By Bharath Vijayakumar
Is Venky Atluri’s Vaathi (Sir in Telugu) supposed to be a bilingual? Or is it a Telugu movie dubbed in Tamil or vice versa? From whatever I could make of it, it looked like a film that was shot with most actors mouthing Telugu dialogues with few exceptions. This is usually a turn off for me. Going in with the expectation of watching a dubbed film is one thing but this trend of catering to two languages and not being honest to either is completely different. This wasn’t the case with Prince and Varisu. They might have been made with the intention to cater to both languages, but at least it was evident that they were completely shot in Tamil. But in Vaathi, in the same scene it looks as though one actor is speaking in Tamil and the other in Telugu. Watch the scenes involving Dhanush’s colleagues played by Hyper Aadi (Telugu) and Sha Ra (Tamil) and this becomes obvious. The film conveniently or cleverly sets the premise in the border of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. To be honest, after a while it did not bother me much or rather Thambi Ramaiah’s famous ‘Adhuve Pazhagidum’ line from Kumki came true.
Coming to the plot, Vaathi is quite similar to the Samuthirakani starrer Saattai and the Jyothika starrer Ratchasi albeit with a hero who can beat up the bad guys and walk in slow motion. It talks against the privatization of education. We have quite some build up before we get to see Bala sir (Dhanush) and to be honest, the hero glorification works in Vaathi. GVP amps up the score and film embraces its over the top meter and melodrama wholeheartedly. It was actually surprising that scenes that can so easily be laughed at (it still can be) and scenes that I probably would have laughed at in another film weren’t bothering me much here. It worked at places, and I did not mind it at other times. The melodrama which remains under check in the initial half hits the roof in the second half and somehow it still remained effective at places. The scene where Ken Karunas uses a water pump to soothe the soles of Dhanush for instance. A little slip and it could almost be spoof like, but it works. Perhaps the fact that the film is set in the 90s is what ensures that we buy into all this or maybe that is the exact reason they decided to set this in the 90s. Even then, that Bharathiyar scene towards the climax shouldn’t have existed or at least done better. But that scene is also a reminder about what this film could have easily been, and I realized that Venky Atluri was doing a reasonable job all this while.
Dhanush comes across as effortless and he remains relatively subtle in a film where everyone else is quite loud. I am not getting into the message of Vaathi as I genuinely don’t buy into the intentions when a film is using a hero to solve all the problems. All it takes for the hero is one scene to eradicate casteism. It works in the film, yes. But nothing more. I sometimes feel that this oversimplification of complex and important issues can do more harm than good. Also, to be really invested with the message that the film is talking about, you need believable characters all around. Will someone as cunning and shrewd as the villain played by Samuthirakanni go around spewing venom and keep disclosing his plans to everyone?
Vaathi is predictable, melodramatic and too simplistic. But it has moments throughout that work and remains passable as a whole.