Idle worship

Velaiyilla Pattathari  

There are films that cater to the actor, and there are films that cater to the star — in Velayilla Pattathari, Dhanush gets a film where he gets to showcase both sides. In the first half, we see Dhanush as we know him from Selvaraghavan’s early films, a loser named Raghuvaran who just can’t catch a break. But he’s no aimless lowlife. He’s a civil engineer who wants to put his education to use — in other words, he won’t settle for an easy, lucrative BPO job.

He shares his life with a father (Samuthirakani) who taunts him constantly, a mother (Saranya) who keeps defending him, and a younger brother (Hrishikesh) who is lighter-skinned, gainfully employed, English-speaking, more wimpy, and, in general, checks off all the ‘second hero’ boxes of a Selvaraghavan movie. The family lives in a cramped home, and the detailing is perfect. The floor doubles as dining table, a bed doubles as ironing board, a mirror doubles as sticker- pottu holder. And the girl next door (Shalini, played by Amala Paul, who’s simply required to look pretty and does) — richer, fairer — doubles as love interest.

Genre: Drama
Director: Velraj
Cast: Dhanush, Amala Paul, Saranya
Storyline: A jobless young man gets to redeem himself
Bottomline: A good cast saves an increasingly predictable (though entertaining) narrative.

But Raghuvaran doesn’t obsess over her. There’s hardly a romantic track to speak of — and certainly no silly duets. She keeps trying to kiss him on the mouth and he keeps resisting (yeah, right!) — though at first he does behave like a Selvarghavan hero. He fashions a telescope and ogles at her. (Later, in an unexpectedly touching moment, the gesture is reciprocated.) But he doesn’t get too creepy. There’s a very funny scene where he’s listening to a Tamil gaana song and humming along, but when he catches her staring he switches to a Backstreet Boys number. That’s the general tone of this romance.

Along with these rich-girl-poor-boy scenes, we get the sarakku scene (and the accompanying song-and-dance), the fight scene, the amma-sentiment scenes — but these clichés don’t feel like clichés. The director displays a sure hand. You can see that he wants to make a ‘safe’ movie but he goes about it in as organic a manner as circumstances permit. The lines are snappy (but not showy), the scene segues are fluid. And despite the shadow of Selvaraghavan, the film — at least the first half — isn’t disturbing. It doesn’t gnaw at your insides the way a Selvaraghavan romance does. There are no serrated edges, nothing that signals a director emptying his troubled soul on screen. It’s just… smoothly entertaining. For a while, Velayilla Pattathari plays like a Selvaraghavan movie you can take your mother (and her mother) to.

There’s just one cinematic scene in the first half, involving some money that Raghuvaran intends to use for something else, but even this is redeemed by his reaction — the headiness that he, for a change, happens to be the one holding up the umbrella when it rains. The first real shock comes at interval point — a dramatic development that’s too heavy given how easygoing things have been till then. And Velayilla Pattathari changes tracks, becoming a more overtly commercial proposition.

Earlier, the comedy was situational — Raghuvaran begging his rickety moped to cooperate (of course, he drives a rickety moped), or laughing loud when Shalini asks him if he is free the next day. But now, we get a separate comedy track with Vivek (who gets some funny lines). Suddenly, there’s some sort of second heroine, a villain (a bland Amitesh with the inevitably Brahminical name, Arun Subramaniam). A textured narrative turns unrelentingly black-and-white.

And the actor turns star. It was always Raghuvaran’s story, but earlier he was one character among many. (Saranya and Samuthirakani settle into their parts beautifully; not a single moment is overplayed.) But now, it’s just Raghuvaran, with no room for anyone else. Now he becomes uni-dimensionally macho, with a six pack and a shirtless scene. Now, the clichés begin to feel like clichés, all the way to the predictable end.

But Dhanush acts his heart out. He aces the small moments in the first half — like the one where Raghuvaran tells Shalini he isn’t jealous of his brother who’s just bought a car. He pauses a beat, just a beat, and then admits that he is jealous, just a little. As for his long, show-stopping monologue, delivered in an unbroken close-up, I’ll have to watch the film again to have an opinion on it — the audience around me depleted their lungs by whistling non-stop. This, then, is Velraj’s achievement. He’s given actor-Dhanush fans half a movie to love, and he’s handed over the rest to the star-Dhanush fans. Is there much use complaining when both actor and star are in such fine form?

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Printable version | Oct 20, 2020 12:23:19 PM |

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