Director: Vivek Elangovan
Cast: Vivek, Charlie
Non-Indians (usually white) doing walk-in roles get a raw deal in Indian mainstream films. Hunt around and you’ll find enough evidence, and not only that, this fact has been pointed out time and again. There are either typecast or they operate on a different tone from that of the film. More often than not, they are also bad actors, the filmmakers don’t seem to care because they aren’t filling important roles and it brings, however fleeting, a discordant note to otherwise pitch perfect films. Vellai Pookal, directed by Vivek Elangovan, is a film from a team of NRIs, filmed mostly in Seattle. Employees of Microsoft are thanked in the credits and two of the major characters work in the company (poor Amazon is conspicuous by its absence or I probably missed it). A film like this cannot escape without the presence of Americans and we get a good enough representation – Caucasian, African Americans, Pakistanis, Hispanics and, of course, Indians.
Vellai Pookal gets an above average rating in the way it treats and utilises its non-Indian characters. Except for a tick or two – a gum chewing woman police officer is a cardboard cutout – Elangovan (who shares writing credits with Shanmuga Bharathi) doesn’t make you cringe in your seat.
But that’s not to say that all characters are well-defined and living, breathing people. We only get broad strokes, and Elangovan – and by extension the film – is self-aware about real life racial profiling and stereotyping, using it in interesting but questionable ways to shape a thriller. Vivek plays a retired police officer – Rudhran – who has a Sherlock Holmes-like ability to guess his way through crime scenes. Elangovan uses an interesting device to show this – he makes Rudhran the perpetrator of the crime and makes him go through the whole act. Why Elangovan chose this device is answered much later, the device adding an emotional heft to hitherto cold but passive crimes.
The opening sequence is one such diversion – Rudhran, true to the mythical being he is named after, striking terror. He shares the mythical being’s anger too. He arrives in Seattle to meet his estranged son and his American wife, with whom he holds such a grudge that his meanness begins to grate after a point for the way he is shown treating her. Rudhran’s introduction scene, too simple and neat, doesn’t convince us of his abilities but it is nice to see in Tamil cinema an aged protagonist working a thriller, without the baggage of a romantic subplot or other considerations.
On the downside, Elangovan does get trapped by Vivek’s history as a comedian and after introducing him as a man true to his name, ends up giving him comical rejoinders to lighten up scenes, only a few of them organically working.
That brings us to Rudhran’s Dr Watson stand-in, Bharatidasan, played by Charlie. While the film sheds all the regular mainstream baggage, it does give in to the weight of two popular comedians going after crimes. In Vellai Pookal, at different points we see Vivek against the world – he is tracking unrelated disappearances in his Seattle neighborhood, he has suspicious characters milling about all around, and the film becomes Rudhran vs Rest of the World. There is no one to bounce off Rudhran’s investigation and therefore we have Bharathi, whose quizzical looks and head-scratching questions make Rudhran give us the answers.
We also get into Rudhran’s mind – the interiors are all white, like the scene in Delhi-6 where the undead Abhishek Bachchan meets his dead grandfather played by Amitabh Bachchan – where Rudhran holds conversation with various characters, even the Americans speaking Tamil. Funnily, the men speak non-accented Tamil and the women speak an accented one. These scenes are also robbed off their seriousness by introducing more unnecessary comedy. Because, Vivek. This becomes a knot that Elangovan cannot undo and from here to the finish, Vellai Pookal explodes with exposition. It’s like reading a book with disjointed information thrown at you for several pages and then wrapping it all up in the last page. It is still a noble effort, the mystery satisfying but the film needed some tension, a little pace, something that could have been achieved with better and more focused filmmaking.
The Vellai Pookal review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.