Aishwarya R. Dhanush likes men who see things. The protagonist of her first film, 3, saw holographic demons. Or something. The protagonist of her follow-up, Vai Raja Vai, sees the future. At least, he knows what’s coming. That’s his boon and the film’s curse. Early on, we get a hint that the clairvoyance comes and goes. Imagine the possibilities. Karthik (Gautham Karthik) is at the wrong end of a gun loaded with a single bullet. He laughs when the trigger is pressed, because he knows the first chamber is empty. And then… the power goes. The second chamber could be loaded. He begins to sweat. So do we. There’s a scene like this in Vai Raja Vai, but Karthik is so sure about where the bullet is that there’s no payoff. It’s the same with the gambling scenes in a floating casino. He knows where the ball is going to sit even before the roulette wheel stops spinning. Good for him. Bad for drama.
This may make it sound like I was bored by the film. I wasn’t, really. For one, it doesn’t run long enough to make you bored. It’s just a couple of hours. I was bored by the songs though. I’ve passed the age where, unless it’s an Aahaa kaadhal, I find Yuvan Shankar Raja’s music interesting. And the picturisations are utterly banal. We have a song set in fall colours, with the heroine twirling her skirts – it’s no Pachai nirame. Another one is staged in a nightclub – it’s no Fanaa. They should have exams for these things. In an ideal world, wannabe directors would face a stern committee that asks questions like “Will you go to Turkmenistan to shoot a song?” Candidates who answer “yes” will be shunted off to the sets of Maanada Mayilaada.
Vai Raja Vai is a light-hearted caper, and it opens interestingly. It’s as if the director is in a rush to establish everything – that Karthik has a superpower, that he’s in love (with Priya Anand, whose character is named… Priya… ooh, so meta… nah, this isn’t that kind of movie). A lot of this information comes via voiceover. I wondered why. Then the voiceover stops and people begin to speak. Karthik talks about plant pathology. His friend (Sathish) hears it as “plan panni brothel pannradhu.” Sathish (whose character is called Sathish) is referred to as “side dish.” When Karthik asks Panda (a hideously miscast Vivek) if he too uses a Blackberry, Panda twists his torso and tries to see his backside, if he indeed has “back-la sori.” There’s a general rule of thumb that if you laugh while thinking up a joke, then that joke is funny. I’ll bet that story discussion room was as grim as a funeral.
There’s a scene where Panda and Karthik take some drugs and slip into the sets of Pudhiya Paravai. Panda turns into Saroja Devi and mimics her exact moves for Unnai ondru ketpen. I was vaguely disturbed that I found this entertaining. I’m going to justify this by saying that Gautham Karthik is such a stiff (at this rate, his facial muscles are going to atrophy from disuse by his fifth film) that even a hamming Vivek is a relief. By this time, there’s a villain (Daniel Balaji) who’s holding Priya hostage and wants Karthik to make him rich. There’s a jolt of glamour from Taapsee, who swishes into the movie like a Bond girl. And there’s a special appearance from a star who I hear is related to the director. Don’t unscramble her name and you’ll see his.
Again, this may make it sound like I was bored by the film. But it wasn’t boredom, not quite. That’s when you wish you were anywhere else. This is the kind of film where you don’t feel guilty about checking messages on your phone, for you’re not really missing anything. I sat up exactly twice. One, when the Taapsee character declared she was a mathematician. I’m thinking of a joke that goes 36-24… but I’m afraid I’ll be smacked senseless by feminists. And two, when Karthik’s parents agreed to marry their daughter off to a groom who demanded ten lakhs as dowry. I know this sort of thing happens all the time around us. But the fact that a modern-day female filmmaker – someone with this kind of clout, someone from this kind of background, someone with the sensibility to make her heroine a plant pathologist – resorted to this Visu-era staple left me uneasy. Why not have, say, a truck hit the mother and bring on a crisis where the hospital demands ten lakhs? That might make good marketing sense too. After all, we do have Mother’s Day coming up.
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