Cast: RJ Balaji, Sathyaraj, Urvashi, Aparna Balamurali, KPAC Lalitha, Pavithra Lokesh, Visvesh
Directors: RJ Balaji and NJ Saravanan
A retelling of an Ayushmann Khurrana vehicle seems pretty on-brand from RJ Balaji, who seems to be on a spree of gathering goodwill from his audience. His kind of firing-in-all-directions messaging gets better focus in this second directorial of his and NJ Saravanan’s. Badhaai Ho is quite a rooted drama with a mildly taboo subject, made palatable by some accessible writing and charming actors. Veetla Vishesham tries to replicate the same thing on paper, with a lot of translated dialogue, a few alterations, and a similarly charming cast.
The film’s attempts at localising the story for a Tamil audience are neat. The yesteryear songs it picks are fitting – we get ‘Venpani Malare’ from Power Paandi as a passing reference, and Rajinikanth’s ‘Naa Seitha Kurumbu’ from Moondru Mugam in a hilarious situation. “Amma kaga” is a recurring phrase of endearment between mother and son. There’s even a corny “pregnancy photoshoot”. These are the moments that bring the film closer to its state and its pop culture. But it doesn’t try hard enough to root itself to a setting, not as much as the original does. The Coimbatore we see here is only in the background, and not in the language or personality of its characters.
This director duo doesn’t quite seem to press over visual aesthetics either, not as much as they value the idea of their film. There’s no dynamism in the visuals, the cinematography feels a little too point-and-shoot, and the scenes are staged like they’d be on a literal stage. This is another aspect that chips away from the realistic nature of the events, which surely was one of the major charms of the original.
There are certain commendable changes too. The film makes it clear that it’s pro-choice, and it lets the woman do the talking in a sensibly modified scene, where originally Neena Gupta’s character terms abortion as a sin. That was the first thing we hear from her after the news of her getting pregnant. Agreed, the characters are still shown to be conservatives and were being authentic to their worldview, but the framing and who it’s coming from can deliver a wrong message. Brownie points to the makers here for having identified this and for acting responsibly towards the theme of the story. Badhaai Ho also had the hero’s younger brother with an immature, teenager-y gaze toward his brother’s partner, and this has been avoided to good effect here. Interestingly, the hero here is also a biology teacher, but this design isn’t explored beyond the basic dig at the state of sex education in the country.
Badhaai Ho tried to bring the father into the delivery room, stopping short of going all the way. But the pitch at which Veetla Vishesham operates, it runs ahead with that decision. What ensues is an expectedly loud, comic child-birth scene that mocks the fluffy and generic glorification of female strength, predominantly undertaken by men in Tamil cinema. I wish the film ended on this note of progressive parody, but it chooses to switch to a Sid Sriram pathos number to underline, highlight and oversell the emotion.
This behaviour of converting quieter emotions to high-pitched drama is seen throughout. Where there was a tear in the original, we get bawling. Where there was verbal snapping, we get physical slapping. Where there were subtle notes, we have loud orchestration. This is the reason why this film wouldn’t work for those who are familiar with the source material. As for the others, liking it depends on how accepting you are of Tamil cinema’s loud syntax.
Even the actors are made to operate on a generally “cuter” note, with the most prominent one among them being Sathyaraj. His performance appears cartoon-ish and dumbed down for its own good. Urvashi carries her character in a more grounded manner, with the writing also consistently supporting her dignity. Her reaction to her husband’s self-centred train of thought to her pregnancy, and her calling out the society’s bias toward husbands in this situation, are both memorable moments where her adorable spunk manages to register an ideology very clearly. RJ Balaji is the surprise here as an actor, with him gracefully holding steady in key moments of character development.
With all its loud blemishes, Veetla Vishesham still manages to be a respectable watch owing to the entertainment value in its story arc. This isn’t a futile remake in any way, but it certainly comes from a drastically different cinematic sensibility, one that could lessen the seriousness of its messaging.