Saturday, May 18, 2024

‘Viduthalai Part 1’ movie review: Soori shines in Vetri Maaran’s most politically-charged film yet

Soori in a still from ‘Viduthalai Part 1’

Soori in a still from ‘Viduthalai Part 1’
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

A look at director Vetri Maaran’s filmography shows us a common trope in all the films he has directed; they’re stories of ordinary men, underdogs who are trying to make a living for themselves, only to be unwittingly pulled into a world of chaos that they have to escape unscathed. While this might sound like an over-simplification, it doesn’t dismiss the fact that they’ve all worked, both critically and commercially; this winning streak seems to have continued with Viduthalai Part 1. What’s also evident is how his socio-political commentary has gotten more vigorous with his latest outing, which is also his most politically-charged narrative yet.

The cops in Vetri Maaran’s films are usually filled with subservient people hardened by years of conditioning to follow orders or treacherous power-wielders who can misuse them for malicious purposes. While his Visaranai — a film that’s futile to not think about while watching or discussing Viduthalai — introduced us to a conscientious man in the form of Samuthirakani’s Muthuvel, here we get an entire spectrum of policemen; so much so that it would have been befitting to title this film 50 Shades of Khaki.

Viduthalai Part 1 (Tamil)

Director: Vetri Maaran

Cast: Soori, Vijay Sethupathi, Bhavani Sre, Gautham Vasudev Menon, Rajiv Menon, Chetan

Runtime: 150 minutes

Storyline: A new constable goes through a series of unfortunate events that leads him to hunt a separatist group’s leader

In the place of Muthuvel, we’ve got Kumaresan (Soori) a new joiner at a police camp set in a village surrounded by thick forests near the Tamil Nadu-Karnataka border. Kumaresan, as our POV character, learns the ways of the constables as well as about the Makkal Padai movement headed by Perumal aka Vaathiyaar (Vijay Sethupathi). Under the pretext of providing employment to thousands of oppressed people, a mining company — aided by the government in the name of the development of the state — plans on bringing down the ecosystem surrounding the hamlet. On one side, are the revolutionaries who claim they can speak all languages including violence; on the other side, we’ve got the system-led police force who term the separatist group a terrorist organisation. Stuck in the crossfire are the villagers who rely on the wealth of the forest for their livelihood and hence support Perumal who wants to save them and the land from the clutches of the corporate companies.

Despite talking about government affairs, the politics behind them and the social issues pertaining to them, Viduthalai doesn’t really get into the rights and wrongs. It instead concentrates on the conflict between the troops and the group, as well as the trials and tribulations of Kumaresan who has to make the difficult trade of his innocence and morals for recognition in his job and the love he has found in Tamizharasi (Bhavani Sre). While the former results in custodial torture and retaliation from the revolutionaries (which seems to have happened for years now) Kumaresan’s escapades are met with slap after slap of reality. Like a video game character thrown into a new world, he has to explore the unexplored and gain knowledge by understanding the locale’s history and its tryst with those in power.

At its core, Viduthalai Part 1 is Kumaresan coming to terms with the harsh realities of the world, the powers vested in those in charge, how they can be misused at their will and those at the receiving end retaliate to it. When he gets on the wrong side of the system, despite knowing a single apology can bring him back on track, he chooses to endure the punishment because what’s right and what’s decree isn’t always the same. This leads to another confrontation with a senior who, sensing Kumaresan’s resentment, asks if he would hit him, to which the once-meek constable answers affirmatively.

The film sports a brilliant list of talent both behind and in front of the camera. Soori, in the role of his lifetime, brims with energy and innocence as Kumaresan. As a good shooter who is forced to do basic chores, Kumaresan finally reaching out to a rifle at the climax with his trembling hand is symbolic of a man who is done being taken for a ride and is finally ready to take over the helms. The actor aces the intense scenarios his character goes through, as well as the breezy romance sequences.

Vetri Maaran’s latest film sports a brilliant list of talent both behind and in front of the camera

Vetri Maaran’s latest film sports a brilliant list of talent both behind and in front of the camera

Bhavani Sre, who we earlier saw in Paava Kadhaigal in which Vetri had also directed a short, is neat as the strong-headed Tamizharasi. Chetan as Ragavendar and Gautham Menon as Sunil Menon play superior police officers and do an excellent job in one of the best roles of their careers. Vijay Sethupathi, in an extended cameo, excels as the man with a mission.

Vetri’s frequent collaborator, cinematographer Velraj, exceptionally portrays the treacherous terrains that are visibly difficult to even traverse through, let alone shoot a film in. A single-shot sequence involving a train crash is probably one of the best we’ve seen in Tamil cinema. However, Ilaiyaraaja’s two songs, despite being melodious, provide very little respite as they take away from the intensity the film builds up to.

Despite starting as a single project and now stretched into two parts (the sequel is scheduled to release soon), Viduthalai Part 1 does feel rushed with its narrative. So much is packed into it that we rarely get to linger and feel for the atrocities the villagers are subjected to. There are scene involving fingernails being pulled out, a woman and her father-in-law being tortured naked, and a whole bunch of women forced to strip. But apart from the brazen display of power, those scenes really don’t have the same impact Visaranai gave us within a very limited runtime.

Viduthalai Part 1 ends at a crucial juncture and the ending makes it evident that exponentially more incidents are bound to happen in the sequel; Vetri leaves us on the edge of our seats.

Viduthalai Part 1 is currently running in theatres

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