I watched Viswasam first-day-first-show, which was a show at 1 am. Even though not surprising, the bustling crowds who had begun their celebrations even before they saw their favourite star was quite a sight. I have quite a few films FDFS, but not one has begun with a cautionary warning from a fellow member of the audience. “Review yarathu ozhunga kudukala... senjuruven,” he screamed at the top of his voice. It is now clear why the film was named Viswasam, it is for the fans and their loyalty for Ajith.
After a grand introduction scene, where Thooku Durai waltzes on the screen with a simple vanakkam, he launches into a lengthy dialogue about how temple festivals are integral to the community. “Temple festivals become a place for communion. A reason for the migrants to return home to family,” he says. I couldn’t stop seeing a live example in the fans dancing in front of me, who saw Ajith as a larger-than-life figure. Considering that Viswasam was promoted as a ‘Thiruvizha’, he might have been making a point about the people who come to watch his films.And this time, Siva plays it safe by picking a simple story and following the commercial construct to the T -- songs and fights are spaced out in even time intervals ensuring constant action on screen.
However, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t enough for the non-fans. In fact, here is where Siva surprises me. He gives us a delightfully slackened Ajith in the form Thooku Durai. As a man of simple man of brute force, Thooku Durai's mischievous, raw innocence channels the actor’s charisma to refreshing effect. After quite a while, it seems like Ajith is finally having fun on screen, revelling in these naughty moments. Even though I wasn’t charmed by Imman’s songs for the film, watching Ajith dance to them without any inhibitions is a treat. The effort Ajith puts is apparent, but so is the joy on his face and that counts for more than something.
Another major surprise was Niranjana (Nayanthara). The last time she played a heroine in a commercial film was Velaikkaran, which didn’t do any justice to her Lady Superstar status. However, as the strong-headed, independent doctor who visits Thooku Durai’s village, Niranjana gets a flying start. While everyone in the village lines up to flatter Durai, she stands apart with her indifference. Thooku Durai is smitten, but he knows she is out of his league. And thus, Siva lays the foundation of a captivating romance that takes a tiny detour at every turn you predict. All of this is up until the intermission, which is where things begin to go south.
The love story and its dynamics that he painstakingly sets up are pushed to the background to bring a new villain into the story. Ideally, a good villain is the hero's philosophically darker twin -- he has similar motives except, situations push them to the opposite sides. This toughens the process of picking sides for the viewer. Siva attempts a shot at this but again arms his villain with a one-note story where his motive for revenge is itself flawed. Thus, this track becomes a device to milk a few more action sequences, ending in the most soap-operaish climax ever, where film traipses into a no-logic, all-sentiment zone.
What I would have rather loved to see is the conflict between Niranjana and Thooku Durai take centre stage. Niranjana, who shows much promise at the start, soon dilapidates into someone who just walks in and out of boardrooms. She runs a fleet of companies but can’t think of any way to help when her husband is being attacked. However, considering that the standards are so low in Tamil cinema right now, that the fact that she is shown to have a career (even if done half-heartedly) is a leap forward. While no one can complain of Nayanthara not experimenting in terms of genres, I wish she plays as much with her looks. Though ironically, I loved the fact it was Niranjana who looks exactly the same (except for a different set of clothes ) after ten years while Thooku Durai has aged well. After all why should heroes have all the fun?
Expectation is a funny thing. No matter how much you try to skirt them, they seep into the thought stream and hugely affect the way one perceives something. And when you are pleasantly surprised, even if intermittently, it manages to the tip the scales in favour of the film. And Viswasam was a surprise, one that thankfully didn’t make my worst nightmares come true.
Cast: Ajith Kumar, Nayanthara, Jagapathi Babu, Thambi Ramaiah