Cast: Prakashraj, Prithviraj, Gopika, Sarath Babu, Pratap Pothen
Storyline: A podgy middle-aged wannabe steals his friend’s script to become a superstar
Bottomline: An earnest critique on the state-of-the-art
If someone were to put together a film that reviews the state of Tamil cinema, ‘Vellithirai’ would be it.
There are very few like Duet Films who could do exactly that with authority and not be told: People living in glass houses… Simply because the guys at Duet Films do not live in glass houses to have stones thrown back at them.
The film, by example, begins with a humble acknowledgement to the source material with the story credited to Roshan Andrews, the director of the Malayalam original ‘Udayananu Tharam.’ Yes, there’s an entire sequence inspired from Steve Martin’s ‘Bowfinger’ but let’s blame that on Roshan too.
Roshan’s story is just the take-off point for an introspective look at Tamil cinema and its trappings: Middle-aged stars who believe they can play youth by knocking off 15 kilos, the need for every star to have a sobriquet first name to claim his arrival, the way stars dictate changes to the script to suit their image, the dependence of filmmakers on the leading man to get a producer and the finances for the film and how compromise is a necessary evil in commercial cinema.
Hence, the content itself, though borderline stereotypical, is reflective of the state-of-the-art but Viji gives every character a redeeming twist – like the astrologer-consulting producer actually deciding to back a total newcomer because he believes in his merit. Or, the ever-understanding honest associate director turning to driving call-taxis because he can’t deal with living in his wife’s shadows. Or, the actor coming up with a solid explanation on why Stanislavski’s system would not work here in Tamil cinema. When he says ‘That is his science. This is our culture. We are a loud race by nature. We beat our chests during funerals,” you realise this character is no stereotype. This is what every actor believes before he becomes a star, after which he becomes the stereotype: the all-powerful, egocentric, supreme being vain enough to act in movies where his stature is equal only to God.
Prakashraj is brilliant as Kannaiyan-turned-‘Thalapathy’ Dilipkanth, retaining the humanness of a character that could’ve ended up as pure caricature while Prithviraj ends up as a complementing contrast to Prakashraj’s loudness with his restrained underplaying – a fine example of Stanislavski’s system of behaving the character. Gopika, M.S.Bhaskar, Sarath Babu and Pratap Pothen are examples of smart casting – where on-screen persona does half the job for the role they have to play.
Despite the earnestness and sincerity with which Viji goes about telling this story that is a must-watch for every filmmaker, actor and member of the film fraternity, he does stumble in the storytelling itself. The film takes a while to get going, often interrupted by the mandatory song and dance (though G.V.Prakash Kumar’s catchy tunes are lavishly and interestingly shot) and harps a little too much on the love story in the end when what you are really concerned about is how the larger issue in the film would resolve itself – would the puppet pull the strings of the puppeteer again or would the storyteller finally put the puppet in its place?
But then, as the in-built argument in the film goes, compromise is a necessary evil and ‘Vellithirai’ ends a few notches below where it could’ve gone. It’s not quite the intensely passionate, personal love-letter to cinema but it surely is quite an interesting review of our cinema for those who love it.