Prasanna Vadanam Movie Review: A gripping thriller-drama that perfectly plays to Suhas’ strengths

Prasanna Vadanam Movie Review: A gripping thriller-drama that perfectly plays to Suhas’ strengths

Debutant director Arjun YK displays a great flair for narrative tension while capturing an element of absurdity and humour that blend in very well
Prasanna Vadanam(3.5 / 5)

If you are walking into Prasanna Vadanam expecting a thriller, the first half an hour might belie your expectations to some degree. Even though the film unfolds with the visuals of its fatally injured Surya (Suhas) being taken to the ICU, the sequences that follow have a surprisingly laidback energy. We learn that the jovial, good-hearted Surya has managed to overcome the trauma, and learned to lead a normal life free of any emotional baggage.

Cast: Suhas, Rashi Singh, Harsha Chemudu, Payal Radhakrishna

Director: Arjun YK

However, just as we are making peace with the narrative’s nonchalant demeanour, as Surya looks at people around him going about their life with a calm mundaneness on a rainy night, director Arjun YK turns the tables on us, reminding us of his story’s true ambitions. The central conflict comes into place as Surya witnesses something horrific, and decides to do something about it. The cards fall in one swift move, instantly taking us into the middle of the action. From this point onwards, Prasanna Vadanam maintains tension in the narrative, springing up one twist after another, barely giving us time to think. 

It’s hard to talk about Prasanna Vadanam without giving away spoilers, but the film truly gets into its groove around the interval mark when we get clarity on who the real antagonist is. Writer-director Arjun YK knows that any taut, thrilling narrative depends equally on its evil forces as much as its goodness, and creates an exciting villain figure here who is repulsive and riveting in equal measure. The film often catches us off-guard with its twists and developments; the antagonist stays ahead of not just the protagonist but the audience itself, and that’s a win. It’s easy to label Prasanna Vadanam as a plot-driven thriller, but a lot of the credit goes to the tension that stems from the unpredictability of the antagonist. We stay invested in the narrative on two levels, fearing and rooting for Surya while dreading the villain's next move.

What makes Prasanna Vadanam more compelling is that we are also made privy to the antagonist’s backstory and motivations, which makes the character more human while not compromising on the menacing aura the villain needs. Despite an occasional hiccup and a few logical loopholes, the narrative manages to keep us engaged due to this compelling cat-and-mouse dynamic between the good and the evil.

Moreover, despite maintaining its essence as a taut thriller, Prasanna Vadanam acquires a rather free-flowing tonality in the second half. The lines between comedy and tragedy occasionally get blurry in this story about an ordinary man straddling a chaotic situation, and Arjun YK makes space for some absurd humour too. There are plenty of moments in the second half where the protagonist’s vulnerabilities add to the tension, like a riveting action sequence that takes place in a public toilet. The director uses the dynamics of a constrained physical space to great effect, as we see Surya struggling to break free from the clutches of two psychopaths.  

At the same time, Prasanna Vadanam doesn’t shy away from delving into moral ambiguity or the messier parts of its protagonist Surya’s predicament either. At one point, Surya threatens a baddie with killing his infant baby if he doesn’t help him out. We know Surya eventually won’t do it, but are caught off-guard nonetheless, wondering for a quick moment whether Surya has actually become capable of evil, after enduring ill-treatment. In the final act, Arjun YK makes ingenious use of the romance track which up until now had felt completely perfunctory, without coming across as gimmicky. These portions offer a roller-coaster of emotions, as we empathise with Surya’s helplessness while being fully aware that something macabre could occur at any moment, and this tension again goes back to having a tragicomic protagonist at its root.

Prasanna Vadanam benefits hugely from an exemplary actor like Suhas, who breathes life into his role. The actor often elevates minor moments, lending a lot of rawness and humanity to a character that could have easily come off as a typical hero figure in the hands of another star. Suhas never makes Surya invincible, always reminding us of his ordinariness with small touches, like the one where his shoulder flinches after he pushes open a locked door, or when he desperately picks up a half-smoked cigarette from the pavement while being on the run for hours. These moments ring true, but more crucially, they remind us that, at its core, this is the story of a common man who is not above moments of utter despair.

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