Director: Soundarya Rajinikanth
Cast: Dhanush, Kajol, Amala Paul, Samuthirakani, Saranya
Whether we're talking Bond movies or the Dhoom franchise or the Singam series, the mantra of the next instalment is this: feed them more of the same hit formula, yet make it taste different. So one doesn't walk into Velai Illa Pattadhari 2 (Unemployed Graduate), directed by Soundarya Rajinikanth, expecting Raghuvaran (Dhanush) in a bungalow, a Merc parked in the garage. He's still in the same middle-class house. He still drives his dinky old bike, which seems to weigh even less than he does. But he's no longer unemployed. He works in a construction firm. It's the same, yet a bit different. Part 1 had him graduate from a nobody to a somebody. Here, the arc is somebody to nobody to somebody.
It's a year since the events of the first film. Raghuvaran and Shalini (Amala Paul) are married, but she's transformed from the sweet, supportive girlfriend of earlier to a nagging shrew. Should we burden women directors with the expectation that their female characters be more sensitively crafted? (Soundarya Rajinikanth also gets screenplay credit. Story/dialogues are credited to Dhanush.) I remember wringing my hands over a similar issue in Vai Raja Vai, directed by Soundarya's sister, Aishwarya. That film had a scene where parents agree to marry their daughter off to a groom who demands ten lakhs as dowry. A bigger issue is that Shalini has given up her dental clinic practice and become a housewife. Couldn't they have sneaked in a scene around this decision?
VIP 2 gets Vasundhara (Kajol, effortlessly projecting arrogance and entitlement). The decision to make the antagonist a woman forces Dhanush and Soundarya to rethink some of the "mass"-ness of Part 1. It gives this sequel a new flavour.
The other major female character – the "villain" – is treated better. There must be a rule that imposing women in Tamil cinema cannot be called Deepa or Anu or Veena – they need equally imposing, polysyllabic names. Mappillai had Rajarajeswari. Padaiyappa had Neelambari. VIP 2 gets Vasundhara (Kajol, effortlessly projecting arrogance and entitlement). She likes dropping the F-bomb almost as much as she likes to alight from cars in slow-motion. She's an improvement over the first film's villain, "Amul Baby," simply because the hero cannot strip off his shirt, reveal a six-pack, and beat her down in an action scene. The decision to make the antagonist a woman forces Dhanush and Soundarya to rethink some of the "mass"-ness of Part 1. It gives this sequel a new flavour.
I enjoyed Dhanush's writing here more than I did in Pa Paandi, because it's far tougher to make this kind of movie seem a little different. At least on paper, the ending – the alternative to the action scene of Part 1, with echoes of the jallikattu protests and the Chennai floods – is a stroke of genius. It's low-key and unassuming, and entirely in sync with Raghuvaran's nature. Hardcore fans may feel cheated, but this is who the man is – the action scenes are just add-ons with an eye on the box-office. Throughout VIP 2, I kept wondering what it might have been as a standalone film, without the looming shadow of Part 1. I think it would have been a refreshingly unusual masala movie.
But you cannot wish the earlier film away, and the comparisons cause the dissonance. This film isn't as punchy – maybe Anirudh's electric score had something to do with it. (Sean Roldan takes over composer duties here.) This film doesn't give us enough time to root for the underdog – Raghuvaran bounces back from setbacks almost instantly, whereas in Part 1, we spent an entire half with the zero before he became a hero. Though I didn't care for Shalini here, it's impressive that they tried to write her differently, instead of just throwing in a few more love scenes – and yet, the sweetness of the romance from the earlier film is missing.
But then, this is not just a lazy rehash like the Singam films. There's a sensibility here. I liked the humour that constantly deflates the must-haves (a sentimental scene with the mother, a "lecture" from the father). I liked the way the mother (Saranya) makes an appearance on the terrace. I enjoyed the terrific interplay of this cast (Samuthirakani as Raghuvaran's father, Hrishikesh as the brother) – they really look like family. I liked Vivek's "mind voice" comedy, with Cell Murugan for a sidekick. And I liked what Dhanush does here – not just as an actor (few others do this mass/class mix so well), but also as a writer. VIP 2 is by no means a great film, but given the constraints of a "mass" movie, especially a sequel, it left me pleasantly surprised.
Watch the trailer of VIP 2 here: