A filmmaker sees something horrible. It gnaws at his soul. After nights spent writhing in torment, he decides that he needs to exorcise those feelings – and what better way than to create a work of art, with each scene, every line of dialogue a stinging whiplash on the aspect of society that reduced him to this state?
And then he discovers it doesn’t quite work that way. There’s an audience out there, and they don’t give a rat’s behind about his suffering. They want entertainment – songs, action, comedy, romance. There are films that manage this balancing act well. Vetri Selvan, directed by Rudran, isn’t one of them.
The issue under consideration is the way we treat the mentally ill. But it takes a distant second place to the audience-baiting sops: a limp murder investigation (there’s a murder all right, but no real investigation); an uninvolving romance (between Ajmal and Radhika Apte); a few completely dispensable songs; the inevitable nods to Ilayaraja (Ilamai idho idho) and Rajinikanth (Baasha); misogynistic comedy revolving around the sexy owner of a mechanic shop; a bunch of fat jokes revolving around Aarthi; and in the middle of all this supposed mirth, the odd “emotional scene” meant to direct us towards the issue that birthed the film in the first place.
This is one of those films where we’re introduced to the hero as a killer, which means that a second-half flashback lies in wait, to tell us that we were wrong all along. But was there any doubt? This narrative structure may have carried some weight in the early days of Shankar, but now it’s beyond cliché. Add to this some tone-deaf scene segues, screeching melodrama, and laughable characterization (a criminal lawyer who breaks into a suspect’s house and steals evidence, which is all right there in the first place she searches?), and by the time we get to the meat of the story, well into the second half, our interest has all but evaporated.
And yet, by sheer fluke, Vetri Selvan may be the most important movie in Tamil Nadu today. In a scene early on, a waitress speaks to a customer in Hindi. The customer chides her gently, noting that “you guys” want our money, our votes, and yet you won’t make a concession when it comes to our language. The waitress insists that Hindi is our national language. The customer replies that it’s because of a Tamil-speaker that India has two Oscars today. Under normal circumstances, I’d have rolled my eyes, dismissing this as just another shameless sop for the audience. But in light of recent events, I wished I knew how to wolf-whistle.
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