Director: B Unnikrishnan
Cast: Mohanlal, Vishal, Manju Warrier, Hansika Motwani
In B Unnikrishnan’s Villain, Mohanlal — playing Additional Director General of Police, Mathew Manjooran — sports a salt-and-pepper beard, and looks positively professorial. He quotes Lady Macbeth (“all the perfumes of Arabia…”) when reflecting on how unnatural an act murder is, and adds, “I love my Shakespeare.” This may explain his tendency to keep talking to no one in particular, as though delivering monologues to the audience. “Life is a dark comedy. You have to live it,” he’ll say. Or, “Revenge is a disease.” Or, “Nothing is white, nothing is black. Everything is grey.” Even a deduction is announced in a manner that suggests the ghost of Hamlet’s father is hovering in the vicinity. “These killings are not personal. It’s all about justice and justice denied.”
Watch how Mathew reacts to the sight of Neelima on a hospital bed, at once happy and heartbroken. It’s that clichéd smiling-through-tears scenario, but Mohanlal makes you feel the situation is just being birthed
He is, in short, the kind of pompous man you don’t want to be stuck with for some 150 minutes, and it’s to Mohanlal’s credit that we resist the urge to slap the ADGP across the face, if only to shut him up. Actors are so often celebrated for the big moments they orchestrate on screen that it’s a pleasure to be in the presence of a god of small things. Villain alternates between murder investigations in the present and flashbacks to Mathew’s past, with wife Neelima. (Manju Warrier is lovely. She infuses a small role with so much warmth, we feel her presence throughout the film.) Watch how Mathew reacts to the sight of Neelima on a hospital bed, at once happy and heartbroken. It’s that clichéd smiling-through-tears scenario, but Mohanlal makes you feel the situation is just being birthed.
Simply put, he does more for the movie than the movie does for him. The premise isn’t bad: the search for someone behind a killing spree. It’s the opposite of a Shankar premise, where the protagonist is a vigilante killer, with a cop on his tail. In Villain, the cop is the protagonist, but instead of building a suspenseful narrative, the director spends a long time building up this cop. Forty-five minutes in, Mathew, who’s on his last day on duty, is still debating whether he should take up the case. We know what he doesn’t, for we’ve heard his boss (Siddique) say, “No one can reconstruct a crime as intuitively as you.” Thyagaraja’s paeans to Lord Rama pale before the way our dialogue-writers worship our heroes.
In case we thought Mathew wasn’t super enough, he gets to read Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, which is carefully positioned so we can’t miss the cover. In our films, hefty characters equate to hefty reading — like how Rajinikanth, in Lingaa, was caught with a copy of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, or in Kabali, with YB Satyanarayana’s My Father Baliah. Recently, Andrea Jeremiah in Aval was seen reading Malala. While this is certainly an economical (and visual) way to define a character, the definition becomes one-dimensional, as though these characters read only what they are meant to be reading, given their part in the film. I miss the days when, in Aradhana, Sharmila Tagore cheerfully held up an Alistair MacLean without a thought about how she’d be perceived. No wonder Rajesh Khanna wanted to hang out with her. She looked like someone who didn’t take herself too seriously, someone capable of having fun!
Hansika Motwani is the equivalent of the ISI mark. You see her name in the cast list of a movie, and you know: Idiotic Scenes Inside
Given this situation, God bless Hansika Motwani, who single-handedly shoulders the responsibility of entertaining the audience. (For all the wrong reasons, but hey, unintentional comedy is still entertainment!) She’s introduced in a song sequence where she’s the lead singer, accompanied by a band. You think she’s a musician, but no. It appears that the character just likes to do random things. Like hang around Shaktivel (Vishal). They’ve had sex, but are they in a relationship? Who knows! And was she the woman in a burkha early on? But why? Again, who knows! In other words, the character is a perfect fit for the actress, who bravely keeps venturing into film industries where she does not know the language, and does not care. She’s the equivalent of the ISI mark. You see her name in the cast list of a movie, and you know: Idiotic Scenes Inside.
And what is with Shaktivel? There’s a hint that this mystery man’s actions mirror something Mathew once did, but instead of exploring this fascinating psychological (and ethical) dilemma — or, for that matter, stunning us with the reveal of a cop in cahoots with an escaped convict, or even convincing us about how Mathew arrives at his findings — the director keeps focusing on the externals. We get dull action scenes, silly shocks (rapists getting their genitals lopped off), unimaginatively handled sentiment (a stuffed toy falls in slow motion to indicate a girl is dead), and show-offy exotica (like the killer using poison extracted from a rare fish). If the screenplay is solid, no one would care if the killer used something as old-fashioned as a knife. Villain is yet another film that mistakes surface coolth for depth.
Watch the trailer of Villain here: