Bullet-point Report: Vaanam

Posted on May 8, 2011


  • The glass-half-full side of me wants to deliver a smallish pat on Vaanam’s back and label it, like how bad critics often label almost-innovations, a “praiseworthy attempt,” especially within mainstream parameters, and even if, many years ago, Aayitha Ezhuthu took us through its lives-converging trajectories with far more sophistication.
  • The glass-half-empty side, however, is still shaking angry fists at what could have and should have been a milestone. How do you plan a film with so many intersecting stories when half the story strands are simply not interesting enough?
  • Why have a song during the opening credits if you’re going to have a song immediately after? Couldn’t the names of cast and crew appear over this other song and give us back those lost three-odd-minutes of our life?
  • But that song in the opening credits embodies the film’s philosophy: Dheivam vaazhvadhu yenge? Thavarugal unarum manidhargal nenjil. And this line is trotted out, exhaustingly, each time a character, in his nenju, unarndhufies a thavaru that he’s done. Is there something in the water in Tamil Nadu that transforms moviemakers into earnest moral science teachers?
  • Simbu is “Young Super Star,” okay. But Bharath is “Chinna Thalapathy”? WTF?
  • In Aadukalam, the year’s finest film so far, Dhanush forwent his heroisms in favour of a devastatingly honest conclusion to his character. It’s nice to see actors do what they want to do and not necessarily what they think they need to do in order to keep their fans happy – and it’s nice to see Simbu and Anushka follow suit, the former as a man with a pitiably shallow ambition and the latter as a prostitute who’s refreshingly accepting about her profession.
  • But Simbu still has his mass-intro scene, his comedy sidekick (in Santhanam, whose best line I’ll reveal later), his songs and his dances, and his heroic end (where he doesn’t appear a bit impacted by the explosive climax). His character, supposedly, longs for a better life, but he looks extremely content with the one he has. It’s all just fun and games – even when he’s caught by the cops, the scene is treated as comedy. So when his big scene comes – possibly the bravest scene of his career – you don’t feel socked in the solar plexus. The tightening desperation that should have led to this moment has long since dissipated.
  • Santhanam’s best line: When he wants to borrow a man’s bike, and when that man refuses, saying that his bike is like his wife, Santhanam retorts, “Appo yen da vaasal-la vachu wash pannare?” LOL!
  • This reminds me of an S Ve Shekhar joke:
    Man 1: Unga thangachi Hamam soap use pannuvaangala?
    Man 2: Amaam. Ungalukku eppidi theriyum?
    Man 1: Kulikkum bodhu etti paathen.
  • You could take Anushka away from the movie and not miss a thing – except, probably, that long, long waist.
  • And what atrocious dubbing. Even by our very low expectations of Tamil-film heroines and their commitment to learning lines so that they at least seem to be pretending to say what they’re meant to be saying (outside of the dubbing artist), this is a new low.
  • And considering how blasé she is about her body and how it makes her lots of money, how much better it would have been if she’d used that as currency to convince the doctor to treat her friend. Instead, we get the disgustingly sentimental sight of a god-figure pendant being displayed, and that makes the doctor finger his own god-figure pendant, and he changes his mind… Ugh!
  • Speaking of jewellery, what’s with that ridiculous subplot about chain snatching? Again, these episodes are milked for laughs, and we never catch a glimpse of the desperation that drives Simbu.
  • In the Yevandi onna pethaan song, Simbu goes, “Who the F is your daddy?” An F-word first?
  • If you want proof that this is a director armed with a sledgehammer, the last scene has it. The boy shows he’s a genius. His grandfather shows he won’t be a pushover any longer. It should have ended there. Instead, we get this sentiment hammered in by the villain. Is there something in the water in Tamil Nadu that reforms villains into vocal champions for their director’s pet causes?
  • Anushka does her own bit of vocalising the director’s thoughts, in the scene at the hospital where, instead of reflecting on her personal situation, she issues a global cry about the hopelessness of it all.
  • And Bharath is stuck with the worst instance of the director’s tendency to put his thoughts into his character’s mouths. With a bottle of mineral water, Bharath begins to explain the “why” of the movie – while we silently scream “why oh why!”
  • The film’s most aggravating aspect is possibly its programmatic screenplay (which, of course, will be explained away by defenders as vital mirror events that bolster the central conceit of cosmic coincidence) – Prakash Raj is sent into a tailspin by the plight of a pregnant woman and he recovers at the sight of a pregnant woman; Bharath treats a Sardar callously and he’s reformed by the intervention of this very same Sardar; the man that Prakash Raj saves is the very man who discriminated against him; Simbu needs 40000, and accordingly, his grandmother gives him exactly 3000 and the old man has exactly 370000…
  • I liked the detail that Saranya fumbles through her deception first, like a nervous first-time actor facing the audience on opening night, and it’s only the second time that she’s able to pull off her lies with a straight face. This is very true to the character, and this is what she’d do.
  • But that said, the actress is desperate need of playing a plush society matron who pets her Siamese kitten as she picks up young studs in a BMW. Enough, already, with becoming this generation’s Kamala Kamesh.
  • The film’s best scene? In a police station, Simbu strikes up a conversation with Anushka after they’ve both been arrested. Then he’s taken away and roughed up, and somewhere in this mess, he confesses to being in love, and after a while he’s let go. As he’s stepping out, she halts him and asks, “Unmayileye love-aa?” Why is she so interested? Is it just an onlooker’s curiosity? Or is it the hankering for an emotion she knows she’ll never experience? He pauses, as if to answer, and then he leaves.

Copyright ©2011 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.