Vedalam review: Ajith turns Phantom, vilely and violent
Cast: Ajith Kumar, Lakshmi Menon, Shruti Haasan.
Tamil cinema often lets its plus points be marred by minuses -- which only seem to be multiplying as time goes by. Nobody can ever deny that Tamil films can be gutsy. They tackle themes which Bollywood will not touch with a bargepole. They plant their stories in refreshingly rural settings, clothe their actors in “veshti” (dhoti) or half-sari (the link between a “paavaadai” or full-length skirt and sari) and use overly village rituals and festivals as background or embellishment.
But, Tamil movies are also unashamedly hero worshippers (not really heroine worshippers) -- a broad hint of how patriarchal the society is. So, it is not surprising we have men like Rajinikanth or Kamal Haasan or Ajith Kumar or Vijay who have to flex their muscles on the screen to tell the world that they are supermen -- the message aimed particularly at female fans, who are ready to faint at the sight of Ajith’s ripping muscles or Rajinikanth’s tricks. So what if Ajith loses anything tender in the bargain or Rajinikanth begins to look like an inane magician.
Vedalam -- which this Diwali is competing with an undoubtedly better-made and conceived film of Haasan, Thoongaavanam -- has been written only to exhibit a muscular Ajith, but Siva’s work is at same time careful about the star’s core image. He has to be a good man, who has to be a caring brother to his sister, Tamizh (Lakshmi Menon). And why? For, he has promised her parents to take care of her. Gentlemen keep promises, Ajith has to be one. Otherwise, his fans will be devastated.
Ajith’s Ganesh (there are frequent references to the Hindu god) is a vicious battering ram who pounds people to pulp, while playing the noble samaritan. He is also as cunning as a fox: look at the way he exposes the lawyer, Swathi (Shruti Haasan), when she coerces him to give a false testimony in court (the legal system also comes under the scanner here), and see the way Ganesh (whose nickname is Vedalam or Phantom, minus of course the costume) fixes a two-timing Laxmidas (Soori).
And Ganesh is a cabbie in Kolkata (pray, why this city, I have no clue, and some of the scenes appear not to have been shot there), a do-gooder, who has an ace goonda like Kolkata Kali (Rajendran) eating out of his palm -- all because the taxi-driver tells the thug that he looks “beautiful”. Where will all this silly romp end?
At the very end, when Ganesh -- who migrates from Chennai (where he was a street ruffian, breaking men’s heads and extorting money for land deals) to Kolkata with Tamizh (who joins an art school and sees her artistic talent bloom) -- vanquishes three evil brothers. The reason is as frivolous as a flickering flame in a hurricane. The methods he adopts will have the Mossad swooning in shock (Why did we not think of this, they would bang their heads on the wall).
Ganesh appears like Phantom at the flick of a frame, and silences dozens of sophisticated guns, and the men holding them crumble like nine-pins as the ball rolls, all fire and fury. The sight is ugly, downright gory, and I wonder how women in the audiences (children!) stomach such orchestrated violence performed with the relish of tucking in a plate of piping hot biriyani. Which Ganesh does with aplomb.
Vedalam is in a way an extension of Bahubali, where the evil is killed, and coming as the Ajith starrer does during Deepavali, the work is bound to strike an emotional note with all those who still believe, in this day and age, that the world needs supermen to get rid of bad guys, and yes supermen who are tender by day and tough by night, who caress their lovers as if they were delicate flowers, who love their sisters as if they were the last word in fragility.
At 157 minutes, Vedalam is but an Ajith Kumar show (all the way where Menon and Haasan are wasted). The man arrives with a big bang and never tires of bashing up baddies -- but now and then taking a break to cleanse society of minor evils like fooling law courts or cheating on wives.
Certainly not for children, who might wonder how Phantom sprung out of their favourite comic books in such a horrifically mutated form.