Vanjagar Ulagam review: A thriller that doesn’t ever take off
Director: Manoj Beedha
Cast: Guru Somasundaram, John Vijay, Ciby, Chandini Tamilarasan
An investigative journalist channels his inner investigator — not so much his journalist — in Vanjagar Ulagam. He’s interrogating people, sniffing out clues, following leads… and it’s all not so much to arrive at an award-winning expose. It’s apparently just on account of his philanthropic desire to bring a dreaded gangster to justice.
He’s constantly shuffling in and out of a police station — an unwelcome visitor — as the inspector, more a caricature than a crime solver, keeps imploring him to stop returning. A constable is constantly looking to protect the inspector from mental strain, and there is an attempt to milk this for humour. It annoys more than it amuses. In any case, such ideas are wholly misplaced in a film that seems to want to be a gritty thriller. The problem is, you never truly get a feeling of any real urgency, and part of the problem is scenes which are often longer than they should be.
And the scenes are mostly full of incessant chatter. It’s a film buried under the rubble of limitless dialogue, and they don’t always serve to help the story progress. After lunch at a retired police officer’s place, one of the guests thanks him. The cop retorts, “Edhukku? Chicken illama dosai kuduthadhukaagava?” It’s hard not to be a bit taken aback. The film needed more moments of quiet, more atmosphere building. In another scene, one person says, “Thuppariyum Simbu”, and someone corrects him, “It’s Sambu.” Such frivolity kills immersion, and stops you from taking the material seriously.
There’s more than an instance of characters behaving in ways they shouldn’t — only so the audience can be misled. After you learn some secrets of Shanmugham (Ciby, who I rather liked), you realise that his reaction to a tragic news in the beginning doesn’t make much sense. He may have been pretending, but the performance needed more nuance to establish that something was off.
In hindsight, it instead feels like a cheap manipulative tactic to build up to a twist. Some main characters, I suspect, must have had no more than a single line of description. Samyuktha (Anisha Ambrose) is ‘the girl who scowls’; Mythili (Chandini Tamilarasan) is ‘the unfaithful woman’; Vishagan (Vishagan Vanangamudi) is ‘the nosey reporter’. There are lip sync issues too. Samyuktha seems to be saying something, the dubbing something else. Even an acclaimed actor like Guru Somasundaram, playing a gangster called Sampath — whom everyone calls Sambath — delivers a performance that could have done with a lot more restraint. It rings false, much like his transformation in the flashback.
The tragedy is, Vanjagar Ulagam is not a lazy film. There are all the twists, the slow reveals, the flashbacks, and the framing and staging that are clearly products of much thought. Mythili’s house for instance is mainly painted red, likely to indicate lust and of course, the impending violence. A murder scene inside a theatre is particularly beautiful to behold. The story also rather likeably doesn’t paint characters to be wholly evil or good, with Maaran (John Vijay, who hams it up) being an exception.
Sampath, Mythili, Shanmugham… they are all victims of circumstances. The idea at the heart of this film — an affair gone wrong results in the decimation of a dreaded gang — sounds fairly interesting in theory, but through the painfully long running time of 161 minutes, you can never get yourself to care for anyone in this film — not Sampath, not Mythili, not Shanmugham. They are all predominantly either cold characters, one-note, and/or underdeveloped.
The music of this film by CS Sam has been much hyped, and it is quite… intriguing. One solo mridangam bit that flavours a lovemaking scene is… strange. But in a sense, it’s a bit like the film. It’s clearly the product of much thought, and it’s definitely not run-of-the-mill — but it also doesn’t ever really affect. The tragic truth is, hard work doesn’t always pay off.