After watching Soodhu Kavvum, I wrote, “Vijay Sethupathi, the poster boy of this cinema, was welcomed in his first scene with cheers and claps usually reserved for mass heroes making their entry. It’s the sweetest sound I’ve heard in years.” But then, those are just A-centre cheers and claps, and if we know anything about our heroes, it’s that they like the rest of the alphabet too. The B-centres. The C-centres. And as you cannot lure those audiences with films like Soodhu Kavvum, you clamber on board an MRTS (‘Mass’ Route To Success) vehicle and head to the sickle-wielding hinterlands. It isn’t surprising – just a little sad. There have been actors before Vijay Sethupathi who’ve bought a one-way ticket for this journey, and there will be actors down the line who’ll do the same thing. But with him, there’s a wee sense of betrayal, that’s all. You act in back-to-back films (Pizza, Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom, Soodhu Kavvum) that make us think you’re part of the counterculture. You’re part of a revolution. You’re Che Guevara. And then, you do a Vanmam and tell us we’re fools for even believing there was a cause, that it’s better to be a face on a giant cutout than a face on a college kid’s T-shirt. Lesson learnt.
Still, there’s a difference between “going commercial” and doing a Vanmam (directed by Jai Krishna), which is just about the vilest thing I’ve sat through in recent times. Consider the scene where one of the hero’s friends is murdered by a rival gang. The man is biking down a road near the train tracks, and he sees goons on bikes coming in the opposite direction. One of them kicks the man, who goes flying and hits a train and ends up a blood-spattered heap. The goons walk up to him to make sure he’s dead. He’s drawing his least breaths, and he asks for water. One of the goons pees on him. The scene isn’t funny. It isn’t shocking. It isn’t cruel. It’s – like the rest of the film – nothing. We feel nothing, not even revulsion. Vanmam is that indifferently made.
But how do these films get made, in the first place? I think it’s because the “one-line,” as the simple summary is called, sounds good. The one-line, here, is that two friends (Vijay Sethupathi and Kreshna) become enemies after a killing, and one of them is left with a heavy burden on his conscience. Not bad. But what about the second line? And the third line? And the rest of the lines that go on to make the screenplay? The emotional beats are buried so deep they’re hardly discernible, and what’s on the surface is a generic mix of love (Sunaina plays the love interest) and drama and sentiment and action. There’s not a thing that’s new. You’ve heard of the phrase “going through the motions.” Now you can see it. Just one request, though. It’s inevitable, in these films, that you have all these men with hoicked-up dhotis, but can we not shoot them from low angles? Watching something like this is punishment enough without making it seem like a two-and-a-half hour underwear commercial.
* vanmam = vengeance
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