“Urupada maata da nee” (you won’t do well for yourself) is the dialogue with which, Velaiilla Pattathari (2014) directed by Velraj, opens. Samuthirakani mouths these words, looking down into the low-angle camera; at his son—Raghuvaran (Dhanush). Though these taunts are technically hurdled at Raghuvaran, somehow it feels like it is at us. And that feeling only solidifies as we delve deeper into the film. Consider the fact, how Samuthirakani doesn’t get a name associated to his character, throughout the entire course of the film, and is referred to as only “appa” or “ivaru”, by the kids and his wife. This sort of makes him universal; he is just another father like our own, the one who reflects our short-comings and flaws, without sugar-coating them (more on this later). And, it is these seemingly trivial details which make Velaiilla Pattathari, so potent in its ability to invoke the strong empathy that you eventually have for Raghuvaran—the “velai illa pattathari” (unemployed graduate) in question.
Today being July 18th 2019, marks the five year anniversary of the film and I thought it’ll be a nice opportunity to introspect into what makes VIP and its protagonist so relatable and compelling.
Who is Raghuvaran? One of Us
Just like his dad, Raghuvaran too, is very familiar. He is a middle-class youngster, fresh out of engineering and wants a specific job, which obviously is unavailable to him… just like it is to most of us. He was innocent and ignorant as a young adult, like us. It is evident in Raghuvaran’s opening narration when he says, how he thought he was the only engineering graduate but then there ten lakhs more. And again, like us, he feels envious of his younger brother who is taller, employed at an MNC and most importantly “has a hero’s name–Karthik”. However, there is no malice in Raghuvaran. And moreover, all of these above-mentioned scenes play out humorously. You laugh at Raghuvaran, just like you would laugh at yourself when you sit down with your homies and recollect an embarrassing incident from schooltime.
Bhuvana Oru Achiryakuri
Be it Raghuvaran’s whimsical humour while conversing with his mom—Bhuvana (portrayed beautifully by Saranya) and or be the underlying warmth; they seem ideal yet are common sight. It’s the kind of mom which my mother would completely relate to, yet idolize. Especially the scene which follows after his mom almost catches him peeping at his neighbourhood crush thorough a DIY telescope. You get Raghuvaran refer to a scene in Titanic, in order to talk about his own yearnings for a relationship, but before he could, his mom asks matter-of-factly ‘andha kappal odanji thanni kullapoi ellaarum seththu poiduvangale, adhaana?’ (the movie in which the ship sinks and everybody dies, right?). I was like “the poor kid wants to open up and that’s the worst way to react. It’s exactly what my mom would have said”. Another (conceptually) relatable scene is the one where she sneaks the drunk Raghuvaran into the house without getting caught by his dad, only to whack the sober Raghuvaran the next morning with the classic weapon of Tamil mom’s – ‘thodappam’ (broom). The relationship they shared feels so real, that when she passes away by the interval point, it hits hard. And, the particularly swift way it unfolds is a shocker and a cause of real trepidation.
Who IS THE Karvaad?
Raghuvaran isn’t a wastrel, unlike some other characters of Dhanush-starrers like Padikkadavan or Thiruvilaiyaadal Aarambam. He just hasn’t got his break, while at the same time he isn’t ready to settle down for anything else than being a civil engineer, and to ‘build’ his ambition. By the start of the movie, it has been four years since he has graduated and his cricket friends have moved out of the neighbourhood to places where their jobs took them, while Raghuvaran is still there, stagnant and self-pitying. So the visible drift between Raghuvaran and his father is because, Raghuvaran’s father believes that Raghuvaran is wasting his potential and caught up in a vicious cycle of no opportunity, so no way to prove himself, therefore a lack of self-esteem leading to laziness which in turn goes back to putting in lesser effort to catch a break. And paying attention to three scenes help you identify, how otherwise Raghuvaran’s father is proud of him.
1. As we get to know later on in the film, Raghuvaran’s dad gifted him his now-trustworthy moped for securing the ‘first rank in 7th standard’. Note: It is 7th grade, not 10th or 12th.
2. When Raghuvaran throws a tantrum after being caught smoking and “spending 40,000 in a day”, it required a slap from his mom to end it from escalating into a walk-out. However, the next day you get to see his dad’s disapproval of slapping the boy (though short-lived).
3. When Raghuvaran blames himself over his mom’s death and breaks down off-screen, you get a terrific scene where his dad has tears swelling up, hearing his son lament. Though initially reluctant to lend a shoulder, he soon gives in, not being able to bear hearing Raghuvaran wish himself dead.
So, when Raghuvaran does land a job he fancies, and presents his first construction project to his dad, we get a moment where they both look at each other, eye-to-eye, and Raghuvaran turns to leave but his father gives his hand out for a sincere shake. Raghuvaran has grown out of his self-loathing and grown more confident. He has broken the vicious cycle, to take up big responsibilities like a government slum clearance project which everyone from the comical Vivekh’scharacter to the “amul baby” (read: equally amusing) upper class (and caste?) Amitash’s villain.
Rocky VS Raghuvaran
From that point, both Raghuvaran and the film changes gears. Raghuvaran has changed a lot. From a man who laughs out loud at the question of whether he is available the next day (asked by his crush Shalini; played by Amala Paul)—only to respond “yaara paathu enna kelvi kekura naa eppayume free dhaan” (are you seriously asking me that question, I am always free); to a man who has to push an amorous Shalini out of his tent for the time being to accommodate his jealous senior (Vivek) and the ‘not really a second heroine’ played by Surbhi, to discuss work. The film too changes, it does the narrative equivalent of a dolly zoom on Raghuvaran (and a couple of new character on screen and off too—cough “golden flower” cough) while leaving off the other character from the first half. You now get comedy tracks of Vivekh, a shirtless fight scene and the hyped-up, oner monologue that Dhanush mouths at the villain (which I enjoy for what it is BTW).
Velaiilla Pattathari, in many ways is very similar to Rocky (yeah, I am a sucker for films about underdogs). Especially, the way it is structured. Both the films have ‘paavam’ (innocent) losers as its central character, both have pretty and empathetic love interests, both get dissed by those around them, a coach in one and a dad in another. But most importantly, both films take their time to make us empathetic towards the protagonists before throttling into the main conflict. Both these films don’t really introduce their respective central conflicts almost until the half-way mark. In Rocky it is around the 56th minute of 119-minute long film, the proposition of fighting Apollo Creed is brought to Rocky Balboa. In VIP, it is after 72 minutes out of the 133 minutes, that the construction project is handed over to Raghuvaran to lead, and meeting Amitash comes even later. And when it finally does, Dhanush transforms from the actor to the star, unlike Sylvester Stallone, maybe because Dhanush can afford to do that and there is a ‘mass’ wanting it from him.
Because, however ‘not too plausible’ a situation it may be; when ‘velai-illa-pattatharis’ from all around arrive in volumes of buses, volunteering to help out Raghuvaran and his small team which is stripped off of employees and engineers by the unfairly-powerful Arun Subramaniam (aka. Amul baby played by Amitash)—I did get goose bumps (largely thanks to Anirudh’s electrifying background score) and the engineer in me teared up for reasons similar to why a middle-class guy would tear up seeing the political utopias in Shankar films’ climax…it is not too plausible yet it gives the high needed to carry on with our lives and hope for someone else to knock at our door someday and give us our break. Hey, it happened to Rocky and Raghuvaran, so why not?