The flip of a coin would determine the interconnected lives of twin brothers. One is an animal and the other is a trained animal, as Kamal Haasan famously said about playing twin brothers Nandhu and Vijay in his influential Aalavandhan (2001), based on the story Dhayam written by Haasan. Let’s address the elephant in the room; Naane Varuvean and Aalavandhan are two different films. But it really is hard to not think of the similarities these two share: the twin brothers trope and interconnected destinies, the neglected older brother being the villain and having daddy issues, among other things.
I do get it, though. It is not right to draw comparisons between the two films, even if they are cut from the same cloth. As a psychological thriller, Aalavandhan was, in fact, revolutionary for its times in the way it understood the psychological trauma of Nandhu’s compulsive mental illness. Haasan’s script was more dense and curious to perhaps see where Nandhu would go based on his condition. The character was off to a place where there was no coming back. That was Aalavandhan. The script had a masterful cause and effect: Nandhu was mentally ill because of the abuse he had to face from his father and stepmother. He kills them because of the delusions he sees of his dead mother. He wants to ‘save’ his brother Vijay from his wife because he sees a reflection of their stepmom in her. He wants to kill Vijay’s unborn baby because he thinks the latter’s wife is lying, like his stepmom.
But in Naane Varuvean, there is a big hollow right at the centre of the screenplay (written by Dhanush) that fails to address the question of why. Rather, what is the character’s motive? Because it doesn’t have answers, we are left to draw our own conclusions. In Aalavandhan, for instance, one could argue that Nandhu was made a circumstantial villain. But in Selvaraghavan’s film, the older brother Kathir (Dhanush gets a king’s reception from fans when he appears as the twin) is imagined as just a pure force of evil. Perhaps that way, you could call Naane Varuvean as the second instalment in Selvaraghavan’s Good vs Evil trilogy that began with the mostly fascinatingNenjam Marapathillai. Now the downside to having two Dhanushs in a film about good and evil, is that we care little about the good guy and wait for the actual “hero” to arrive. And he does, only at the interval point.
Naane Varuvean is still a most interesting addition to Selvaraghavan’s long-list of fascinatingly imperfect films. But you do get a sense of the story being incomplete here, for it needed better writing and more fleshed-out scenes from Dhanush.
I had almost no problems with the first half. Treated like a folklore, the film dives right into the story of the twin brothers, Kathir and Prabhu. Their very nature is established in the opening scene where Kathir gets an earful for setting someone’s petticoat on fire. His father beats him to pulp and ties him around a tree as punishment. Kathir escapes. There is a stunning moment that remains just stunning as a stand-alone scene. When Kathir runs into the forest, he gets hunted by someone like an ancient spirit (played by Selvaraghavan). The boy’s eyes stop him from being killed. He lets Kathir loose and asks him to run for his life. Kathir, however, kills him. The hunter therefore becomes the hunted.
There is, of course, no logical explanation to why Kathir lives a dual life; a human in the daytime and a werewolf at night. But this scene reminded me of the stunning Australian horror You Won’t Be Alone (I caught this at Sundance Film Festival earlier this year), where a witch kidnaps a young girl and turns her into a shapeshifter leading the life of a human and a witch at the same time.
Notice the title, which itself is a throwback to the song from Yaar Nee? (1966). That film was about reincarnation but here, Kathir re-enters Prabhu’s life. In the present, Prabhu leads a happy life with wife Bhuvana (Indhuja) and daughter Sathya. He’s a caring father. So much so that when Bhuvana wants a second child, he says, “I don’t want to share my love for Sathya.” We know he is petrified of his older brother, but what makes him say this? What does this say about Kathir and him as twins? Did he have a problem with Kathir because of the shared love? Or is it because he is evil? The film lacks clarity in defining the boundaries of its characters, and its two-hour duration isn’t helping either. At least a chunk of pages from the screenplay seems to be missing.
There is urgency to dive straight into the conflict: two montage songs are pictured to ‘show’ Kathir and Prabhu’s loving families. We know nothing about the equation Kathir shares with his family, and Prabhu with his, except that they are loving and caring. And these are important for us to feel the chills and thrills. When Dhanush is introduced as Kathir with a hair-raising ‘Veera Soora’ from Yuvan Shankar Raja, you expect the film to be thrilling from there on. Come on, let’s admit…we love to watch heroes fighting themselves on screen. But you get the feeling that the makers just wanted to finish the movie and be done. The issue is also with Dhanush’s script… it is as if he was so impressed by how convincingly he could pull off Kathir and sleepwalk Prabhu that he perhaps did not care much to write an emotionally-convincing plot with these characters. That is why when Prabhu gets a second child in the end, you just marvel at the idea. It makes you feel nothing.
Is there any other ‘star’ than Dhanush in the current generation who can surrender themselves completely to the character? He has no inhibition smoking, and playing an alcoholic on screen. You want something, he delivers it, like in Thiruchitrambalam. If you want Dhanush to play a morally-flawed character, he would still do it. There is an alarming scene involving Kathir in the second half. Let us say he puts a few characters behind chains. There is violence too. This is not something a mainstream hero would agree to do, let alone a star. In the said scene, we see him break into an impromptu dance, which serves as a delightful reminder of Kadhal Kondein’s climax. I walked out smiling and wondering if there is any other ‘star’ who could do a Dhanush.
Naane Varuvean is currently running in theatres