Vadhandhi Web Series Review: A compelling story bogged down by some prosaic choices

Vadhandhi Web Series Review: A compelling story bogged down by some prosaic choices

For a series that is convinced of its strengths to deliver a slow burn, an almost rushed final act feels like a copout
Rating:(2.5 / 5)

Remember the ethereal Monica Bellucci walking down the streets of a nondescript and sleepy Sicilian town in the World War 2 drama, Malena? The lazy town bustled with energy every time Malena, wearing floral print dresses and a beautiful hat, walked amongst them. Every single man wanted to be with her, and almost every single one of them knew she was way outside their leagues. The closest they got to her was by spreading rumours about Malena. It was like their ultimate revenge against the woman who didn’t even know of their existence. In many ways, when Velonie (Sanjana) walks down the streets of Kanyakumari, Vadhandhi: The Fable of Velonie is cut from the same cloth as Malena. At one point in the series, a shattered Velonie cries out loud to her strict mother asking if being born beautiful was her fault. In any other setting, such a dialogue might scream haughtiness, but here, it comes from a place of poignant honesty. This is the core emotion that the series carries through its eight episodes. But Vadhandhi moves so away from this emotion that a sense of bloatedness creeps in and a tight narrative, which is the backbone of any gritty crime thriller, starts fraying around the edges. 

Cast: SJ Suryah, Laila, Sanjana, Nassar

Director: Andrew Louis

Vadhandhi starts off with a cinema shooting where a missing heroine is mistaken to be the dead body found at the shooting location. But soon, we get to know that it is indeed the titular Velonie who is found dead on a windmill farm. This mistaken identity proves to be the fuel for a whirlwind media s*itstorm and a trial by society that takes over the lives and even memories of Velonie and her mother Ruby (a brilliant Laila). Considering the series is titled Vadhandhi (Rumours), the film does start off with a bunch of people saying things about Velonie and what might have prompted her gruesome killing. Although it is clear as daylight that most of these rumours are just rumours, the continuous drilling in of the same information from people really close to her makes us lay a shadow of doubt on Velonie. Creator Andrew Louis is successful in building a world that leaves us with doubt if Velonie is indeed what is being said about her. In a very smart move, even if Velonie is the central character of the series, she never tells us anything directly, and all that we see on screen is hearsay. It is her friends telling us about the kind of friend she was. It is her mother telling us about the kind of daughter she was. It is writer Sebastian (a consistently effective Nassar), one of the guests in the mansion run by her mother, who paints a rather wholesome yet sketchy picture of the gaps in Velonie’s story. There is a fiance here, a lover there, and a few forbidden romantic liaisons somewhere else. And just like the audience figures out things, we have police officer Vivek (a rather restrained SJ Suryah) figuring out the same along with us. 

Points to the makers to treat the audience with respect, and give us a slowburn that allows the investigation to breathe, and doesn’t cramp it all up. The case of Velonie isn’t solved in a day, but over weeks, months, and even years. Her story manifests into various forms, and takes a toll on Vivek’s mental makeup. His relationship with his wife (Smruthi Venkat) is strained due to a rather unique reason. His equation with his superiors hits a roadblock because of his doggedness in seeking the truth even after the case is closed. Vivek goes through these emotional upheavals because he is forced to rummage through all these unwanted flab to get to the bottom of the case. Unfortunately, the same can be said about Vadhandhi too. We too have to navigate through a lot of distractions to stay on the course of what’s happening. While the slowburn-style of the narrative isn’t a problem at all, and is in fact, a welcome detour from the usual crime thrillers we see on OTT, Vadhandhi runs into problems with the unnecessarily assumed need to fill in eight episodes. 

There are threads in the series that don’t need to be there at all. Take, for instance, the recurring trope of having five IT employees in Chennai consuming the news of Velonie through mainstream and social media. We have one of the guys discussing Velonie in a very crass manner, and after a point, he is admonished by the women in the group for being… crass. While it is understandable what the makers were going for with this detour, it is force-fitting a message, and it is not just out of place in a series that believes in the intelligence of its audience, it is downright juvenile. The same holds good for the narrative on certain powerful media houses manipulating the news and publishing sensationalist falsehoods to pump up the sales and TRP. While there is no doubt that trial by media is a bad thing, Vadhandhi’s representation of the same is unnecessary, distracting, and a colossal waste of runtime.    

Vadhandhi, which is bolstered by Simon K King’s music, makes maximum use of its picturesque locations, and is one of the better-looking series on OTT.  However, the novelty, especially with the casting and the setting, doesn’t always shine bright. While the Anglo-Indian dialect is delivered with a lot of conviction, the protagonists aren’t always convincing with their Kanyakumari dialect, which is delectable with the smattering of Malayalam. The labour in delivering these lines are clear, and it only makes the characters feel inorganic. Also, Vadhandhi delves into certain grim and grey areas, and while there are no reservations about the themes explored, it is disappointing that it isn’t explored enough. There is an interesting aside about a band of brothers wielding influence in the area because of their profession as hunters. This thread has a fascinating premise, but it feels underserved in the larger scheme of things. On the other hand, certain representations definitely felt problematic, especially a disturbing dream sequence that later becomes something more ‘family friendly’ and the visual aesthetics, and certain allusions that borders on the Lolita-isation of Velonie. 

For a series that is convinced of its strengths to deliver a slow burn, an almost rushed final act feels like a copout. It is but given that the last episode of a crime investigation series is used as an information dump, but just that in Vadhandhi, we have flashbacks piling in one after the other, and one too many twists, and of course, a couple of messages too are thrown in for good measure. Vadhandhi takes its time but does get to the bottom of the Fable of Velonie, and unmasks a lot of characters’ true emotions. It lays bare the fact that no one is above saying or spreading or using a rumour to their own advantage without thinking of its impact on the object of said rumour, even if they are not alive. Suryah’s Vivek continuously points out the depravity of people who indulge in said activities, but by the time, the eighth episode is done, and the credits start rolling, we too are as tired as him, and just want to curl up in a safe space. Finding out these uncomfortable truths, which hold a mirror to our own biases and prejudices is an interesting concept. But we are left with more questions about the series than going on a deep introspective look. Of course, Vadhandhi, at times, makes us see ourselves as multiple characters in the series. We could be the ones passing random judgments on strangers. We could be the ones losing sleep over harbouring a dark secret to keep the peace of the family. We could be the ones fuelling a rumour for personal gains. We could be the subject of rumours floating around. We could be the social justice warriors who have a different view outside of the public eye.

Vadhandhi aims to be a lot of things and does end up being some of them, but what it doesn’t end up being is more compelling and a bigger reflection of its misgivings. To paraphrase Vivek’s observation about the power of truths and lies — Indha maadhri kadhaila nalla vishayam odum, nalla illaadhadhu parakkum.

Cinema Express