Viswasam is an OK movie. That’s high praise where I’m from, given that this is another Ajith-”SIRUTHAI” SIVA (he deserves upper case letters for his awesomeness) combo. Siva, who seems so hellbent on sabotaging Ajith’s career, I am convinced he’s a diehard Vijay fan pretending to be a filmmaker. A double agent! I mean how else do you explain Vivegam’s and Veeram’s existence? The Siva-Ajith combo has repeatedly given us films that I only watched on TV for free and still felt cheated out of my money. But Viswasam is actually quite alright. There is some enjoyment to be had with it.
What changed is Siva’s writing. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a Vetri Maaran screenplay. But at the very least, it has some nuance. At the very least, the story actually consists of interesting and surprising beats. The characters that fill up this world have genuinely moving arcs. And beyond the cringeworthy opening sequence, the message — yes, this is another message movie — is actually infused within the narrative fairly well.
Ajith’s character, Thooku Durai is as his name suggests, someone who’s known to settle problems with his fists. He’s the village don, both respected and feared. He meets Niranjana, a doctor, who falls in love with his ability to send people flying with a mere fist to the gut. I was ready to roll my eyes again, convinced that Nayanthara would be reduced to yet another loosu ponnu in yet another mass-masala. But I thought wrong. Niranjana actually turns out to be the catalyst that drives the story forward in a meaningful way. The same can’t be said about Petta, where popular female talents Simran and Trisha are completely throwaway.
While most Tamil films of the past tend to antagonist the educated, English speaking female character, turning them into bitchy vamps that require repenting, Siva handles Niranjana with dignity. She’s independent and never a damsel in distress. She’s unafraid to be feminine and say that feels safe and protected when her man’s around, but at the same time, she’s completely functional without him.
When she sees Thooku Durai carrying their child and beating up some goons, she gets frustrated, warning him to never do it again as it puts the kid in harm’s way. Of course, he does it again (perhaps not purposely, this time) and this leads to the engrossing exchange between husband and wife in a hospital. Niranjana is right and Thooku Durai has to realise the error of his ways and his lifestyle. We’re used to seeing mass heroes put their hands up to silence the person who’s trying to argue with them. But how often do we see the female co-star doing it? What a scene!
And though the rest of the film never quite lives up to that moment, Siva still takes his characters in interesting directions. This isn’t the type of movie where Niranjana apologises to Thooku Durai at the end, saying she was wrong to take their daughter and move away and that Thala Ajith is the greatest gift to planet earth. Nope. She did the right thing. Viswasam is about the Ajith character proving that he’s a capable dad. Ajith needs to win back his wife’s trust and his daughter’s love. This arc happens through the mass-y sequences.
When Thooku Durai visits Niranjana in Mumbai, he realises that someone’s out to kill his daughter. He convinces Niranjana to let him be her bodyguard, promising not to reveal that he’s her dad. (In a smart bit of casting by Siva, the daughter is embodied by the same little girl who plays Ajith’s daughter in Yennai Arindhaal. We bring our memories from that film and project it here, which makes their relationship work instantaneously.) Siva also finds a way to carry the parenting theme over to the villain’s side, where the suave Jagapati Babu’s character is vying for revenge because… I’ll let you discover that for yourself. A fist-to-fist battle between hero and villain also doubles as a battle of conflicting parenting ideologies. Are we still talking about a Siva movie? Has the very fabric of reality been altered? But yet, this movie leaves you feeling rather unsatisfied.
The problem with Viswasam isn’t with its clearly intriguing story, rather with Siva’s STORYTELLING. For the massive pre-release hype that it garnered (i.e “Holy balls! It’s a Thala Ajith film after a one year gap”), Viswasam seriously lacks that big movie event feel. It’s opening title card is stale, so is the hero introduction sequence where Ajith looks at a judge (but is actually really looking at us, the audience) and starts spewing melodramatic lines about how festivals bring families together. Let’s not forget the even more melodramatic musical score ripped straight out of Tamil serials that old grandmas watch, which accompanies that scene. I had my eyes rolled so far back, I could see the inner workings of my brain. Urgh. The interval block too, works better in the trailer than in the actual film.
Siva is simply not an inspiring director. In his films, the camera (Vetri is once again his cinematographer) rarely moves in interesting ways and there’s nothing noteworthy about the editing too. His colour schemes are bland and minus Vivegam, his crude action blocks are reminiscent of Hari films. Also like Hari, his idea of mass dialogue delivery revolves around yelling or slowwww talking. And on that front, nothing has changed or improved. It’s the same old shit.
Even when the story gets interesting, Siva veers into unearned melodrama territory, which cheapens the film. Vivek and Kovai Sarala’s insufferable comedic bits are of a different era — they feel like tracks from mass-masalas of the early 2000s (yet another aspect that reminds me of director Hari, whose comedic writing in Sammy Square made me vomit blood). And what about the less than stellar D. Imman album? His background score is generic, and dance numbers mostly forgettable (though, there’s no denying the awesomeness of Adichi Thooku in which Ajith danced as if his life was on the line). These are aspects that Karthik Subbaraj and gang absolutely nailed in Petta.
Thala and Lady Superstar are frankly too good for this movie. Nayanthara has such a commanding presence that when she talks you listen and when she roars, you shut the hell up, even if you’re Thala. But there’s also her charm and warmth that makes you smile. Ajith, on the other hand, goes from playful to gethu to shattered pussycat with ease (note Thooku Durai’s expressions when her daughter unknowingly says something hurtful). Mr. Thooku also gets terribly beaten up at towards the end. It’s a scene that doesn’t quite get the payoff it deserves, but it allows Ajith to show more of his vulnerable side.
Have you ever watched a movie where the performances are so good, that it actually cripples the movie even more because of how jarring it feels? Ajith and Nayantara are vibrating at a completely different level than Siva. Two charismatic individuals in a film that isn’t nearly as charismatic. This movie doesn’t deserve them. And while Viswasam is EASILY the best out of the Siva-Ajith combo, I’m glad that the combo itself is over and done with. Siva can now begin his next chapter with Thalapathy Vijay (just kidding) and we can all move on with our lives.