Vellai Pookal Review: A satisfying local reimagination of Sherlock
Debutant director Vivek Elangovan has broken the usual stereotypes that we associate with Vivekh and has brought to the fore the actor's seldom explored zones
Remember Raghavan from Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu, the Deputy Commissioner of Police, who went to New York to solve a series of homicide cases? What if Raghavan was replaced by DIG Rudhran (Vivekh), who sets out on a similar intriguing mission in Seattle, but post-retirement? As I was watching Vellai Pookal, I found myself drawing parallels to Kamal Haasan's 2006 investigative thriller. While the protagonist of the latter film was a more a man-of-action who goes by his gut (or should I say, 'Raghavan instinct'?), Rudhran's strongest muscle is his brain and he uses his mind palace a la Sherlock, before arriving at conclusions.
Cast: Vivekh, Charle, Dev, Paige Henderson
Direction: Vivek Elangovan
Debutant director Vivek Elangovan has broken the usual characterisations that we associate with Vivekh and instead concentrated on the actor's seldom explored strong zones. Unlike his other films, Vivekh doesn't make references to cinema, politics, or real-life personalities. In fact, his Rudhran doesn't even bother to keep tabs on any of those. He watches only one type of news most of the time -- crime. However, the director does keep the innate nakkal in the actor intact. For example, even while whining to a friend about being homesick in the US, Rudhran says, "Idhu oru kambi illadha jail pa... Aana inga namba ooru maadhri illa, kuppa lorry kuda evlo suthama iruku theriyuma?"
Not many filmmakers have successfully utilised the full potential of the performer in the veteran comedian, but in Vellai Pookal, director Vivek sets up a solid stage for the actor and Vivekh steals the show effortlessly. One particular scene where he breaks down in tears is just beautiful. As an aside, I would have liked it if the film had been titled Vivegam, keeping in tune with the witty nature of the film as well as a cheeky nod to the same name shared by the actor and director.
Vellai Pookal is a smart film all through despite taking a fair share of cinematic liberty. The director doesn't let us down with the loopholes or loose ends that plague most investigative thrillers. Aside from one particular instance, the screenplay isn't propelled by random coincidences, but by pure investigation. And director Vivek takes this screenplay to the next level with clever visual storytelling. He also deserves a special mention for the portrayal of violence in the story, which is always implied but never explicitly shown. When a girl gets abused, the establishing shots and the sound effects that follow are enough for the pain to hit home in full force.
Every character in the film has a reason to exist and all of them carry a hidden secret. Ajay (Dev), Rudhran's son isn't your average 'American Mapillai', who sports an artificial accent and constantly carries a laptop around as if he was born with it like Karnan's kavasa kundalam. He is conflicted yet empathetic to all. With the film entirely set in Seattle, there are several foreign actors and all of them deserve praise -- it is refreshing to see foreign actors play relatable and realistic roles for once. Of these, Paige Henderson and Gabrielle Castronover merit particular mention, and I really would like to see them work more in Indian cinema. But the most impressive of the supporting cast is our own Charle, whom I consider a hidden gem of Tamil cinema. He shines as Bharathi in Vellai Pookal, and acts as the perfect Watson to Rudhran's Sherlock. Charle lightens the mood of the fairly intense film with his organic humour and has his share of witty moments.
Vellai Pookal opens with a shot of a couple watching the famous Nagesh and Sivaji conversation from Thiruvilaiyadal about divinity and life, and the wall behind their TV is filled with photos of revolutionists like Karl Marx and Che Guevara. This couple is unaware of the perennial sexual abuse their 10-year-old child is experiencing at the hands of a predator. This scene is followed by Vivekh's introduction. I wonder if the prelude can be taken as a tease hinting at the actor's real-life persona as a thinker. Or should it be perceived as one that establishes how this progressive couple fails to realise what their child is going through? I believe this single sequence conveys the entire purpose of the film. For a change, Vivekh doesn't speak at length to convey this social message. The film speaks for itself.
As I left the theatre, I was happy to see that the Chinna Kalaivanar had well and truly arrived, not as the naive 'Aettu' Erimalai, or the clumsy inspector Agniputran, but as the witty, and gutsy DIG Rudhran.