Sivakarthikeyan's campus tale is a formulaic but entertaining drama
Don Movie Synopsis: A youngster who is still figuring out what his passion is gets into an engineering college where he clashes with a disciplinarian faculty member.
Don Movie Review: Given that his strict father (Samuthirakani), or as he describes him, the "sirappana tharamana villain" in his life wants him to study hard, Chakaravarthi (Sivakarthikeyan), the protagonist of Don, decides that he'd rather make a name for himself without really studying. The film is all about whether this young man manages to figure out what he wants to do in life while being in a soul-sucking environmental - an engineering college. Adding to his misfortune is Boominathan (SJ Suryah), a faculty member in the college, who is even more of a disciplinarian than his dad!
With this Santhosh Subramaniam-meets-Nanban set-up, debutant director Cibi Chakaravarthi makes it possible for him to play to both the younger and older crowd. He smartly divides the film into two halves - the first-half for the youth, the second-half for the family audience. Yes, we see how calculated this approach is, which makes Don less of a coming-of-age story and more of a commercial entertainer (suitably, cinematographer KM Bhaskaran fills the frames with colours), but the director manages to succeed.
For the most parts, the film is built around the conflict between Chakaravarthi, the college's Don, and Boomi, and Sivakarthikeyan and SJ Suryah's lively performances make these portions come alive. The moves and counter-moves that the two come up with to bring down the other results in quite a few fun moments, like the episode when Boomi arranges a parent-teacher meeting with Don's father or when Don manages to put the teachers in the students' shoes. This battle of wits is interspersed with a few moments of romance between Don and Angayarkanni (Priyanka Mohan, okayish), which is sometimes cute and at times cringey.
Things veer into the sentimental territory in the final portions and do get dangerously close to treacly melodrama, which is tonally off from the light-hearted tone we get until then, but thankfully, it doesn't derail the film. That said, the emotions it makes us feel in these scenes don't feel well-earned as it tries to pass of toxic parenting as a form of 'untold love'. While the line about parents figuring out raising their child by trial and error rings true, it is hard to buy the film's attempts to turn Don's father into an endearing figure, given the way the character treats his son until then. Nevertheless, the cast makes it work. Sivakarthikeyan is a perfect fit for this role, even selling the school portions, and it is his earnest performance in the climax (the real-life parallels add to the effectiveness) that actually lifts it. SJ Suryah is splendid in a role that could have easily become caricaturish (like Sathyaraj's character in Nanban).
The minute changes in his expressions add to the comedy in the first half. And Samuthirakani's helps us overlook the last-minute transformation of his character. The rest of the suporting cast — Soori, who appears as Chakaravarthi's relative, Bala Saravanan, Vijay and Sivaangi, who play his friends, Aadhira Pandilakshmi as his mother — is solid, though the sub-plot involving Raju and Shariq as Chakaravarthi's rivals in college feels forced. One also wishes that the director had found a way to make Angayarkanni's father — refreshingly, a genteel cop — part of the proceedings in the latter stages, given how he is used for some warm moments early on. Finally, Cibi Chakaravarthi's conviction and Anirudh's vibrant score carry the film over the finishing line and ensure that despite the somewhat formulaic treatment of this material (it is clearly influenced by the films of the early 2000s), the film remains largely entertaining.