Language : Tamil | Running Time : 136 Minutes | Director : Balaji K Kumar
A prostitute gets ready to work, she applies red lipstick, gets down from a car and struts, yes struts towards the lodge, here red heels coming to focus and the director has the camera go in slow motion, there is almost a graphic novel quality to the whole image that is coming out. This is a mood setter, a work so beautiful that we truly understand what great cinematography is all about. It is like the ones we talk about when Gordon Willis or Emmanuel Lubezki shoot a film, where the importance is mood and texture, the people and places shot at angles that others wouldn’t think of, it becomes more than just pretty pictures filling the screen. As the prostitute walks into the hotel and prepares herself for the first man for the night, the background score fills the air and the mood is scintillating and also one that makes you suffer silently. The suffering is our moral compass being subjected to the plight of Rekha(Pooja Umashanker), the heroine but otherwise, the mood is simply taut and thrilling. A prostitute’s walk from a car to a hotel is made an event that will remain in our heads after we walk out of the theater.
Balaji K Kumar‘s debut Tamil feature film is not about tackling the social ills that plague us. It is a story of Rekha, a prostitute who is on the run with a 12-year-old girl, Nandhini(Malavika Manikuttan) and the most exotic of villains chasing them. Balaji K Kumar knows how to make this story work. He knows it isn’t about giving us a moral science lesson but by setting the mood, having these exotic villains shot in the most beautiful and inviting of fashions and creating an atmosphere where you expect things to happen, where you expect activity in every frame. When Chinnayya(Vintoh Krishnan) takes his wheelchair bound father for a walk, we expect the worst. When Lankesh (John Vijay) and Singaram(Amarendran), walk into the house of a former sex worker, Deva(Lakshmi Ramakrishnan) living in Srirangam, we expect a packet of violence to be unleashed. We are in tender hooks, pulled and swayed by the background score, the visceral cinematography and style and the people who are framed by the camera.
The content that is being depicted is brazen and deliberately adult but there is hardly any philosophising. Had the director decided to philosophise and meander away trying to be realistic, we would have been subjected to two hours of brutal cinema, not the refreshing one that is making us gush about it. Had it veered towards the philosophical, the movie would have lost pace and become an all too familiar film to live with. Like a Guy Ritchie or Robert Rodriguez film, it is the style that speaks out but unlike a Guy Ritchie film that fails to have substance or mood of the highest echelons, Vidiyum Munn is all about the narrative, the mood. Until the climax, we hardly face any problems with this stylisation. When John Vijay starts his chase after being called upon by Amarendran, the movie rolls in one great tempo but in the climax, the stylisation ends up being overdone. Instead of making us feel the grandiosity of the situation, the dread in it, we are subjected to an arty slow motion sequence that doesn’t really fit in with everything else. It is a minor misstep like the one that has Amarednran visiting a bar where R.D Burman‘s “Duniya mein, logon ko” is playing to a lurid setting. Like the people sitting next to me, I wondered why a Ilayaraja number wasn’t used for the same setting. It would have worked out so much better. Imagine a scene with yellow screen and shadows playing on it with a seductive Raja disco number. The way it would have played out is simply exotic.
Though the score, cinematography and style are the entities that make the film, like any good film it is the performances that make the film work and see it home. When you hear Pooja’s voice tremble as she speaks and see the misgivings and pain in her eyes, you know that this is a woman who feels that she is ugly inside. It is the voice of a broken woman, a person who has no way out. As the 12-year-old girl, Malavika is excellent. Initially, you seem to feel that she is maybe too composed for a 12-year-old but you later realise that with the things she has faced, it is only natural that she has grown up as much. I’ve always felt that no matter how good the protagonist is, without an equally good antagonist, a thriller fails to make an impact. Here we have not one but four interesting people. We have a man who hardly talks and someone who invokes a great dread when he is on frame, we have another one who is only seen puffing through an oxygen mask, lying on a bed covered by a mosquito net,we have an over achieving thug who can think and another man who pimps women, who is garishly dressed and in a place which is beyond his element. These four characters and the surroundings they live in make for some really good moments. The style speaks through them, the mood is set for them to shine and shine they do. They are the ones we are led to feast upon, and with them the old fashioned men that we have come to miss in cinema these days.
Vidiyum Munn is a movie that’s come at a time where Tamil cinema is finding new ground. It has been a year of some nicely done films, films that we’ll come to remember in time and this is a film with a narrative to die for. It has been a long time since I watched such a wonderfully staged thriller come out of India. When people are going gaga over films that work due to the filmmakers showing flat riches and glossily dressed people and calling it stylishly made films, here we have a true piece of cinema, a movie that actually is bathed with style in each and every frame. Here, we have cinema. Vidiyum Munn is not just a refreshing film that deserves praise, it is something that can make you realise the difference between actual cinema and glossy crap being marauded in the name of movies. It is a movie that makes us feel, think a little but more than anything it takes us for a ride, a piece of ourselves goes missing for the 136 minutes it runs and there we have, a fine piece of cinema, one we should rejoice. What else is needed but that feeling of having been taken some place different and brought back with images from that experience staying back with us? There really is nothing more required.