The first episode of Vadham shows Sruthi Hariharan entering the frame with a morose expression, on a two-wheeler. We don’t know her character’s name yet and she seems to be worried about something. We soon learn that she’s going to a particular place to rescue a kidnapped child. The minute she reaches the spot, we realise it’s going to end badly for the baddies. Of course, she’s there to thulp them. Her transformation — from the mother of the child (as she claims) to a gun-wielding cop — takes just a few seconds. It’s unlike anything we have seen this decade, especially in the world of Tamil cinema and series.
But the action scene that follows appears amateurish, as the idea isn’t matched by the execution. This bumbling bit of incompetency is seen throughout Vadham, mostly during the stunt sequences. The action choreography looks thoroughly rehearsed. Sakthi ducks and jumps and pulls herself away from the line of injury as though she’s aware of all the moves her rivals are going to make. She gets hurt many times, surely, but you can feel the absence of a certain kind of showmanship. But Vadham can’t be kept out of the jar of pop culture for this reason alone.
The other three cops who make up the quartet — Maya (Preethisha Prem Kumaran), Mercy (Semmalar Annam), and Ramani (Ashwathy Ravikumar) — get an establishing scene that introduces their daily lives to us. These initial scenes are wonderfully refreshing since we don’t get a chance to relish them in mainstream cinema. Ramani has to complete all the chores at home first and then leave for work. Mercy, who’s a constable, has to patiently wait for her turn to use the bathroom every morning as she lives in a hostel.
Although they’re not relevant to the murder mystery that Vadham is all about, it gives us glimpses into their psyches. When you watch these neglected stories come alive on the screen, they make your day.
The setting of this drama is a women’s police station and there’s ample evidence of camaraderie. They don’t share their home-cooked meals and crack jokes about their husbands / boyfriends. There are no debates about politicisation of crimes in dive bars either. And you can sense that they’re in uniform to protect the law. It’s quite a straightforward tale where Sakthi feels that she’s being trumped by somebody from her own circle — this is a trope that has caught on fire in recent times. In a series of naturally progressing events, Vadham thickens, offering some humour here and a serious plan to nab the culprits there.
Vignesh (Praveen Muthurangan), the murder victim, is presented as a master exploiter in the opening scene. The whodunit doesn’t waste too much time in the beginning and adroitly keeps the faces of the murderers away from the camera and gives us only a tiny amount of meat to chew on. It’s not a locked-room mystery as in an Agatha Christie novel.
The killers knock on Vignesh’s door and barge into his room. They immobilise him with their sheer power and finish him off. Here comes the final punch, they cover their tracks — no fingerprints, no DNA, etc. With barely any information at hand, it’s almost impossible for us to piece together the clues because we know nothing about the crime. You’ll have to binge on a few episodes to understand the depth of Vadham. It isn’t too deep, but if you expect it to be shallow, you’ll be overwhelmed with a bunch of stray twists.
Usually, in a web of mystery such as this, the padding comes off. We don’t care about the peripheral characters, as they do not add value to the plot. And comedy, more often than not, would spoil the narrative. But here, much thought seems to have gone into making all these separate elements stick well to the main storyline. Seasoned filmmaker Venkat Prabhu couldn’t pull this off with his horror thriller Live Telecast last week. Venkatesh Babu, the director of Vadham, goes on to prove that vision matters the most.
Released with minimal fanfare on MX Player, this is a series that’s built on noble intentions. It treats its female characters with respect, and Sruthi Hariharan is in top form here. It’s highly unfortunate that we don’t get to see her brilliance regularly. Her ability to switch between multiple South Indian languages is an asset not many filmmakers are mining currently. She’s a performer par excellence, and since the season ends on a cliffhanger, the wait for the next season only grows.