[Be warned, spoilers in here!]
There are two cop movies in Tamil that are really the benchmark for this genre — Kurudhi Punal and Kaakha Kaakha. The first, a remake of Govind Nihalani’s Droh Kaal is a chilling tale of an officer in the anti-terrorism squad in his quest to bust a terror gang. Kamal Hassan starred as Adhi Narayanan, DCP, in this film which takes a look at a police officer’s life from a pyschological angle. The other, directed by Gautham Menon, describes how policemen suffer as a result of criminals victimising the family of the cops.
One of this year’s most awaited movies teams up Kamal Hassan and Gautham Menon. But Vettayadu Vilayadu (வேட்டையாடு விளையாடு) is neither a tale of mind-games, nor in-your-face. Rather, it comes out as a movie where the pair seem to have tried out the leftovers of their ideas from their older projects.
Have no doubts, Vettaiyadu Vilaiyadu is / might be one of this year’s better movies. It might become an instant hit in almost any language. It is good overall, great in flashes, and is a treat in terms of technical value and finesse; the camera-work, for instance, deserves an interim National Award! It marks a departure in moviemaking, where the storyteller, believing that he is in control, can take his time to let the desired effect sink into the audience. Not many directors are adept at this art. Gautham Menon is. But there are chinks, here, there and everywhere. And it makes me say the one word I will not want to associate with a Kamal Hassan movie — ordinary!
For one, the tale is not new. There are not traces, but whole predictable parts that have a close resemblance to Kaakha Kaakha. Come to think of it. In both the movies, just after the interval, the cop knows who he is in pursuit of. They meet. They fight. The bad guy walks away. And in both the movies, the bad guys get personal. And in both, bad guy abducts the cop’s love interest (incidentally, it’s the same poor Jyotika). And in both, the cop turns out victorious, and how? A similar one-on-one fight. Honestly, the way the first half (which was exciting) ended, the story should have taken a different twist. Gautham could have filled the second half with a pursuit on the lines of, say, The Day of the Jackal, or even Catch Me If You Can. Not that we wouldn’t have sensed a deja vu in that case, but it would have been new at least for Tamil cinema. Why should every movie follow the same route? A friend lamented that Tamil movies are becoming as predictable as Hindi movies!
The second mistake, and this is glaring, is that the casting is terribly wrong. The cast is almost similar to that of Kaakha Kaakha! The girl who gets abducted in the first scene is the same lass who gets killed by Pandya at the end of the Thoothu Varumaa song. Santosh, the officer who helps Kamal Hassan, the beggar who gives details in the bus stand, Arun who ill-treats Jyotika (much to the disapproval of the Mayajaal audience), the police officer who keeps the two criminals in custody, Daniel Balaji (Shrikant in KK, Amudhan in Vettaiyaadu) and even Jyotika herself are all faces we’ve seen in the earlier movie. There’s a similar storyline, similar treatment. Even the tagline — “another episode in a police officer’s life”! Pray why, Mr. Menon, the same cast?
Perhaps to compensate for all this similarity, Vettai differs from Kaakha in one way. It lacks the freshness, the originality and the crispness of Kaakha. There are quite a few scenes which seem unnecessary, something which can never be said about KK. Protracted scenes make us lose the effect. Take for instance the timing of the intermission — had the curtains been downed once the bad guys came into view, it would have made it more interesting, more thrilling.
And the audience is almost always in the right about what’s coming. Incidentally, just a couple of hours before watching the movie, I chanced to watch this YouTube video. Gautham Menon describes the alternate ending to Kaakha Kaakha (didn’t we always know there should have be one?), in which Jyotika doesn’t die. Really, it wasn’t that difficult to see where the inspiration behind Vettayaadu’s climax came from! It shows that Gautham hasn’t been able to shrug off Kaakha Kaakha.
Kamal Hassan isn’t known for self-effacement, and it is evident at a few places. Like the one where he tells Detective Anderson of the NYPD, “You know, it’s a hunch. It’s a gut feeling. Back home, they call it the Raghavan instinct.” Adhi Narayanan and Anbuselvan wouldn’t have uttered that. I wonder if such a dialogue might have been part of the original script. It is at places like these that Vettaiyadu loses out. Kaakha Kaakha is a director’s movie — where the one who wields the megaphone is totally in charge. Vettayadu doesn’t seem like one. Maybe the administrative difficulties in the making of the movie led to a drop in creativity or experimentation; but really, that’s speculation, and won’t serve as a good excuse.
I reiterate… Vettayadu is worth a watch; you might even like it very much… that is, if you’ve not watched Kaakha Kaakha… which, along with Kurudhi Punal remains one of only two — ONLY TWO — cop movies in Tamil worth benchmarking against.
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