Vandi: A wholly trying, partly offensive film that isn’t redeemed by its hyperlink narrative

The only real takeaway from Vandi is that even Vidharth can do underwhelming films. You get glimpses of what must have attracted him to the project. It’s got some cool background music by Sooraj Kurup (who made the lovely Sita Kalyanam in Solo). It’s got a hyperlink narrative, which must have seemed appealing too. The lure of these narratives is how you get multiple stories — and with their respective multiple resolutions — all for the price of one. Last year’s Maanagaram was a triumphant example of the genre done right. Vandi, unfortunately, is an example from the other side. Its individual moments are dull, the dialogues cumbersome, and the problems and resolutions quite unexciting. The film rides on the loss of a bike and associated characters, and with an idea like this, each separate story angle needed to be explosive. Vandi’s characters and their respective interactions have the appeal of a rotten pineapple run over by a truck.

Director: Rajeesh Bala
Cast: Vidharth, Chandini, John Vijay

It requires great skill to write dialogue that feels at once both real and purposeful. Vandi’s dialogues, however, seem placed for no reason except to conspire to achieve its runtime of 150 minutes. The characters are constantly engaged in meaningless chit-chat that you wish you could phase out of. One character, for instance, tells his daughter: “Maathara saapta udane gare aiduchu. English medicine saapten illiya… So, tea saapidanum nu thonichu. (The pill has made me groggy. It’s English medicine, you see. Has made me want to drink tea.)” Neither this medicine nor his desire for tea mean anything. It’s just simply there. You nod, and you nod, waiting for it all to come together in some clever way. But towards the end, you dimly realise that the mundane dialogues are all simply there, filling up empty scenes, serving as dull attempts to keep you engaged. Composer Sooraj Kurup doesn’t seem to have received the memo about this though, as he makes some inspired electronic music fit for a tense thriller. The only reason tension you feel in Vandi though is when you glance at your watch.

Is it at least a well-meaning film? Not quite. It has a radical pro-Tamil agenda, which gets shown in some shocking scenes. A policeman — John Vijay, who, like he always does in these films, hams up his part — learns from his constable that the suspect he’s beating up is a Bengali. For some reason, this enrages him, and he bizarrely asks him to speak Tamil. “Nee Thamizh thaaikku porakkaliyaa?” he asks. Later in another scene, a couple of girls get caught in the middle of a skirmish, when one of them shouts, “What the hell!” One of Krishna’s (Vidharth) friends retorts, “Thamizh la pesunga!” There’s a lot worse, some of the ‘decent’ characters in this film do to women, actions that ‘Thamizh thaai’ will likely not be too approving of.

I doubt there’s a single woman in Vandi who escapes objectification. This includes maids, housewives, and of course, the young women populating this universe. Coinages like ‘piece’ are commonplace, and they are said by even those we are supposed to care about. A female housekeeper actually exclaims discomfort at cleaning the house in the presence of Krishna and his friend, Rafiq, as they have a roving eye. It’s supposed to be a joke though. Later, the same woman reveals she has a kid and that her husband disappeared on the day of her marriage. Rafiq wonders how she has a child then. He goes on to make a lewd hand gesture in response to her traumatic story about being mugged. All this is supposed to be funny. Vandi also includes homosexuals in its problematic portrayals. One gay man wearing excessive lipstick is shown to be so turned on by Rafiq in a dhoti that he’s constantly smacking his lips at him. Krishna advises Rafiq that the latter should have worn trousers instead. It’s not every day that you get a scene that is at once homophobic, victim-blaming, and perpetuating of a damaging stereotype.

The protagonist of this film is a bike, an RX 100 — hence, the title. What does it say of Vandi that even this bike thinks of women as sexual objects? When a couple borrow the bike, and the girl takes the back seat, the bike’s voice (yes, it’s anthropomorphised only so you can get how it gets turned on by women) lets out a non-verbal expression of deep contentment. Meanwhile, the director’s way of showing physical intimacy between this couple is to have the bike climb a speedbreaker, and you-know-what happens. It’s only been shown in four million Tamil films so far. At the end of the film, the bike’s voicing its hope that a woman with a healthy posterior will sit on it. Leaving the theatre, for the first time, I felt a teeny bit violated by my bike as I sat on it.

This review was written for Cinema Express, the cinema division of The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to its page if you’d like to share it.

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