In the opening stretches of Kirumi, we see Kathir (Kathir), its protagonist, indulging in worthless conversation with his friends, getting into a tiff over it and storming off the place, hitching a ride with his neighbour Prabhakar (who is on a 'job'), flirt with an eager young girl who is alone at home (and mischievously goes into her room in a inviting manner to freshen up), and proudly tell Prabhakar's wife Gayathri that he visits his home once a week when she questions him on spending the nights at his friends' room; in short, we see him behaving every bit like the carefree, young heroes populating our screens. And then, we get a scene where he is in his house. And we see that he has a wife and a kid! But this revelation isn't underscored by judging Kathir for what he was doing earlier, but simply conveyed to us in a matter-of-fact manner. And, it is at this particular moment that the film makes us realize that it is not going a typical Tamil film.
The film is about this ordinary, young man, who is still a man-child, evolving into an adult and realising his priorities and responsibilities. And for this to happen, director Anucharan provides a setting that feels new to the audience, and turns what should essentially be a coming-of-age drama into a tense thriller. This world, which is populated cops, informers, and gangsters, is richly detailed (Kaaka Muttai's M Manikandan is the co-writer) and feels incredibly close to real life, with Arul Vincent's camera often acting as a fly on the wall, letting us peek into the lives of these characters. We see how each one is interdependent on the other and how those with power can toy with lives of the normal folk.
The plot kicks into gear when Kathir, with Prabhakar's (Charlie, rock-solid) help, becomes an informer to the ambitious inspector Soundarapandian (David, impressive), and helps him out with his cases. In return, the cop treats him in a friendly manner. Meanwhile, Kathir decides to teach a thing or two to Shankar (Dheena), a bar owner/gangster's (Thennavan) brother, who had humiliated him some time ago. He encourages Soundarapandian to raid the bar, which is also a gambling den, and the inspector uses it to score points over his rival Mathiarasu (Marimuthu), under whose jurisdiction the place falls under. Just when Kathir thinks that he can use his new-found clout to move ahead in life, tragedy strikes and soon, he realizes that the stakes have risen so high that his own life is at stake.
What makes Kirumi stand apart from other thrillers set in the backdrop of crime is its understated quality. Even when the situation offers scope to turn things into full-blown melodrama, Anucharan keeps things at a low key (aided by K's unobtrusive and evocative background score), and this refreshing change of pace actually keeps things interesting. Take the scene where Gayathri has to visit the hospital days after her husband's death. In an earlier scene, we are told that the couple has been trying hard for a child. Kathir's wife, Anitha worryingly asks him, 'What if is she is pregnant?' The doctor enters, tells Gayathri that she has nothing to worry and it is just weakness that has made her unwell. And then she adds that she should take care of herself for the baby inside her. We don't see Gayathri breaking down and wailing her heart out as it might have happened in a lesser film; instead, she takes this news in a stoic manner that seems to suggest, yes, she is in the midst of tragedy, but life has to go on.
This is one movie that realises that there is good and bad in everyone. Even the antagonists are painted in a considerate manner that reinforces that it is situations that force people to act one way or another. In an earlier scene, we see Soundarapandian visiting Kathir's home for his child's birthday and later, this same genial man, when he realises Kathir could turn out to be a loose end, chooses to do something despicable. And even at that moment, we see a humane side to him when another character makes its appearance. It is also remarkable how the characters in the film never do something that feels implausible or way beyond their means. The way Shankar's brother has to run from pillar to post to get his brother out and the scenes where cops become answerable to their higher-ups only show that even the powerful hold power only to an extent. And Kathir never becomes a cinematic hero. When he is about to be attacked by gangsters, he doesn't stand up to fight them, but runs away. Even when his life comes under threat, his instinct is only to seek help from others. And he is haunted by his failure to protect those around him. Which is why the offbeat and modest climax, which might seem underwhelming initially, is actually a rather brave one.