Pulsating fight scenes, but predictable otherwise
For the longest time, Deepavali has been synonymous with a screening of Baasha on at least one of the two dozen Tamil television channels. This time, however, the channels seemed to be quite engaged with trying to outdo each other by screening the latest hits, including Baahubali and Maari . The channels may have ignored the film, but a clone of it — Vedalam — is now out in the theatres. Deepavali nostalgia or otherwise, it’d be impossible to miss the similarities. Ajith, as Ganesh (there are quite a few Vinayaka references, including a rather bland opening song, ‘Veera Vinayaka’), is a driver — a taxi driver in this case. Like in the Rajini-starrer, he is an embodiment of innocence. Somebody even makes the comment that he looks like “pachcha mannu”. Ganesh also lives a rather secretive life that his sister, Tamizh (Lakshmi Menon), isn’t aware of. Also, from the beginning, you have characters extolling Ganesh’s virtues. An arts college principal tells Tamizh that she should consider herself fortunate to have such an understanding brother. A rowdy (Mottai Rajendran), while commenting on Ganesh, looks at the audience and says, “Enna gunam!” And much like Baasha , to the screaming delight of Ajith fans, there’s quite an impressive opening fight sequence, where Ganesh revels in violence. He flexes his shoulders, and thumps the baddies with maniacal glee. He’s almost super-human; a man possessed… almost like an Indian, mellowed-down version of the Hulk. He goes ballistic on the hapless bad guys, and seems to thoroughly relish it. It’s quite unnerving really. You see heroes beating bad guys self-righteously. You see them beating bad guys in fury. You even see them beating bad guys in fear. But Ganesh descends on them like the plague, grinning from ear to ear. I found it oddly satisfying, and wondered if we’d be given some explanation for his super-human ability, for his abrupt transition in personality.
But none ever comes, despite an extended flashback that’s complete with comedy tracks, and even a second intro song — this time, for Ajith’s rowdy get-up as Vedalam (Rajini, in Baasha , comes as a don in the flashback… just saying). The flashback, seeing how little it contributes to the overall story, is a real dampener. It attempts to set the stage, and explain Ganesh’s past by showing him forge some transformative bonds. But it all seems too forced, too easy, too mawkish. If the purpose of the flashback is to establish the cause of Ganesh’s psychotic rage and his all-consuming obsession with eliminating the evil trio of brothers, who smuggle drugs and women, it doesn’t really cut it. The enmity never seems personal enough, and the villains never threatening enough. Perhaps Vedalam needed that one big menacing villain — its version, perhaps, of Mark Anthony — instead of several smaller, less effective ones.
It’s a masala film, and you don’t really find too much fault with it. In another film, you’d ask why Ganesh doesn’t get arrested for providing false testimony in a court. You’d ask how a doctor knows that the patient has a “7 per cent chance of survival”. You’d cringe when the seemingly suave villain pronounces the word ‘platter’ as “plate-r”. But in Vedalam , all you really seek is plenty of entertainment — the kind of demented joy Ajith brings to the screen every time he goes hammer and tongs at the bad guys to Anirudh’s dubstep beats, the kind of intensity he shows when he rages and punches a glass wall off a skyscraper, the kind of cheering he incites when he tells a bad guy, “Nee kettavan. Aana, naan kedu kettavan.”
But Vedalam needed way more of these moments, with more inventive storytelling, especially in the absence of good songs, save for, I suppose, ‘Aaluma Doluma’. What if Ganesh were really a kedu kettavan and employed craftier, more crooked means to vanquish his adversaries? The time-tested I’ll-abduct-your-close-ones method was after all used in a film like Run , that released 13 years ago. And oh, somebody should really tell filmmakers that it’s completely alright to not cast a heroine when she has nothing substantial to do, like Shruti Haasan in this film. In comparison, Nagma’s seems like a plum role in Baasha . And that’s saying something.