Remember when Tom Hardy decides to join a small group of all-women rebels against the army of war boys in gorgeous set pieces and action sequences of Mad Max: Fury Road? Now, imagine Tom Hardy walking up to Charlize Theron, narrating why he chose to join them with a sentimental backstory: that of the promise he made to his mother long before she passed away. Imagine how boring, how fake that movie would have turned out to be. This is exactly the problem that kills the H. Vinoth-directed Valimai from becoming a daring action film. But this is not a needless exaggeration to satisfy Ajith Kumar’s fans:Valimai’s stunt scenes are stunning. Absolutely stunning. H. Vinoth is truly a remarkable talent. He is one of the rare filmmakers who understands and thinks through the action blocks before writing them down.
While Theeran Adhigaram Ondru announced that H. Vinoth could do action, Valimai reaffirms our belief that H. Vinoth could perhaps be the best Indian filmmaker who knows how to write, choreograph and execute action sequences with a larger vision and purpose. Valimai could have beenthat racy, out-and-out action film we have seen in a long time. But it is bogged down by narrative hiccups: a) it ruins the overall experience with atrociously-written sentimental scenes and b) sadly, it is yet another Ajith Kumar-starrer where the style supersedes the substance.
Ajith Kumar is a rare ‘superstar’ who doesn’t seem to care too much about his ‘image’ and what the gatekeepers of Kodambakkam demand from him. It could be argued that he is, perhaps, the first star to break the on-screen image of a ‘hero’ with Mankatha, wherein he played a ruthless villain with flamboyance and without a moral compass. Which is why Valimai hurts more, for, it looks like a missed opportunity to exploit Ajith Kumar for a pure genre film. But more about the ‘Ajith’ problem later.
Valimai has a very generic premise; it employs a decades-old Good vs Evil trope. But where we get to actually see the flourishes of Vinoth is in the manner he does that. Kartikeya Gummakonda plays a Satan-like Wolfranga who exploits vulnerable youngsters, shunned by society as ‘failures’. He uses them to smuggle drugs that have already been smuggled into Tamil Nadu. In other words, they are Satan’s horses. And the person who has to stop them has to be a demi-god, right? In order to introduce this demi-god, Vinoth takes us to Madurai during the Alagar festivities. We get snapshots of the festival, but the actual Alagar comes alive through Ajith in the midst of thunder and lightning. The set-up and staging are so gorgeous that it leaves you wanting more.
That is another thing about Valimai. Every time we get a stunning action scene, it gives us this feeling that there is more to come. Which is why, even at 180-minutes long, Valimai feels like a great set-up for something big. And you feel cheated when it ends, rather dully.
If you are a fan of action, Valimai has three terrific stretches written into the proceedings. Even if these scenes play to Ajith Kumar’s strengths and reputation as a biker-racer, they are filmed in a manner where you could see the director’s vision to not settle for the ordinary. Valimai is also that film where the director, cinematographer (a fantastic Nirav Shah), stunt choreographer (props to stunt director Dhilip Subbarayan for those mouthwatering bike stunts), background score (Ghibran’s contribution is a huge booster, although the score is loud and overbearing at times) and editor (Vijay Velukutty) are in sync with one other.
The pre-interval stretch, which has people hanging in the air, crawling on the ground and showing off 360 degree skills, makes you wonder how good Vinoth is. Rather, how good Vinoth can be, if he were to make a pure action film. In case you hadn’t noticed, almost three-fourth of this review is about stunts. Because, Valimai looks like the film it could have been.
H. Vinoth also comes across as a filmmaker who understands moral complexities and the compromises that we, as a society, give ourselves. There is a great line Ajith says about women and gold chains. There is an even better line that Kartikeya says about the oppression parents put on their kids. There is even an attempt to understand how youngsters are radicalised. But where Vinoth struggles is when he writes the second half. The idea seemed to be about two people losing the power they think they had. But that doesn’t translate on screen. That is also where Valimai ends up looking without a flavour. That said, without the ‘amma’ sentiment, we would not have got a Mahabaratha kind of a moment between two brothers, one of whom is Arjun (Ajith Kumar).
It has often been said about Superstar Rajinikanth, that filmmakers seem to struggle with him, not knowing how to handle the stardom that supersedes his talent as a gifted actor. This argument could be made more so for Ajith Kumar who is easily an enigma and whose star power continues to be a mystery. Only three filmmakers seemed to have excelled in handling Ajith: Vishnuvardhan in Billa and Aarambam, Venkat Prabhu in Mankatha and Gautham Menon in Yennai Arindhal; the latter is easily the best Ajith Kumar-starrer in the last decade. None of this is to say that Valimai is a terrible watch by any stretch. It is one of the better Ajith films in recent times. But it is also something we have grown tired of watching Ajith do. Again and again.
Ajith Kumar himself looks so tired on the screen; though give him a pair of sunglasses and he transforms into being the most charming star again. But, but, there is something about Kumar’s eyes that looks defeated, as if they are screaming that the man is worn out and needs rest. As the hunt for a satisfying Ajith Kumar show continues, one wishes that AK gets a goodnight sleep first.
Valimai is currently running in theatres.