Don (2022 Tamil) Review: Well That Was a Funny Movie That Turned Sappy and Stupid

We decided to skip Jayeshbhai Jordaar in favor of the Tamil release in hopes of more insanity and entertainment. The songs were great, and it let us NOT think about reproductive rights, so it was the right decision. But turns out the new Tamil release is all preachy too!

I generally prefer Tamil and Telugu films in theaters. Unlike Hindi films lately, they are still committed to the theatrical experience. Big spectacle onscreen, slow start so you can find seats, quick end so you get out and get to your car right away, lots of sing along and cheer and boo bits. This movie has allllllllllllllllllllllll of that, so fun in theaters. But it is also kind of a mess, so probably not fun at all at home on streaming.

Sivakarthikeyan (SK) does a decent job with the lead, especially in the bits when he is an overly smart prankster. But when he turns sincere in the last third, he also turns just BLAH. Our heroine, similarly, has some fun bits in the lighter half and then becomes dull in the second. I saw her before in Gang Leader and she had way more interesting things to do there. The villain actors S.J. Suryah and Samuthirakani are miles better than the hero and heroine (and I know I have seen both of them in dozens of other movies, and was expecting them to be good when I recognized their faces). But unfortunately, their characters are also the ones who make THE LEAST SENSE, so all their brilliant performance ends up being kind of wasted.

The biggest problem is the director. Pretty sure this story is autobiographical or semi-autobiographical, and he falls into the tempting trap of making himself the hero and Most Important Person. The hero’s journey in this narrative is just not that interesting, and yet it is being treated as Most Relatable and Interesting Thing EVER.

Also, again, the narrative is a MESS. Which surprises me because it is the director’s first film and supposedly he had been working on this script for years. Also, he was assistant director to Atlee, and Atlee does fabulous narratives. Not believable, but you can follow them and they bounce along and they are INTERESTING. In this movie, there are so many late reveal flashbacks that every plot point we thought we understood gets upended. And then there is the tone problem.

The best part of this movie is the Campus Comedy bit. The satire about for profit colleges, student hijinks, defeating teachers/campus rivals, even the Function Performance is kind of fun. And then it moves into this super sincere direction, as though the comedy never happened. Makes me wonder if the script was written as entirely sincere and then Sivakarthikeyan signed on and insisted on adding comedy for his Brand. Or, alternatively, it was written as a dark satire and then sincerity was forced on to it to make it more pallatable. However it happened, it feels like a “too many cooks spoil the broth” problem. A very common problem with film, since it is such a collaberative art form, and always frustrating. Why couldn’t the cook who put in the good bits be in charge of the whole broth! Why do I have these little packets of flavor in the midst of gross!

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

Whole plot:

Our hero SK since he was a little boy has resented his father Samuthirakani for showing him now love or mercy, and constantly driving him to succeed in school. Culminating in him planning to go to arts college, and his Dad taking a loan to buy his way into a not-very-good for profit engineering school. He arrives at school to learn the sadistic discipline chair S.J. Suryah refuses to allow students to have any fun at all, no extra curriculars, no sports, no clubs, and no male and female students speaking to each other. He manages to get S.J. Suryah to quit and becomes “Don” of the college just in time for a transfer student, Priyanka Arul Mohan to arrive. Flashback reveals that Priyanka was his high school sweetheart but they broke up because he was afraid of his Dad. They get back together, and SK finally finds his goal in love, making films. He decides to enter a short film competition using guerilla filming on campus. S.J. Suryah is back and SK manipulates the students in order to reveal the flaws in the academic system. This culminates with a fake shooting incident that leads to S.J. injuring himself in shock at what happened. SK is shaken by what happened and it makes him re-assess himself. And then his father burns the copies of the film and he is furious. His mother gives him a speech about how his father really loved him all along, SK is ready to forgive his father and then his Dad DIES!!! Now suddenly SK decides to make a film about the enduring love of a father for his child, also goes to meet with S.J. who presents himself as “if you just ask for forgiveness, I will forgive you”, wins the short film competition with his dad-love movie, and 10 years later is a huge success and credits it all to his father and his teachers.

First half of this movie, I am alllllllllllllllllllllllll about it. For profit engineering schools are a sham, too restrictive student rules at a college are both immoral (they are adult people, they should not be punished for what they do outside of the classroom) and unproductive (does not lead to good grades to be constantly scared and stressed), and it isn’t parental love to drive your child towards a career they are unsuited for instead of trying to figure out where they can succeed. By the time he gets to the point of making a short film and encouraging all his friends to ask questions in class until they understand, thus revealing that the flaw is not in the students but in the teachers, I am alllllllllllllll about this movie.

