Ajith in a still from 'Valimai'
Ajith in a still from 'Valimai'

Valimai First Impressions: Ajith Kumar and H Vinoth deliver a bumpy adrenaline rush

A quick mini spoiler-free write-up of the H Vinoth's Valimai, starring Ajith Kumar, Huma Qureshi, Kartikeya and more.

There is no doubt that Ajith Kumar is probably India's most reluctant superstar. A social media recluse who never partakes in film promotions or media interactions, Ajith is clearly someone who prefers being in his comfort zone. Unlike other actors, the comfort zone for Ajith is not only in his film's themes but also in his collaborators. Since 2011, out of his last ten films, there has been just two directors (Venkat Prabhu and GVM) who have made just one film (Mankatha and Yennai Arindhaal) with Ajith. The rest were all repeat collaborators, and after making a hattrick of films (Vedhalam, Vivegam and Viswasam) with Siva, Ajith is now on the verge of repeating the same feat with H Vinoth.

Valimai is undoubtedly the most ambitious film of Ajith in recent times, and producer Boney Kapoor ensured the release was as wide as it could possibly get. Fans who hadn't seen their matinee idol on screen for over two years lapped up the opportunity and descended in droves.

Valimai opens on a rather disconcerting note with visuals of a group of mercenaries on bikes terrorising the city of Chennai. Without wasting any time, we are shown how this group functions and we have namma Selva as the Commissioner of the city who is at his wits' end in his attempts to clean the city. Bam! Enter Super cop. Sympathetic Cop. Superlative Cop. Supportive Cop. Assistant Commissioner Arjun (Ajith Kumar).

We are introduced to Arjun's family, and it does remind us of Mugavaree... but this time, Ajith is Raghuvaran. However, the overwhelming goodness of Arjun becomes cloying soon enough. Nevertheless, every time such factors, including forced humour and overdose of sentimentality, pull down the film, we have some well-orchestrated and brilliantly staged stunt sequences that play to Ajith's strengths as a biker. It also allows the audience to whip out their mobiles and capture the moments that are peppered by raucous wolf whistles and applause.

We are also shown two antagonist cops who are more bumbling than brooding, and we have technical teams in addition to the tactical teams that come in handy for Arjun who is on a mission to bring down the villain gang of Satan's Slaves led by an impressive Kartikeya Gummakonda. While Vinoth once again proves his mettle in staging these stunt sequences with a lot of panache, the over-reliance on sentiment is the cinematic equivalent of unceremoniously sobering up an adrenaline rush. Vinoth does that one time too many for it to be brushed aside as commercial cinema compulsions. Almost every high that comes in the way of the film thanks to the stunt choreography of Dhilip Subbarayan and superior cinematography of Nirav Shah is negated by the presence of archaic family sentiments and dialogues that land way off target.

Despite raising the expectations and stakes in the pre-interval portions of the film, Valimai doesn't quite keep up the pace soon after. As the narrative progresses, we are left doubting if Vinoth's decision to swap the genre from an action thriller to a family entertainer made sense. But what we have learnt from the success of a bunch of recent films is to not underestimate the power of the family audiences who are instrumental in ensuring the "long run" of films.

In a film that has bikes, cars and buses flying around like coconut trees in the eye of a cyclone, and has promotions and demotions being handed out like chocolates on birthdays, it is ironic that the wayward messaging is the most illogical aspect of Valimai. The wasted potential of the premise notwithstanding, Valimai is far from being a bad film. We see glimpses of Ajith trying his best to inject freshness into a template subject. We see a hero who doesn't shy away from losing on multiple occasions. We see Ajith having unlikely companions in the stunt sequences. We have a killer but very short-lived scene with Huma Qureshi. We see a filmmaker-actor combination who are bold enough to do away with a romance track but the lack of clarity is troubling. The biggest drawback of Valimai, however, is a star who has no airs about his stardom doesn't fully let go, and a director who gave one of the most-iconic anti-heroes of our times doesn't fully embrace the possibilities. And all that we are left with is a film that is neither here nor there, and a lot just gets lost in transition.

In the previous hattrick collaboration of Ajith, we saw how a Vivegam was sandwiched between a Vedhalam and a Viswasam, and one can only hope that in this impending hattrick collaboration between Ajith and Vinoth, Valimai too is just the brief lull before the storm of AK 61 hits us.

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The New Indian Express