murders and the investigator (K. Bhagyaraj, decidedly awful) on their trail. The two stories come together when we catch sight of the killer, also Madhavan, and the police figure out that his next target is going to be "Petrol" Shankar, the goon who wants Velli for himself. One exhilarating 100% masala action sequence -- amidst moving traffic between Sakthi and Petrol Shankar -- later, the cat is truly among the pigeons, and soon enough Sakthi stands implicated in the murders, shortly after the audience appreciates that even three years after Run, Maddy still incarnates explosive violence in damn compelling fashion (the wild eyes and uninhibited punches help). What happens next? What's the deal here? How's this for a hint: "Rendu" in Tamil means "two".
The second Madhavan is Kannan, a killer with a happy past -- as an improbable yuppie -- devastated by the men he targets in the present; and the actor certainly does his first-ever double role justice in the scenes where the two Madhavans meet. Each is very different from the other, in ways both obvious and subtle. Kannan is blind and light-eyed (stick your hand up in the air if you're reminded of the second Amitabh from Satte pe Satta), but it's about more than just the gimmicks here -- Maddy even has Kannan carry himself differently from Sakthi in a way that just seems effortlessly natural. And, unlike Sakthi, one never feels for Kannan despite the justification presented for his vengeance by way of a flashback: the Kannan of the present is cold and relentless, denying the audience access to empathy. [Maddy is by no means flawless, and is less able to meaningfully enact the difference between the romantic Sakthi and Kannan in the latter's frolics with the fetching Jothy (Anushka Shetty) in his flashback; the two Maddys merge into a familiar persona in the songs, and while that's probably par for the course in a script that hardly features the best-developed characters, it is nevertheless the most incongruous thing about Madhavan's performance here.]
The end? If you need to ask...
The song videos are pleasing enough, but unimaginatively picturized and far from fresh. The same could be said of D. Imman's music, which is utterly derivative of A.R. Rahman in its orchestral gestures (though sadly not in its beauty or its nuance), and utterly unmemorable: the one exception is the fairly catchy "Yaaro Yevano" song. [Speaking of song videos: The director's representation of his heroines owes much to the contemporary Bollywood aesthetic of much exposure without even a shred of any genuine eroticism (sexuality for the puerile, sadly).]
Both Sundar C's direction and the script are unfailingly crude in the film's first half, although the film definitely picks up once Kannan well and truly enters the proceedings. Sundar C. is on much surer ground in the dramatic/action-oriented sequences: the Sakthi-Petrol Shankar fight has been mentioned above, and is better than the rest of the film; another delightful moment follows when Sakthi is being tortured by policemen who think he is Kannan. When a cop snarls that he has seen Sakthi kill a man with his own eyes, the battered Sakthi beckons him closer before breathing: "Wear specs" (seetis and taalis obligatory). The moment is telling, driving home the point that a convincing performance in this sort of role does not require acting naturalism so much as it does panache and a command over the gesturality of masala cinema. Maddy has both here; Sundar C. could have used even one.
But as should be obvious, there is nothing much to complain about (I whinge only because Maddy's talents should be put to better use): Rendu is a no-frills masala movie that is enjoyable enough if watched with low expectations and an appreciation for the pleasures afforded by its lead hero -- both avatars of him. No more, but certainly no less.