'Goli Soda': Busan Review

Rough Note
Signature masala madness that fans of the form will appreciate.

The latest Tamil hit from cinematographer-director Vijay Milton reunites the young stars of 'Pasanga' for an energetic genre mashup

The young stars of 2009’s children’s film Pasanga have grown up, at least some, and return in what could be their first masala feature, Goli Soda, a typical hodgepodge of action, romance, comedy and coming-of-age drama. Set in Chennai’s vivid and sprawling Koyambedu Market, the film bears all the frantic hallmarks of an over-the-top Tamil adventure with an added dose of social commentary. Goli Soda was a massive hit in India early in the year, and it could find a spot on more than one targeted and niche festival slate.

Four orphans work hauling sacks around the market making a pittance but for the most part pleased with life. When they’re not working, they’re watching the girls go to school. Kuttimani (Adaikalavan Murugesh) and Saettu (Sarawathi Sriram) get a kick out of watching Pulli (Dinakaran Kishore) and Sithappa (Pakoda Pandi) woo the local girls. Aachi (Sujatha Sivakumar) is the boys’ unofficial guardian and watches over them, encouraging them to aspire to be better. She helps out by setting them up in an empty shop front she finagles from market overlord, Naidu (Madhusudan). Inspired, the four proceed to open an eatery and begin taking baby steps toward respectability and, more importantly, some sense of identity.

The teenaged hijinks, budding romances and energetic glee while opening the "hotel" take up the bulk of Goli Soda’s hyperkinetic first hour. Director-DP Vijay Milton captures the controlled chaos of the market masterfully — the saturated images pulsate with life, grime and entrepreneurial hustle in equal measure. But despite the naturalistic dynamic within the boys’ circle and a love interest that refreshingly doesn’t look like a supermodel, the film drags in spots. The four stars are so in tune with each other and have such chemistry, it doesn’t take 45 minutes to understand they’re a tight group.

But when Mayil (Vijay Murugan), Naidu’s brother-in-law, starts using the diner as his personal criminal flophouse and rapes a young woman, the boys are incensed and attempt to make an example of him. (It should be noted, disturbingly, that they’re not upset at the rape, just that Mayil would defile their restaurant.) Naidu turns the tables, has them beaten to a pulp and dumped around western India. But the pull of their old life as "real" people draws the boys back together for one last defiant stab at revenge and respect.

As clunky as Goli Soda’s first half was in spots, the second half — after they learn the value of identity and find a larger sense of community to hold on to — is a zingy, stylish, violent delight. It’s not for everyone, and Milton’s insistence on taking the story further and further in a war of attrition, to nearly unsustainable levels, almost derails it. However, when it sparkles it really sparkles, prime examples being a police station kerfuffle with the market drunk and a late-night ambush lit only by car headlights. What Goli Soda lacks in Bollywood polish, it more than makes up for in visual verve.

Production company: Rough Note
Cast: Dinakaran Kishore, Sarawathi Sriram, Adaikalavan Murugesh, Pakoda Pandi, Sujatha Sivakumar, Seetha, Madhusudan, Vijay Murugan
Director: Vijay Milton
Screenwriter: Vijay Milton
Producer: Vijayraj Bharath Seeni
Director of photography: Vijay Milton
Production designer: Vijayraj Bharath Seeni
Editor: Gonsalves Anthony
Music: Shanmuganagaraj Arunagiri

No MPAA rating, 124 minutes