Director - Radha Mohan
Producer - Prakash Raj
Cast - Nagarjuna, Prakash Raj, Bharat Reddy, MS Bhaskar, Thalaivasal Vijay, Brahmanandam, Sana Khan, Rishi, Kumaravel, Prithviraj, Poonam Kaur Chaams, Mano Bala & others.
Background Score - Pravin Mani
Cinematography - KV Guhan
Editor - Kishore
Art Director - Kathir
Story, Screenplay - Radha Mohan
Dialogues - TJ Gnanavel
Release Date - 11th February 2011
Radha Mohan is known for making feel good family entertainers like Azhagiya Theeyae, Mozhi & Abhiyum Naanum. Through his latest film Payanam, he has made an engaging, realistic hijack drama with all commercial elements (romance, comedy, heroism, sentiments) in place, and that too, with a Superstar in the lead. Telugu Superstar Nagarjuna and the Superstar among character actors, Prakash Raj, lead the brilliant cast of the movie.
A Chennai - New Delhi flight is hijacked by 5 terrorists and while diverting it to Pakistan, they have to land at Tiruppati, Andhra Pradesh due to a technical fault in the flight. They demand the release of the international terrorist Yusuf Khan & Rs. 100 crores to release the hostages in the flight and the Indian Government is given a little less than 2 days to make the decision whether to accept their demands or face the consequences. Led by Vishwanath, Home Secretary (Prakash Raj), the National Security Advisor's team land in Tiruppathi airport to negotiate with the terrorists and soon after the NSG team and Major Raveendran (Nagarjuna) are also summoned to tackle the situation. How Vishwanath & Raveendran go about doing that is what Payanam tells in its 2 Hours 15 Minutes running time.
There are a bunch of interesting characters in the film, most of them being the people who're trapped inside the flight. And the interactions between them takes up majority of the screen time of the film. Each person gives a different emotional side to the movie. While the priest provides faith that there is someone watching over them all, the retired colonel is on the lookout for any solution to the tense situation. The 'Shining Star' chickens out on the sight of a cockroach thereby shattering the image of a terrorist-bashing superhero that his ardent fan seated next to him had. An atheist youth believes in compassion and humanity more than God and the petrified astrologer seated next to him believes that the flight is going through a bad time. A charming but sarcastic doctor and a beautiful young lady strike a chord with each other over a time period. A little Pakistani girl going back to her country after a successful surgery in Chennai finds a friend among one of the terrorists whom she later begins to hate because of their actions. There is even a mimicry artist who entertains the people inside in spite of the tension looming in the air. There is a central minister who is the trump card for the terrorists and an old Brahmin couple who're trying to pacify a young wife who has run away from her husband. A drug addict who believes he can escape from all this and the airhostess who serves her passengers and makes sure of their well being despite being trapped. Even the terrorists have distinct characterizations. On the other side, the bureaucrat and the NSG chief try hard to find a solution for the problem at their office in the airport, stuck in between the growing threats from the terrorists and the indecisiveness of the Indian Government. Each character grows on you as the narrative progresses and by the end of the film, each one of them is a hero/heroine in his/her own respect.
Among the performances, Prakash Raj takes the cake as the Home Secretary who acts as a mediator between the terrorists and the Indian Government. He handles himself with control throughout the situation despite going through a hell lot of frustration from the people involved on both sides. And his performance in the scene where he explodes with anger after remaining in control for such a long time is simply mindblowing. Nagarjuna making his comeback to Tamil Cinema after a long 15 years is excellent. He is wonderfully restrained and is stripped off of his mass-hero antics which he is famous for in Telugu. His subtle performance packs a solid punch and he shows that you need not go out there and utter silly lines and do unbelievable fights to show that you're a hero (its funny that such a hero is also there in the movie, sitting inside the flight, petrified of the things around him). My respect for him as an actor has grown tremendously after watching this movie. Dr. Bharath Reddy provides the required support to his character as his sub-ordinate Nawaz Khan. Each one of the people trapped inside the flight played their parts perfectly - the best ones being Kumaravel (perhaps Radha Mohan's favourite actor after Prakash Raj), MS Bhaskar, Thalaivasal Vijay, Prithviraj, Chaams, Poonam Kaur & Rishi. The famous Telugu comedian Brahmanandam comes back to Tamil Cinema after his hilarious role in Mozhi and gives us a few great light moments to divert our minds from the tense situation in the second half. The actor who played Yusuf Khan was also very good.
Radha Mohan addresses a whole lot of issues with cleverly written scenes and dialogues. He showcases the myriad of emotions which the passengers go through trapped in a life or death situation and also the angst of two dedicated officers who wants immediate action, but are tied down by the policies of a diplomatic government which wants to play safe. There are references to the insensitivity of the media who just wants to sensationalize issues for their TRP ratings before thinking about the consequences. Unexpected twists make the narrative more interesting, leading up to a nail biting finale which leaves you completely satisfied. There is a slight inspiration from last year's quirky indie flick Tere Bin Laden and that has been used very effectively to take the narrative forward at a crucial turning point. Radha Mohan has proved that he is an extremely versatile director who can handle sensitive subjects in an entertaining format, no matter what the genre is. There is a slight romance which buds between Rishi & Sana Khan; the hilarious conversations between the star Chandrakanth and his ardent fan who is disappointed seeing the actual avatar of his favourite hero; the friendship between the little Pakistani girl & the young terrorist who still hasnt turned as cold blooded as his colleagues and many more such wonderful moments.
KV Guhan's camerawork captures the emotions of each character in their most minute details. The claustrophobic atmosphere inside the flight has been wonderfully recreated by art director Kathir and cinematographer KV Guhan. Editor Kishore keeps the pace of the movie engaging even when it takes detours to flashbacks and comic scenes. Background score by Pravin Mani has helped a lot to enhance the overall mood and feel of the film.
Overall, Payanam is an excellently made engaging hijack drama with fantastic performances ranging from the stars Nagarjuna & Prakash Raj to the most minor junior artists and a whole range of emotions that the principal characters go through, thereby making the audience completely involved with them. No songs, dances, punch dialogues and foreign locales, yet a completely satisfying film in the commercial cinema format. Payanam is indeed a must watch.
P.S. - Mr. Major Ravi, please watch this movie to see how a person with no connections to the army or commandos has effectively handled a hijack drama, despite it being his first attempt in such a genre. And how he has inserted other elements of comedy, sentiments, heroism, patriotism, compassion and romance seamlessly into his narrative. Not by including item songs, toilet humour and unwanted scenes like you did in the movie you made on a similar subject. And look how he has used a superstar effectively without giving him mass hero antics, unlike you who had two of India's best actors with you and let them and their fans down terribly.
Rating - 4/5