My sister is a college professor, and I know a lot of the readers here have taught in one capacity or another. A good teacher WANTS questions. Will actually reward questions, and visits to office hours, as part of your grade. A good teacher knows that students aren’t learning if they aren’t questioning, and their goal is to teach the students. These degree mills encourage the idea that it is up to the student to work hard and study from the book and if they fail, it is their fault for not working hard enough. There is no responsibility to the school, or the teachers, for helping the students to succeed. The movie in this section points out something that I can’t remember seeing addressed before in a film. Even if a student WANTS to succeed, and asks the teacher questions, heck even if the teacher truly wants to explain things to them, the class size at these kinds of colleges, and the total lack of teaching training for the teachers, means it is literally not possible. 60 students, 1 professor, no training in good teaching techniques, the only people who can possibly learn are the ones who would be learning from the textbook anyway. The movie points out that the teachers at these schools have less actual teaching training than any regular school teacher, AND tend to have merely Masters degrees from the same kind of degree mills where they are now teaching.

This isn’t to say that a degree from these schools with high marks means a student can’t do an engineering job. But it does mean that if your child is already failing all engineering related subjects, paying through the nose to send them to this school is not going to magically make them succeed. They may manage to graduate, sure, but with the glut on the market of engineers, no one without super high marks is going to get a job and the teachers are not going to help them get high marks.

So, all great points! Plus, we have our hero who truly WANTED an arts degree and was shoved into engineering for no reason, and now is trying to become a filmmaker despite having no training. And succeeds at it too! So if his Dad had listened to him and sent him to an arts college, he could have been a success that much sooner and with less effort.

But nooooooooooooooooooooo. Ultimately, we can’t say “sometimes Dad’s are just bozos” or even “sometimes teachers are truly unqualified and just get off on torturing young people”. So in the last third, suddenly we forgive Dad because he worked hard just so his son could go to college, oh tragic Dad! And the teacher who wanted to destroy young people’s lives, who gleefully and imaginatively tortured them, turns out to just want them to succeed all along.

This makes NO SENSE. I think we can agree, as sane people, that a father can want his son to have a profitable career and still be a BAD DAD. Just saying “oh but he wanted the best for you” doesn’t erase him beating you, shaving your head, and never showing any hint of pride or affection or even positive reinforcement. I hate the idea of “I forgive you parent because you were nice to me in one context one time” which seems to be the rule of Indian films. Abuse is abuse, being nice one other time doesn’t erase it. In fact, that is the reasoning that keeps people trapped in abusive relationships. Folks who say “I hate my Dad and resent him for being mean” are a lot fewer than ones who say “I will forgive him and kill myself to please him because he was nice that one time”. We don’t need a movie to teach people to stay in abusive relationships, you know? That’s our natural human instinct.

Also, NO! Not all teachers care about you and are doing things for “your own good”! Some teachers are just BAD! And, conversely, some are GOOD. If you don’t acknowledge the traits of the bad ones, then you can’t appreciate the good ones. Being a teacher doesn’t mean you automatically want to destroy the confidence of young people. A lot of teachers actually want to raise up their confidence! To help them succeed, to give them tools, all of that stuff. When you have a teacher who forces his adult students to follow him around humiliating themselves and begging before him, who delights in threatening students, who wants to always be feared, that’s a sadist. That’s someone who is truly in this only for his own pleasure. BAD TEACHER!

I guess I’m really not recommending this movie much at all. The song sequences are great, there are some funny bits, but the message of “the education system is flawed and Dad’s can be bad” is completely destroyed in the last half hour or so. BLECH!

4 thoughts on “Don (2022 Tamil) Review: Well That Was a Funny Movie That Turned Sappy and Stupid

  1. “”I think we can agree, as sane people, that a father can want his son to have a profitable career and still be a BAD DAD. Just saying “oh but he wanted the best for you” doesn’t erase him beating you, shaving your head, and never showing any hint of pride or affection or even positive reinforcement.””

    Only yesterday I saw a movie about it! Mammootty’s newest movie Puzhu. He plays a widower who didn’t remarried for his son’s good. He keeps the house clean, cooks and does a lot of things he thinks are good for his son. Unfortunately he is also a bad, strict person, a bigot and prone to anger and his son hates him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • YES! And weirdly, this is related to Anne of Green Gables that we have been talking about. Marilla is very very strict with Anne, but she isn’t cruel. And she figures out what is best for Anne, as a unique individual, not just abstract. It’s not just about coming up with a plan and making sacrifices, it’s about paying attention to your child as an individual and caring for and about them.

      Like

      • However Marilla and these Indian parents could all use an extra dose of love when dealing with their children. Though Marilla does get better. Is there a movie where parents improve their parenting BEFORE their kids head to college and they try to marry them off?

        Like

        • Only one I can think of is a few Malayalam movies, but that’s more of the “I have decided to adopt/no longer abandon you” in the typical Malayalam tragedy way.

          Like

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