Well, I saw another new Tamil movie in theaters! Kabali, Vikram-Vedha, and now this. So, 66.6666% of all Tamil films I see in theaters start with “V”. And another 66.66666% involve relatives of Aishwarya Rajnikanth. And 100% of them involve me arriving at the last minute and missing the trailers. Oh well.
I wonder if I would have written this review differently if I hadn’t already seen the terrible box office figures this morning? I don’t think so. When I left the theater last night, I was already thinking “well, that was a fun movie, but there wasn’t really a lot of there-there”. And also “what happened to Kajol’s clothes? Why did everything not quite fit in the most unflattering way possible?” So, you know, deep thoughts.
(See? Why isn’t her shirt more tailored and her paints less tailored? Why highlight the tummy and hide the boobs?)
But overall, still an enjoyable film! The themes didn’t quite hold together, and the plot went a little of everywhere, but the performances were good and the songs were fun. I can’t really remember any of the songs now, but I remember enjoying them while I was watching them.
Mostly it felt like a sequel film. Because it was. All the best jokes and character moments and everything else were just echoing things from the original film, instead of being something really new. This is the downside of a straight up sequel (instead of the Indian style sequels where it is really about franchising a concept), you have the option of leaning on the success of the previous film instead of trying to build something new.
That previous film is the main reason I wanted to watch this one, because it was kind of unique and interesting in its take on the world. That, plus Dhanush is a fascinating movie star! He is a star, right? I thought he was, but the drab box office for this has got me doubting it. Anyway, here he is, this skinny funny looking guy doing big fight scenes and dances, and giving tough one liners. If this were a Hindi movie, he would be glamour boy pretty and we would see all the girls falling all over him. Instead of being just sort of a loser. A loser in all ways, that’s what was so fascinating about VIP, he is nagged by his father, disrespected by his younger brother, and just generally accepts all of that.
(Hanging out complaining to his mom, not very heroic)
This one only adds one thing to that story: Kajol! Who is awesome, of course. And her character is very interesting, a woman with a completely different struggle than our hero, who is still respected both by him and the film because she did struggle, she didn’t just accept what she was given, she fought for it. I wish they had just had a better idea of what to do with her and her character. And how to dress her.
But getting into that means, SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
Dhanush is still riding high at the beginning of the film, which I appreciate. Obviously, sequels have to bring our hero down in order to build him up again, and generally have a plot. But I appreciate it when we get to see that process of being brought down instead of just kind of erasing everything we saw in the first film in a prologue. But no, he is now married to Amaya Paul (his girlfriend in the first film), he still has the job working for the small ethical building company, and he is still a bit of a celebrity for how he builds ethical buildings the right away, and uses the labor of hundreds of fellow unemployed graduates who don’t have anything else to do and just want to use their education. And his relationship with his father is now one of mutual respect and understanding, although he still misses his mother.
The only small flaw in his life is that he, and his father and brother, are now terrified of Amaya Paul who runs the household with an iron fist. They handle this really well. First, there is never discussion of him cheating on her, or even not loving her any more. Or any of them not loving her. They just don’t like her much. Second, the film does actually show us why she is so snappy. She is remembering their pills, making their morning coffee, getting them out the door on time, and they won’t do it unless she snaps. We can recognize the situation, the frustrated housewife who has to be angry because it is the only way to get them to listen to her. And their biggest fights are over him coming home late and drunk which, again, we can see how her complaint is valid. What makes it all work is a moment late in the film, when he is brought low again, and she offers to go back to work to help out. It’s not that she offers, showing her sympathy and love (we kind of already knew that). It’s that he immediately reacts by saying “no no, don’t do that, stay home, I will take care of it.” He may pretend to be henpecked and scared, but actually he is proud that his wife can afford to stay home and take care of the household, he wants it like that. And, for the viewers benefit in case we didn’t see it before, we see how much better their marriage becomes as soon as she goes back to work. It was staying at home and wasting her energies that was driving her to anger. Now that she is working, and he is helping out around the house, everything is better.
