The character I felt the most for in Vaanam Kottattum is Chandra (Radikaa). Watch as she’s told that her long-imprisoned husband is finally coming home after 16 years. In usual films, you’d expect to see instant elation. Here, her first response is one of surprise. “Wasn’t he supposed to come six months later?” Her brother-in-law, Velchamy (Balaji Shakthivel), points out that he’s out early for good behaviour. She’s still not elated.
She needs to process it first. Radikaa’s tremendous in this scene. She takes her time to let her mouth crack into an almost reluctant smile. Quickly, it transforms into a frown. It’s great he’s back, but her children and she have grown used to life without him. What does his return mean to this family? This is such a great premise. We have seen so many films of our heroes get imprisoned and come back to rousing reception, but have we ever seen the awkwardness of their integration? I invested in these bits. Alas though, the film isn’t contained to the dynamics of this family. There are plot branches that at their best, seem moderately interesting, and at their worst, seem downright disconnected. There’s a thriller angle involving actor Nanda playing twins, which plays out almost like a parody — especially a bit where one impersonates the other. There’s a love angle involving Selva (Vikram Prabhu) and Preetha George (Madonna Sebastian), in which the latter seems to have been asked to channel her inner Aayutha Ezhuthu Trisha.
Her opening scene near a bridge is evocative of a similar scene in that film. There’s another love angle, a ‘triangle’ involving Mangai (Aishwarya Rajesh), Ram (Shanthnu), and Kalyaan (Amitash), which seems like it exists in a different film. I did like the resolution of this angle though. The Bose Kalai (Sarathkumar) family is a horrible one to be in, if you are a woman. Chandra, it seems, has made her disgruntled peace with it. She knows her husband won’t consult her before unleashing violence that will haunt the family for decades. She realises that her son won’t consult her either before engaging in assault and going to jail. Her daughter, Mangai (Aishwarya Rajesh), meanwhile, is shown to love her elder brother, but then again, she’s also shown to fear him.
As Christopher Hitchens once put it so well, “Being forced to love someone we fear is the essence of sadomasochism, the essence of abjection. I say this is evil.” Mangai can’t go to a cinema theatre with a male friend without aspersions being cast, without the men of her family trying to deal with it. Once, she even yells, “Nee andha Preetha kooda irukardha paththi naan edhavadhu kettena?” It’s banter. It’s also a plea for them to leave her alone. They have bigger problems, of course, chiefly concerning their lust for violence and a certain abominable pride in it.
It’s to safeguard her children from such violence that Chandra leaves her home in Chinnamanur, Theni, but it turns out Selva is infected as a child — or is it by birth? His father, Bose, believes it’s by blood. In an early scene that exposes his Thevar pride, he boasts about ‘kovam’ and ‘rosham’, his thirst for violence, and ends his self-eulogy by proclaiming that his son will be the same too. These people needed to be vilified further, their regret/remorse established beyond doubt. In Vaanam Kottattum, the reasons for Bose’s eventual remorse arouse suspicion. He’s regretful about the murder he committed not because he realises it’s inherently unspeakable or that it’s affected another family profoundly, but because he’s been imprisoned and separated from his family.
It’s important here to note that this is a film that also hints at the ease with which the powerful, in nexus with policemen, often escape punishment. In one scene, Bose’s brother, Velchamy, communicates this to his nephew, Selva, outside a police station: “Namma oora irundha, anje nimishathula unna veliya kondu vandhurpen.” To simply put it, Bose’s remorse is a consequence of not being able to beat the system and escape punishment, as he expected to. Even at the end, he urges someone not to waste his life away as he did. What if the other person said they had the right contacts and knew how to escape punishment though? What would Bose say? Even when he communicates to his brother that he wished he had been raised to be a better person, note his choice of words: “Enna adichchu valathurkalaam.” This is his nature, apparently. How about Selva then? Does he ever realise that he had no business inflicting fear on Mangai? Or does the line get drawn, as it does at the end, only at murder?
These ideological issues aside, I liked the familial dynamics at the heart of this film. I liked how the return of Bose inconveniences Selvam and Mangai. I like how Chandra and Bose’s brother have his back. I like how Bose himself looks to make up for lost time by looking to enforce his dated ideas of what it means to be a father. I liked how Selvam and Mangai are torn between the duty of being children and the freedom — from his interference — they want as adults. I wish that this family tree had not had those additional romantic and thriller angle branches, and even if they had to, I wish they felt more integrated into the dynamics of this family. In a sense, it’s the opposite of the effect Sid Sriram’s songs have on this film.
His music too seems like a branch disconnected from this film. It sounds nothing like what’s conventionally used for films about such stories, and shouldn’t, on the surface, work, but it does. I wish I could say the same about, say, the revenge angle in this film, which achieves its fruition as a seeming parody, when Selva seemingly levitates from his chair to fight someone at the end. In the sort of film s’s fascinating premise deserved, you would never have had this scene. If you will allow me the conceit of employing the metaphor of this film’s title, I’d say that the premise deserved an emotionally affecting downpour. What we get though is a deficient drizzle.