Vetrivel Movie Review

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By Mani Prabhu

Another Friday. Another seemingly nondescript, rural drama featuring Sasi Kumar in the lead. Yet another Kollywood ritual of playing alphabet games with the craft of cinema.  Or so we think. And as if echoing our worst fears, thirty minutes into the film, director Vasantha Mani had already religiously scored off almost four items in his one page ready-reckoner. We would later find out that classics like Thevar Magan were instrumental in bringing his checklist alive, but for now, Vasantha Mani seems to operating on the ‘To-do’ inventory prepared after a night of watching Sasi Kumar’s earlier movies in the genre. A short prelude featuring the half-sibling rivalry betwen Prabhu and Viji Chandrasekhar incites some curiosity, but the director seems to be resolute in his priorities. He wants to do his cinema, the ‘minimum-guarantee’ Kollywood way.

And so we get the song where Sasi gyrates to the now-familiar beat (that Imaan seems to have copy-righted) with colorfully clad village belles. We get the scene where he wears his school-dropout status proudly on his sleeve. We get the doting mom and the visibly displeased dad. We get the fair-skinned heroine. We get the ‘love’ sequence where she stamps on Sasi and he responds in the creepiest way possible. We get the habitual stalking scenes ending in customary romance, making us question the ground rules of impressing a girl. And as if things can’t get any worse, we get a borderline-offensive comedy track featuring Thambi Ramiah. And let me tell you that these portions are, to put it mildly, painful to sit through.

But once these absurdities (in the name of conventions) are brushed away, the film gets surprisingly better. Mani writes some decent conflict and makes it work by giving his characters convincing evolution arcs. The scenes start breathing mood and authentic rural texture, and as they gradually draw you in, you can’t help but look back at the point where you had almost given up on the film and think how much better it would have been if he hadn’t played the ‘tick-the-boxes’ game earlier.  Even now, right from the brother’s romantic conflict to the smart Nadodigal homage, everything is typical fare stitched out of Kollywood formula cloth, but Vasantha Mani keeps twisting it enough to keep us watching. I wouldn’t call it brilliant writing, but the maker clearly has a knack for engaging the viewer, even if it amounts to garish inconsistency. And to his credit, he never lets his lead man dictate the proceedings; in other words, he doesn’t pawn his writing skills for celebrating his hero with a capital – H. Sasi Kumar still gets to flex his muscles and mouth rousing dialogues about love and friendship. But that doesn’t come at the cost of trivializing the supporting characters. This aspect lifts the movie from almost the abyss and puts it on an interesting pedestal. Slowly, we even warm up to Thambi Ramiah’s hilarity, which despite continuing to border on the scandalous, elicits the occasional chuckle.

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And the story, which begins as one about love and goes on to become a medley of parallel narratives, truly takes off post the half way mark, when we get beautiful scenes involving the senior actors. When a school teacher goes to the village President proposing an alliance for their children, we expect raw blood to boil. We expect rural histrionics that are so typical of a film of this genre. But then, the tables are brilliantly turned on us. When we see a main character land up at home after an unexpected wedlock, we expect the father to become hysterical. But then again, Vasantha Mani catches us off guard giving us a delightful mix of comedy and relatable emotions. The real show-stealer comes much later – a beautiful romance blooming inside of a joint family – which almost atones for all the stalking that was unleashed earlier. Prabhu, Ilavarasu and new-comer Nikila almost walk off with the film with their superbly restrained performances in this beautiful stretch.

The final act gets needlessly complicated and stretched, thereby testing our patience a wee bit.  But despite the misgivings, Vetrivel is proof of the difference, something as underrated as robust writing (even if only in bursts), could impart to the age-old, cliché-ridden rural drama. It would be interesting to see what Vasantha Mani goes on to do next.