Speaking of women, Kajol! She is introduced as the head of the biggest building company in the state who wants to hire Dhanush away from his nice little firm. And he turns her down, saying he likes his current job and is building towards running his own company, he would rather be the head of a cat than the tail of a lion. This offends her and bothers her, but she doesn’t overreact or try to destroy him or anything super evil like that. Most of all, there is absolutely no romantic chemistry between them. Or mother-son chemistry. So refreshing! They are just two people, she is a little insulted but not overly “emotional” or anything about it. And he respects her abilities and achievements, doesn’t care that she is a woman and beautiful and older than him. Just sees her as a fellow engineer.
Their conflict arises when they both present to a traditional wealthy landowner type. Kajol presents a plan with a lot of big English words and fancy presentations and all. Dhanush presents a plan on a simple piece of paper, with some casual Tamil and a few film songs thrown in. And his team is picked instead of Kajol’s.
Brilliant statement here on traditional grounded business practices versus “modern” and “Western”. I don’t know anything about Indian business and changes and stuff in general, but in terms of film, this is what I am always on about. The fancy degrees from overseas and the corporate studio structure and everything else isn’t necessarily better than the other way. And the other way is familiar and comfortable and, you know, Indian! Why just throw it away?
Which is sort of Dhanush’s point here. He tells Kajol that their plans were equally good, he just knew to present it better, and she has to accept that. But, of course, Kajol can’t. She had the better plan, the big presentation, and this guy who turned her down for a job has now stolen a job from her.
But again, she has a reasonable response. Okay, she uses influence on a politician to threaten the traditional landowner to get them the job. That’s not so great. But all she is doing is taking back the job they were likely to get to begin with, which was a long shot for Dhanush and his group.
And here’s where it gets really interesting for about a minute. The big moment of the original film was when Dhanush confronted his nemesis and rattled off all the things he had gone through to get where he was, all the studying and struggle and patience, and how his empty threats mean nothing, now that he finally has his chance. And this time Kajol gets to deliver that speech. Being a young woman, proving herself, holding on to her family wealth, building it higher, still being respected in the business world now, everything she has been through to get here, and now she is being disrespected by this young man who doesn’t appreciate her efforts.
(Have I mentioned I like Ekta Kapoor?)
And Kajol is justified! Dhanush, our hero, validates her. Says that she is right, and because of all those accomplishments, if she had come to him directly and asked, he would have given her back the contract. So, she isn’t the enemy after all! She is just another version of the struggling honorable worker who makes it on her own.
Oh, and the villain also isn’t the rich kid who offers to put up the money for Dhanush’s business if he puts up his house as collateral. Really feels like he is being set up as a villain, but nope! He’s actually sincere! I wonder if in an earlier draft this was supposed to be the rich kid from the first movie who has now learned his lesson. But in this version, he is just a random dude who shows up to help out.
No, the villain is some guy who shows up after the interval who wants to build a theme park on unsafe ground, hires Dhanush, and then Dhanush turns down the job when he realizes it is unsafe, and Kajol is hired. But Kajol is honorable too, and again Dhanush knows that. He is trying to reach her and explain because he knows she won’t build if she knows the truth instead of the doctored documents that the villain gave her.
This is where the film kind of goes “phlugh”. We’ve got too many things going on at once. There’s the actual bad guy villain who is sending thugs after Dhanush. There’s Kajol, who is struggling with her company collapsing thanks to bad press after Dhanush’s group holds a protest on the building site and the truth comes out. There’s Dhanush’s family who are coming closer in adversity. And there’s Dhanush’s new company, which is falling apart.
And then the ending is a total “well, not sure how to end this!” moment. There is a flood, coincidentally while Dhanush is confronting Kajol in her office late at night after everyone else has left. They end up stranded there together, and bond over the course of the night (best scene of the film for Kajol, she gets to laugh and joke and loosen up and look more like she does in her interviews instead of the uptight corporate person). And that’s kind of it? The real villain never gets resolved so much, we just see that he has a lot of court cases against him. Amaya and Dhanush get one love song, but never really talk everything out. It’s all just over all of a sudden? With a final shot of Dhanush and his fellow engineers helping flood trapped people. Which I guess is okay, since it looks like in 2015 Dhanush collected and asked for help distributing food during the floods.
But mostly, yeah, it’s VIP again, but with less of a plot, plus a Kajol character/performance that doesn’t quite get the showplace it deserves.