This week, cinephiles are treated with two substantial superhero films. While Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a visually stunning multiversal masterpiece that pushes the boundaries of storytelling, Veeran is a crucial entry to Tamil cinema, an industry in which the superhero genre has been — for lack of a better word — powerless. While the Hiphop Adhi starrer gets its lore right, it’s the insipid writing that averts a thunderous response for a film about a superhero with lightning powers.
What works majorly in favour of Veeran is how it spends meagre time explaining the origins and establishing the purposes of its titular hero. Similar to Minnal Murali, a film that’s impossible to not draw comparisons from, Kumaran (Adhi) gets his superpowers after a lightning strike and after receiving treatment abroad for years, he returns to his village Veeranoor. In the first 20-odd minutes, we come to terms with Kumaran’s special abilities, which include shooting electric arcs from his hands and mind control, his premonition (which the film calls his intuition) about the laser cable project going through his village, and how a small mishap spells doom to all the people living there. With the objectives set, Kumaran, an atheist — who learns how the Veeran temple has to be destroyed for the project to progress — takes over the deity’s identity to serve justice and save the temple and his people.
Apart from the Malayalam superhero film, Veeran also reminds us of many stories closer to home. The siru-deivangal trope and usurping the identity of Veeran (complete with a horse) is sure to bring flashes of our childhood days that were spent watching Vidaathu Karuppu. The very last scene is also neatly filched from The Da Vinci Code. If Langdon found the sarcophagus of Mary Magdalene below the Pyramide Inversée, we get to witness something similar below the pyramid-shaped sculpture in Veeran. Let’s not even list the films that feature a corporate bigwig trying to destroy a village for personal gains.
But what makes us look past these niggles is the fascinating myth and folklore ARK Saravan builds as a canvas to mount this film. Veeran is fabricated atop the adage of how people who strived for their village-folk are now worshipped as deities and they are superheroes in their own rights. But after establishing this intriguing premise, the film fails to make progress. We’re instead subjected to an absolutely expendable romance track between Kumaran and Selvi (Athira Raj) and a separate comedy track involving characters played by Munishkanth and Kaali Venkat that surprisingly never works.
Adhi shoulders the film as a determined youngster moonlighting as the avatar of a god. But he’s also let down thanks to patchy writing. We learn that Kumaran regularly using his power takes a toll on his health, but we never see the after-effects of it. The antagonist, Sharath (Vinay Rai) fits neatly in the localised version of the famous mad-scientist role but he rarely gets screen time. And, for a film about a hero with lightning powers, it’s actually the YouTubers Sassi (from Nakkalites) and Badree (from Temple Monkeys) who steal the thunder.
Director ARK Saravan’s debut film Maragadha Naanayam was a brilliant dark comedy where every character shined. But his sophomore is a far cry from the depth and seamless writing the 2017 film had. Saravan’s ideology on the need for humans to reunite instead of expecting help from the almighty and his take on superstitions that he laces the film with is commendable. But they never translate into moments and what we instead get are random sequences of police brutality and animal cruelty.
What almost saves the film are the fascinating ideas and nifty scenes — like the bracelet Kumaran wears being a conductor of electricity and how a ruptured electric line recharges Veeran — but these scenes are far and few between. Despite setting up a fascinating plot, the film fails with its execution leaving us with nibbles of fun sequences to be happy with. Veeran might work for kids who are bored of DC and Marvel superheroes and are interested in a homegrown hero worthy of his own comic series. But for fans of the genre, it’s a middling bolt from the blue.
Veeran is currently running in theatres