Cast: Vivek, Charlie, Pooja Devariya
Director: Vivek Elangovan
Vellai Pookal, starring Vivek and directed by first-timer Vivek Elangovan, is the cinematic equivalent of a first draft. The concept, an interesting reveal and a thrilling narrative device…it’s all in there. But does that culminate to form an edge-of-the-seat viewing experience? Not really. For one, the dialogues seem a bit lazy. There are several instances where the actors think out aloud in the form of a dialogue to tell us what’s happening on screen. I’m not sure if it’s because the film is set in the US but there are many empty pauses as well. In some cases, you can almost sense the actor waiting for his dialogues to be prompted so he can say it a certain way.
The performances too are particularly amateur, especially the American actors. I think it’s one of the major epidemics of Indian cinema if we can’t find a single good white actor to act in one of our films. Yet what I found the most worrisome is the production design. For instance, there’s an early scene that’s meant to look like a police station. We see two cops talking, as they sit in their seats. Call it an Indian film cliché but apparently no police station can be shown without a picture of Gandhi hanging on the wall. Even as they talk, we see a picture hanging right behind one of them. You take a closer look and you notice that the picture is hung particularly low…so much so that if the actors stood up, Gandhi’s photo would only be at their waist’s height. So you know that the picture was nailed onto the wall later after the shots were set. There are the things that make you feel like Vellai Pookal is the film you shoot with a handycam before you shoot it properly.
But the idea certainly is ambitious. The film’s starting stretch is a case in point. Vivekh, playing a gifted police officer, solves a crime with ease. His “Raghavan Instinct”, so to speak, allows him to picture himself as the perpetrator of the crime. So when the film opens, we witness Vivekh killing a family only to reveal that it was just him imagining it. This sounds good enough, but you need to see it to believe it. The effect being attempted is shock. The result on screen is shocking…but not the kind they were going for.
The film’s about Rudhran, a retired police officer, travelling to America to live with his estranged techie son. Married now to a bindi-sporting, appa-calling white woman, the son called off another wedding in India to be with her, pissing off his Indian father. Rudhran arrives in not-so-sunny Seattle to suspicious events, forcing him out of retirement; people around him go missing one after another and it falls on him to get to the bottom of it all. A good half hour is spent creating a set of characters which you know is the red herring. Why? Because the film, right from the start, is developing a separate track showing an evil coke snorter do the nastiest of things. Why would any screenplay spend so much time establishing so many bad guys, when you’ve already shown us the baddest guy?
Which could have been interesting, had the whodunit part of the script been something. But it’s always too easy for Rudhran. How does he start suspecting the neighbourhood gang? Oh he just happens to go for a stroll when he just happens to pick a fight with a gang member, when he just happens to be torturing someone. Usually in a film with such an unlikely ending, the film leaves several clues and Easter eggs for us to just about get a hint. But here, all such information is withheld so we have no idea whatsoever. And even when the big reveal takes place, it’s all explained through one voiceover by Vivek. Whatever happened to SHOW DON’T TELL?
Yet when you learn that the crew ended up making the film on weekends, you really admire their commitment to the medium. Just a little more time writing, better performances and a much better production and we really could have had an interesting film on our hands. Had Vellai Pookal been the first student film made by first-year film students, I’d have given them a pat on the back. But as a “proper” film competing with serious cinema, it just happens to be too half baked.