Vaashi opens with a blurry shot of the judge who will pass the verdict on a case that becomes the film’s focal point. But even when we see his face, we are shielded from this man’s background or thought processes. His final call is everything. Whatever choice he makes has to be accepted, regardless of what the actual truth may be. Everyone else, particularly the two lawyers on opposite sides of the case, can only offer arguments. But, eventually, it’s the audience who has to make a judgement once the court proceedings are over because one of the closing shots in Vaashi is open to interpretation. It registers that may-or-may-not-be effect.
Vaashi is a film that, I felt, makes for a lighthearted companion piece to the recently released Jana Gana Mana in that it makes valid points on perspectives, ethics, and the issue of right and wrong. It shows us a particular incident which, in the light of the #MeToo events in the Malayalam film industry, becomes much more relevant because it brings up the matter of consent. Do all its points come across clearly? Not quite.
However, there are several interesting ideas in the screenplay that, I thought, worked well in the film’s favour, most notably that of having a married couple spar in the courtroom for a case of sexual exploitation. What’s more interesting is having the wife defend the man while the husband defends the woman. The man and woman have their versions of what transpired between them, and Madhavi, an assertive and self-declared feminist, believes that the truth is on the man’s side. Meanwhile, the diplomatic and seemingly more sensitive Ebin accepts the woman’s version. For him, she can’t fail because “other women will be reluctant to come forward” in future.
Here’s the biggest complication standing in their way: Family. I liked how the film addresses conflict of interest when one’s family members are involved. The situations where Ebin and Madhavi try to navigate around unwelcome requests and parents’ demands are amusing. It got me thinking about how complicated the personal lives of lawyers, policemen, or anyone involved in law enforcement must be.
Vaashi finds Ebin and Madhavi as “inexperienced” professionals at first, but Ebin gets a leg up when he gets promoted to a public prosecutor upon the recommendation of a relative.
This makes things awkward for Ebin and Madhavi because when the said relative asks for a favour, Madhavi doesn’t budge. Brother-in-law or not, facts are facts. Ebin would’ve reacted differently in this case because he often displays reluctance to offend family members. Family also is a complication when it comes to the central issue—of the man who supposedly duped the woman with the promises of marriage —the details of which Ebin and Madhavi examine in court. Everyone is connected to somebody.
Vaashi is most stimulating when it finds parallels in the dynamics of Ebin and Madhavi and some details of the case being discussed, like when Madhavi mentions how communication problems can cause one to assume what the other person didn’t think, amongst other things. Moments that sometimes cause the two to have a debate inside the courtroom. In one such instance, the judge reminds them they are not participating in a television debate. Kottayam Ramesh as the judge, Baiju as a mutual advocate friend of Ebin and Madhavi, and Rony David as the favour-seeking relative bring much-needed levity and balance whenever things seem on the verge of going off the rails.
There are places in the screenplay where its energy dips a little—particularly in the third act—but picks up whenever Tovino, Keerthy, Kottayam Ramesh or Baiju Santhosh are on screen. Although the film gives the impression that it doesn’t want to take any sides, some of its intentions come across as muddled. I’m not sure including the line, “There is no right and wrong; only perspectives and shades of grey,” was a good idea. Maybe we can dismiss it as the characters’ viewpoint, but can we apply that to genuine instances of sexual abuse? Can we imagine someone using that line to justify their misdeeds? Yes, Vaashi worked for me considerably, but I don’t think two hours is enough to say with complete certainty that all its points are valid.
Thankfully, this is not a film heavy on emotions, even when Ebin and Madhavi’s marital harmony is affected. And I was glad the screenplay didn’t include parents who make a big deal of the interfaith marriage. Although they express slight reservation initially, they take it in the right spirit later. Undoubtedly, it’s the chemistry of Tovino and Keerthy which chiefly keeps the film afloat. I appreciated the playful situations and the silent treatment moments in equal measure. These are two sensible and sensitive individuals who try to keep their profession out of their personal space but are not always successful. Isn’t that the case with most people?
Director: Vishnu S Raghav
Cast: Tovino Thomas, Keerthy Suresh, Baiju Santosh, Kottayam Ramesh, Rony David, Vinu Mohan