It's the turn of directors to don the grease-paint, these days, and when it's someone with the creative drive of director Ameer, you wait with eagerness for his debut acting venture, his own Team Work Productions' Yogi, directed by Subramaniam Siva (of Thiruda Thirudi fame).
And intrigue you he does, when he takes on the role of Yogi in a nonchalant fashion, wearing shorts and a vacant stare, chopping up those who try to cross him without a blink.
In this "inspired" Tamil version of the award-winning Tsotsi, life is pretty much conscience-free for a band of merry men -- Sadai (Nanda Periyasamy), Urulai and Co, who indulge in petty thievery under the able guidance of the local MLA Thiruna (Devaraj), and sing songs like Seermevum Koovathula, tuned by Yuvan Shankar Raja.
Yogi himself shares a small shack with snakes, scorpions and what-not and engages in everyday goonda concerns until he literally stumbles upon the screaming baby of Carolyn (Swathi) in the backseat of her car, as he's on the run from a job.
Life changes in an instant as he makes the impulsive decision to take it, stuffing it into a paper bag along with anything he can lay his hands on, changing paper nappies and feeding it Milkmaid. It's nice to see that he barely even remembers it, until a chance memory makes him yank the baby from under the bed -- to find its face covered with ants! In time, Yogi finds a young woman with an infant on her back, Raja Sulochana (Madhumitha) to feed the child as well. In between, we have flashbacks of his past life, a gruesome one which sees the loss of his mother and sister, and his reaction towards his father, who caused them.
Meantime, there's Linden Fernando (Vincent Ashokan) who goes around approaching every rowdy in the area to retrieve his wife's child, which he wants dead. It's a race between Yogi, who's come to see the child as a replacement for his own sister and a gang of unruly thugs who want to see it dead.
The screenplay itself, though slow-paced, is laced with interesting twists and turns and you revel in it, until you find out that it's a blatant rip-off -- and then the enthusiasm fades a bit. Of course, Ameer's written it to suit a Tamil audience and his comfort-level is obvious in his dialogues, especially the rowdy-isms. He makes good fun of Kollywood's star-set as well, taking the time to ape their song-and-dace routines. But throughout the movie, R B Gurudev's camera gives Ameer the hero treatment, focusing on every nuance and flailing limb. Jackie's art direction brings the slums to life in perfect fashion, while Yuvan Shankar Raja's music fulfills what's expected.
The actors themselves surprise you a bit: Madhumitha, taking on a role even experienced actresses might balk at and coming out trumps, while Ameer's sidekicks add life to the story. Ameer himself, though, appears wooden, more often than not. He's supposed to be playing this ruthless killer who conceals a soft heart. But it looks like Ameer might have had a problem emoting the right expressions. Swathi and Vincent Ashokan act their parts while Ganja Karuppu is more like a statutory item in Ameer's films.
The real heroes are the secondary characters, the dialogues, sets and the baby itself, who pretty much grabs your attention whenever she's there. And for that, inspired or not, Yogi makes a mark.