Yes, the premise of this exercise when I started back in May was solely Hindi movies, but having just seen Kamalhasan’s latest (Tamil) movie Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu, I’m making an exception.
I’d been burned by the last few Tamil movies I handed over good money to see – first Priyasakhi and then Paramasivam – in spite of the fact that I liked the lead actors (Madhavan and Ajith, respectively).
In Priyasakhi, a kind of Thamizh Banarasi Babu, everything Vestern was bad, slapping the little woman a few times was ok, and, in this one, Maddie goes to court to order his soon-to-be-ex-wife to carry their baby to term, then he will take the little tyke and raise it himself, since his phoren-influenced wife is not good mother material.
Paramasivam, also starring personal fave Prakash Raj, was too long, too boring and too obvious. You know you’re off to a bad start when, in the first minute of a film, you see a guy with an umbrella-type baby carriage about to apply a screwdriver to it, and you murmur to your companion “He’s making a bomb”, and you’re right. This movie’s only saving grace was its quintissentially typical Tamil movie’s raunchy, rump-shaking Asai Dosai number.
But after a somewhat favorable assessment of VV from a Madras-born girlfriend, and curiosity to see how it portrayed New York City, I’m glad I went.
Directed by Gautham Menon (of Kaaka Kaaka fame), Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu (Hunt and Play) is the story of S. Raghavan, a tough cop (is there ever a movie about a softie cop? moreover, would we watch one?) who has a hangdog look about him, likely owing to the tragic impact his work has had on the people closest to him.
Raghavan gets involved in the investigation of the murder of the daughter of his mentor, Arokiraj (Prakash Raj). His former partner in policing is horrified to open his front door one day and find his daughter’s severed finger hanging from one of these (see below), like a malevolent mistletoe of sorts. (By the way, what is the name for these things???? I’ve asked everyone I know, all and sundry recognize that they are a talisman to ward off evil, but no one can give me a name. Yet.)
Not long after the discovery of the murdered girl, Raghavan finds out that both Arokiraj and wife, who were so griefstricken they moved to New York, have been executed. He hops a plane to Newark, and while he flies across continents, he has a flashback on his earlier career with Arokiraj, and we learn that Raghavan was once married. The onboard flashback takes us through his first encounter with his wife, their days together, through to her kidnapping and murder.
Once in the U.S., he is partnered with a member of the NYPD and installs himself at a midtown hotel. No sooner does Raghavan unpack then he finds himself saving the life of the girl next door, Aradhana (played by the just-married Jyothika), who is despondent over the break-up of her marriage and in the process of trying to kill herself. Eventually (can you see this coming?), she and Raghavan become friends.
While doing some sleuthing with his vellai counterpart, Raghavan discovers four more victims of the same killer he’s seeking, and he starts to narrow in on a suspect. There is a violent confrontation in a Brooklyn apartment (that no one could have walked away from in real life) and the killer flees back to India. As soon as Kamalhasan has recovered, he and Jyothika return to Madras, sitting comfy in Business Class, and actually standing during part of the long flight home to chat by the lavatory (vah! kya location!).
On the passport control line – second only to the ITC Welcomgroup lounge as the most romantic place at Chennai Airport – Raghavan declares his love to Aradhana, only to be met by a queasy look and the “I’m-just-not-ready-for-a-relationship-right-now” spiel.
Raghavan’s nemesis continues to kill and taunt him, until a violent climax that also (can you see this coming?) involves Aradhana, who has just come to realize that she does have feelings for the 50-something cop after all.
It’s not a perfect movie, and the biggest complaint I have is the link between homosexuality and the killer’s motive. It’s an irresponsible, erroneous and dangerous way to explain the behaviour of someone who, we are to believe, enjoys raping and mutilating women before finishing them off. It’s very disappointing that someone of Kamalhasan’s reputation and power in the Tamil film industry would willingly participate in this movie without objecting and asking the director to find an alternative back story for the serial killer.
That said, the Raghavan character was interesting enough to want to watch for two hours plus. Kamalhasan plays him with an appropriate compactness of gesture and weariness. It’s refreshing to see a slightly more nuanced Jyothika as a mother and woman with a career, though still young enough to be Kamalhasan’s daughter. (Aiyo.)
The hair crew at VV should be taken to task for the bad dye jobs on the men. Kamalhasan’s hair is a shade of black not found anywhere in nature, while it looks like all they did to make Prakash Raj go grey was sprinkle talcum powder liberally through his hair and moustache.
Both Kamalhasan and Prakash Raj are broad-shouldered and slim in the leg, and like many men their age, both are a bit soft around the middle, with a certain fleshiness of body and face that is pleasing. Possibly for this reason, the audience at the screening I attended laughed loudly at the “Hello Moto” ringtone of Raghavan’s phone. It was jarring to see a taciturn, senior cop with his experience responding to the same sound that was once popular with Japanese teens.
The picturization of the Partha Mudal song that we see as part of Raghavan’s flashback to the time with his wife has moments that are beatifully executed, including an overhead shot of the two in their new home, curled up in an embrace on the tile floor, with the pallu of the wife’s black, red and gold sari spread out behind her. The Neerupae Goa number was fun, though it looked more like an item number to be found in a Hindi movie than the usual filmi equivalent from TamilNad.
Half of the movie takes place in Manhattan and a lot of the action take place in and around Times Square, as well as the Jersey waterfront and South Street Seaport. One annoying technique, repeated several times, was to show some familiar area of NYC, but to have the shot inverted, so the sky was below and ground above, which was pointless. Also without reason were the frequent references to the time in the corner of the screen. Such a detail would be fine in a film where the exact time or date matter (e.g. Dus, or an episode of M*A*S*H where the docs only have 30 minutes to complete an operation on a patient packed in ice), but here it was just annoying.
See it or skip it?
As much as I liked the rest of the movie (Kamalhasan, Jyothika, the music), it’s a shame to encourage a director whose film tars the gay community so badly.