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‘Vaazhl’ movie review: Philosophical musings are great, but where’s the movie?

A still from ‘Vaazhl’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

There seems to be a constant disconnect between the characters of Arun Prabu Purushothaman’s Vaazhl and its viewers. It certainly has nothing to do with the film’s digital release, though, yes, it is a film that is designed for the big screen. But there is something missing, something off, something odd about Vaazhl. This something, though hard to quantify what, acts as a jammer keeping us at an arm’s length from getting involved; getting invested in its proceedings. You are never really, not even for once, with the characters of Vaazhl, although it is a film that truly wants you to be with them; to go through a gamut of emotions, to complete a cycle, like them.

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This detachment could be attributed to the screenplay nature of the film. It is pretty bold of Arun Prabu to construct a narrative, which, as he says, doesn’t have a structure, without a spine. Perhaps what Vaazhl truly lacks is the spine that knits its rather non-linearity together in a cohesive manner. Forget about narrative cohesion, the film is not even half close to achieving the absurdity that was intended in the first place.

Vaazhl
  • Cast: Pradeep Antony, TJ Bhanu, Diva Dhawan, Aahrav and SN Bhatt
  • Director: Arun Prabu Purushothaman
  • Storyline: A man going through a midlife crisis goes through a cycle of emotions, when an unplanned road trip with a relative and her son goes haywire, resulting in a journey that takes him to mountains, islands and across borders.

Which brings us to the fore about something being consistently inconsistent. Its inconsistency stems from the fact that Vaazhl is structure-agnostic, if that makes sense. The film doesn’t have a conventional plot and doesn’t follow the conventions of a screenplay. At least in theory. Its scenes are written as if we are flipping through old photographs without an order. There is no order to Vaazhl, nor in the way scenes are conceived. Notice the way it is edited by Raymond Derrick Crasta. The images just dissolve, showing snatches from life; from this journey.

‘Vaazhl’ is a film about inner search: Arun Prabu Purushothaman

Arun Prabu has a good idea in hand: someone going through a midlife crisis gets schooled about the oddities of life from the “eccentric” characters he stumbles upon in the journey, which would eventually transform his idea of tomorrow. On paper, Arun wants this person to travel from Point A to Point B to Point Z. He does even manage to half-execute the multiple stops. But the problem with a film trying to defy the very framework of a screenplay is, it either has to go completely bonkers, like say Super Deluxe for instance, or should have a strong backing of a plot, like say the Malayalam film Charlie or the Hindi film Finding Fanny. Vaazhl is neither here nor there.

What gets Vaazhl going is Prakash (Pradeep Antony), who is boxed up in a software job. His boss, girlfriend and family are constantly down his throat; he gets no time to breathe. The film is very much about his coming o̶f̶ ̶a̶g̶e̶ to terms with his pigeonholed life, when looked from an eagle's eye; his realisation about being alive today and “nalaiki” being a distant concept and so on. But for Prakash to reach there, he has to first meet and fall for his cousin who is referred as Yatramma (TJ Banu) by her son Yatra (Aahrav).

Both Yatra and his mother seem to be longing for care and love. Let’s say they both have to live with domestic abuse at home. Let’s say Yatramma does something in the heat of the moment, which would alter hers and Prakash’s course of life. Let’s say that involves a road trip, where each of them gets what they want: a father-figure in “Prakash Maama” for Yatra; a companion for each other for Prakash and Yatramma. Arun Prabu spends nearly an hour-long in this 112-minute movie setting up a conflict followed by a journey of self-discovery, which gets a resolution in the interval. The film, in fact, is actually not-bad till the half-way mark until it loses its grip to be an advertorial for World Tourism Day, with some stunning visuals captured through Shelley Calist’s lenses.

The problem lies not with the actors; they are all really good, and not with the execution. Maybe it’s the skin-deep nature of writing. Maybe the characters aren’t as “eccentric” as they were written on paper. Maybe it’s the emotional beats that aren’t working. My skin crawled when Yatramma kisses Prakash to say, “Nee enga saamy.” Maybe it’s the second half that is excruciating. Maybe it’s not punchier. Maybe it’s the urgency to talk about life’s philosophy, relationships, music and taking time for yourself. Someone hands over a piece of paper to Prakash with the word “vaazh” scribbled on it. Seriously?

Maybe we should be grateful to Arun Prabu for not trivialising the path to self-discovery by asking the hero to hop on a Royal Enfield to Ladakh. Baby steps, as they say.

Vaazhl is currently streaming on SonyLIV


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Printable version | Sep 29, 2021 8:45:06 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/reviews/vaazhl-movie-review/article35357646.ece

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