It’s pure formula. The primary ingredient is the hero (Simbu) who’s a “Plus-Two fail.” An aside may be necessary at this point: How strange that on the one hand we celebrate a Sundar Pichai while on the other our heroes positively revel in their lack of education. The hero’s name is Sharp, and he doesn’t speak very good English (he’s challenged by the phrase “go chase those girls”) – and in the midst of chasing one of those girls (just because he doesn’t know the phrase in English, there’s no reason he cannot do what it means), he finds time to help a neighbourhood woman who calls out to him to carry a pail of water. Another ingredient is the gruff-yet-loving lower-middle-class father (‘Aadukalam’ Naren). There’s also the heroine (Hansika Motwani, playing Priya), who’s introduced in a scene where she races to board a moving bus – it’s raining, she has a rabbit in her hand (don’t ask), and she’s grinning the kind of grin grinned by people who constantly hear jokes from the invisible friends inside their heads.
But Vaalu works. Let me rephrase that. This is not so much a movie as a star-dispensing machine for overwrought fans, and with that in mind, Vaalu works. The bar for these films is so low that anyone who clears it – and while at it, executes a couple of pirouettes in the air – comes off like a halfway-decent director. Vijay Chander is that director here. Take the first action scene. Sharp finds his kid sister weeping. She’s being harassed by some rowdies at school. Sharp’s face hardens – and we gear up for a long stretch where Vijay Chander relinquishes the reins to the action choreographer and his team of assistants in charge of making people fly through the air and land twenty feet away. But the scene that unfolds is one of the pirouettes I was talking about. The camera stays outside the high compound wall of the sister’s school, and beyond, we see the rowdies bouncing up and down, as if on a trampoline. Simbu’s fans get what they want (the reassurance the Little Super Star still has it in him to beat up the bad guys), and we get what we want (an action scene with a bit of wit, and which doesn’t go on and on). Of course, the other action scenes do go on and on – understandably so. You have to give these fans the chance to wolf-whistle.
Some of the “mass” lines, too, are whistle-worthy. In this kind of movie, you expect dialogue steeped in purple hues – and that can be fun sometimes. There’s an analogy that explains love through a story involving a crane and a fish. There’s another one that explains love through a cricket anecdote. It’s probably as much about the lines themselves as the star, who sells them with panache. I like this actor. Well, “actor” may be too lofty a word – maybe I should say I like his persona. He’s the disreputable chap you don’t want to have anything to do with, but you can’t help admiring how alive he is, how much fun he seems to be having. No other star makes you think “mischief” the way Simbu does. The film’s title is perfect, though his name should really have been “Scamp.”
His family consists of people we don’t mind spending time with – the beaming, omelette-making mother, that sister, that gruff-yet-loving father. In a completely unexpected scene for a film of this nature, we hear the father listening to old Hindi film songs on the radio at night, sprawled on his cot outside the house. The gentle Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein pours out of the radio, and suddenly, it’s drowned out by the thunder of a train rattling past. The man is an engine driver and he lives by the tracks. Something about this scene tells us exactly what kind of life he leads – rather, the contrast between the life he wants to lead and the life he has to lead. There’s another lovely little scene in which the family meets Priya. At first, Hansika sticks out sorely. She looks like the least likely MTC bus traveller, and she doesn’t seem to hail from the same planet – leave alone zip code – as the actors playing her parents, her friends. She could be auditioning for a female-centric remake of pk, about this alabaster alien being who crash-lands in a state filled with brown-skinned people. But somehow, her pairing with Simbu works. Maybe it has to do with the relationship they were rumoured to be in around the time the film was shot. There’s some real chemistry here. There’s a sense of destiny in the way Sharp and Priya are meant to be together. (It’s corny in conception, but not in the way it’s been executed.)
Vijay Chander, who also wrote the film, follows the Ghilli template. Vaalu is a love triangle with the villain as one of the vertices. And yet, he does just about enough to make this not look like a lazy rehash of Ghilli. The only real problem is the length – two-and-a-half hours is too much for a formula film these days. But then, with these films, the audience too has a low bar – it’s easy to clear that bar with Vaalu. There are nice little running gags – Sharp getting into trouble with cops, Sharp getting money from a villain’s henchman. And Santhanam, in a couple of scenes, shows us why he became so popular a few years ago. One of these scenes has him insulting a woman he tries to pick up at a wedding but decides against it the minute he hears her speak. See this scene and you’ll see why VSOP is such a rip-off.
- Vaalu= scamp
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