Velvet Nagaram Movie Review: A satisfying chamber drama that is rough around the edges
A solid home invasion thriller that is held together by some impressive performances and inspired writing
Velvet Nagaram begins with a voiceover about the plight of the people living in forests who are forcibly evicted from their homes. It talks about how the greedy nexus between politicians and corporate companies continues to exploit them and usurp their lands and resources. There are also references to a real-life global mining company (you-know-who) and a forest fire (you-know-where) from the recent past.
After receiving this barrage of information, we are introduced to actor-activist Gowri (Kasthuri) and journalist Usha (Varalaxmi). They have uncovered something sinister that can rattle the chains of the powers that be. To be honest, at this point, I was all but ready for a journalist bringing the wrongdoers to justice with some smart investigative journalism. It would have been so empowering, especially now, to have a film about a no-nonsense journalist doing their job right.
However, just 15-20 minutes into Velvet Nagaram, the premise is turned on its head. It is a David vs Goliath film, just not the way the introduction scenes hinted. It is a cat-and-mouse chase, just not the cats and mice you thought would be running around. I was pleasantly surprised. As a fan of thrillers, having the rug pulled from under my legs, especially so early in the film, is always a... well, thrill. Out of nowhere, we get a murder, a heist gone wrong, a sexual assault attempt, a super-rich dude paying the price for being nice, and one home invasion.
Director: Manoj Kumar Natarajan
Cast: Varalaxmi Sarathkumar, Ramesh Thilak, Maalavika Sundar, Santhosh Krishna
Producer: Arun Karthik
Director Manoj Kumar Natarajan keeps a firm rein on the proceedings after a rather shaky start. For example, Usha does things that are very unbecoming of an intelligent journalist. Like, there is no journalist who would do what she does in a particular scene in a police station. It comes across as extremely incompetent. Though it is clear that such scenes are essentially plot pushers, it does expose the laziness. However, we tend to forgive these mistakes once Velvet Nagaram becomes the home-invasion thriller that it always wanted to be. The writing is elevated here, and it makes us wonder if the force-fed messaging about the forest fires were compromises. While these fires are an important knot in this twisted thriller, the messaging does take away some zest from Velvet Nagaram.
In some ways, Velvet Nagaram, ‘Makkal Selvi’ Varalaxmi’s 25th film, is similar to ‘Makkal Selvan’ Vijay Sethupathi’s silver jubilee film, Seethakathi. Both these actors have used their landmark films to shoulder a good project that needed a wide reach. It is heartening to see such stars accommodate young talent and understand how their names in the cast can help a film’s reach.
Velvet Nagaram is a solid home invasion thriller that is held together by some impressive performances from some comparatively new actors. And that is what makes this truly an edge-of-the-seat thriller. Varalaxmi & Co get thrown around, kicked, beaten, and are left bloody and battered for most of the film, and each actor aces the physical performance. Special mention to Santhosh Krishna and Ramesh Thilak, who play the unhinged drug-fuelled captor Selvam and the scared, angry, yet good-at-heart Dilli, respectively. They are matched strength for strength by Pradeep Benetto Rayan and Maalavika Sundar, who expertly balance the bravado and the dread of the captives Mugilan and Priya. These performances are elevated by Saran Raghavan’s background score that is pulsating, but thankfully not manipulative.
Over the past few years, slowly but surely, we’ve seen Tamil cinema embracing the chamber drama genre. From Arulnithi’s Demonte Colony and K-13 to the recent Natty-starrer God Father, our filmmakers are showing that it is not always opulence that sells. A taut thriller with spot-on production design and a neat screenplay with decent performances is becoming a template for success. And Manoj Kumar Natarajan ensures Velvet Nagaram, despite a few hiccups, is a worthy addition to this short but impressive list.