Vaazhl: After reading some glowing reviews about this “bold” “audacious” “adventurous” foray into self-discovery I am firmly convinced it is the easiest thing in the world to con critics in this country with dimestore philosophy and wisdom borrowed from group messages on whatsapp chats.
Vaazhl (whatever that means) is a relentless raga of risible rumination. You know that guy in the party who talks about searching for oneself, finding a meaning to existence beyond the melee of materialism, blah blah? Vaazhl is the cinematic equivalent of that fake party guest who can hold a group in a thrall.
There is not a sincere bone in the body of Vaazhl, as it moves from being a exposition on domestic abuse , to a road film about an abused wife and her abused child abusing a naïve eager-to-score bachelor’s generosity. Then it all plunges into a kind of existential mess where hallucinatory images jostle with postcard shots of Nature nestling Man’s innermost yearning for peace and tranquility in a kind of enforced restless travel that doesn’t get anyone anywhere, least of all the audience.
To begin with there is a 30-something Prakash(Pradeep Anthony) in a relationship with the most annoying girl I’ve seen in cinema for a long time. No wonder Prakash readily agrees to drive the damsel in distress Yathramma(TJ Bhanu) and her monster son Yahtra(Aarav) to Rameshwaram , or wherever she wants to go. I am not sure.
The journey of the characters is as uncertain as the course of the narrative which in less than two hours takes us to all sorts of exotic spots on earth including Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. Finally like the hero’s foot the plot gets caught between a rock and a hard place.
All this sightseeing left me exhausted and baffled. Where is all this going? What is the director trying to say? Yathramma is obviously a wily woman. She is seen using her sexuality to get herself and her son as far away from her abusive husband as possible. But halfway in the travel , she is found to be developing genuine feelings for Prakash, the biggest sucker I’ve seen in movies.
Just when you begin to enjoy Prakash’s naivete, tragedy strikes the plot like a bolt of lightening stymieing the drama with oodles of inert existential philosophy about “letting go” and “finding one’s inner self”. Vaazhl begins like Rajneesh on wheels.
This picaresque pilgrimage into nullity leaves you with a feeling of being shortchanged. The cinematography and the editing are unpredictable. That is not always a sign of fruitful artistry. Sometimes being unpredictable in cinema is just a sign of not knowing what to do next. Vaazhl goes from one episode to another with no rhyme or reason. Vaazhl starts of promisingly but rapidly declines into a pantomime of reality. There is even a section which flashes back to the 1930s where an old man tells Prakash and Yathramma about a pigeon he loved like a beloved.
That is a good enough point in the plot for you to run for your life before the complications get so deep you are trapped in a situation where boredom is the only feeling left. And escape a dream.
Vaazhl is a Tamil-language drama film directed by Arun Prabu Purushothaman and produced by Sivakarthikeyan under his banner Sivakarthikeyan Productions. The film features a predominantly new cast and crew, which includes Pradeep Anthony, TJ Bhanu, Diva Dhawan, Aahrav and SN Bhatt in prominent roles.
Initial release: 16 July 2021
Director: Arun Prabu Purushothaman
Distributed by: SonyLIV
Music by: Pradeep Kumar
Cinematography: Shelley Calist
Production companies: Sivakarthikeyan Productions; Madhuram Pictures
Cast: TJ Bhanu, Pradeep Anthony, Aahrav, Diva Dhawan