Among the mass heroes, Ajith may be the most interesting. It’s the grey shades – not just in the hair, but also in the characterisations he gets away with. There’s something about watching a hero who isn’t virtue incarnate, whose image allows him to do things other heroes can’t, and Vedalam makes pretty good use of this aspect of the actor. The film, directed by Siva, isn’t so much a movie as a vending machine for dispensing star-isms. Consider the star’s first shot. (He plays a cabbie named Ganesh.) A glimpse of wavy grey hair. A glimpse of the eyes. A glimpse of a smile. All this in a scene that involves a… kathi. (Remind you of anyone else’s movie?) Or consider the scene where someone asks him, “Unakku car otta theriyuma?” These aren’t dialogues between the characters. They’re conversations between the film and fans, who go berserk. (They know the line is for them.) This blatant demolition of the fourth wall is why these “mass” films can’t be analysed like other films, on grounds of logic. Or even sense.
The last time Ajith was in a Siva film (Veeram), he played a character with four brothers. This time, he’s got a reason for a flashback sister, Thamizh (Lakshmi Menon), who thinks he’s as innocent as he looks, with that streak of ash on his forehead, with that tendency to also pray in church, with that impulse to help the blind across the street. But guess what? To the surprise of nobody who’s seen the trailer, there’s a side to Ganesh that makes him smile and snarl and deliver aphrodisiacal punch lines. (I am as important as your parents. They were instrumental in your birth. I’m going to be instrumental in your death.) Forget dirty magazines – these clips are all Ajith fans will need if they decide to become sperm donors. The actor plays the two sides as if outfitted with an on/off switch. Good guy/bad guy. Meek guy/Superman. And he doesn’t even have to duck into a phone booth. Is it great acting? No. But it’s something.
That something keeps us watching, and the anticipation of that something tides us over the lulls. A catalogue of the latter would begin with the supremely un-comedic comedy track by Soori & Co. He pretends to be faithful to his wife, then he slips into a nightclub, then his wife lands up there with her mother… This sort of thing could function as a litmus test for a couple considering marriage. If he or she laughs… The film’s biggest laugh, for me, came from a doctor who says things like, “His survival rate is just seven per cent,” as though the patient were a battery. There’s a heroine around somewhere (Shruti Haasan), who gets an awful song that goes, Don’t mess with me. Not that Ganesh plans to. I haven’t seen a hero look less interested in the heroine. Shruti Haasan gets more footage in the Fanta ad during intermission. Then there are the villains, an ill-defined lot. Their scenes are edited with chopper blades, on which the camera is mounted. Maybe there’s a way to look at this. Maybe the hyper-cutting is a manifestation of the evil that churns in these men… Nah! It’s just lousy filmmaking.
And yet, the film makes good on its mission. Fans are left delirious. Others are left… fitfully entertained. Some scenes – the scene where the villains zone in on the hero’s whereabouts, or the one where the hero discovers his kidnapped sister’s whereabouts – are charged with the enjoyably trashy energy AR Murugadoss brings to his films. The pre-interval block is particularly impressive – at least, for this sort of film. It’s a sustained stretch of action, plus a revelation that sets up the second half. Now we get to the “family sentiment” zone, and I must say these parts aren’t as bad as they sound. I walked out of the film wishing these filmmakers would apply themselves a little more. All mental resources seem directed towards the hero-oriented scenes, and they work. Why not redirect some of those street smarts to the comedy track, the romance, the scenes with the villains? It’s like taking up swimming just to keep afloat.
- Vedalam = phantom
- kathi = knife; also this film
- “Unakku car otta theriyuma?” = Can you drive a car?
- Veeram = see here
- Fanta ad = see here
Copyright ©2015 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.