Review: Yaman has nothing new to say about politics, but is a fun thriller anyway

The film works so well because it plays to Vijay Antony’s strengths, weaving itself around the silent but deadly hero.
Review: Yaman has nothing new to say about politics, but is a fun thriller anyway
Review: Yaman has nothing new to say about politics, but is a fun thriller anyway
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All politicians lie and cheat. And in the great game of politics, beware the friend standing at your shoulder just as much as the enemy standing across. These are the two axioms around which director Jeeva Shankar weaves a surprisingly good entertainer in Yaman.

What works for the political thriller starring Vijay Antony is that it sets a tight pace for itself from the start of the film and rarely wavers from it. Other than for a brief backstory explaining the death of Tamilarasan (Vijay Antony) as a result of inter-caste tempers and political manipulation, Yaman stays firmly locked on the actions of the immediate moment, giving each new turn in the plot more urgency and adding to the intrigue. What also works for the film is that all the characters are uniformly amoral, so that the battle lines shift easily from one plot to the next.

At its heart, Yaman tells the story of an outsider’s rise in politics – from a poor young man who’s willing to go to prison on someone else’s behalf for money, Tamilarasan eventually becomes a ruling party MLA. Along the way, though, he has to outwit and outfight more than one powerful rival determined to write a premature obituary for him. 

The way these various machinations are plotted is not the stuff of the greatest thrillers of our time, but exciting enough to keep the viewer engaged. The film also works so well because it plays to Vijay’s strengths. An actor of fairly limited range, Vijay is best at playing the silent but deadly hero, the stone-faced will against which all others crash and break.

And he plays it to the hilt in this film, displaying a fair amount of emotional range that has not really been visible in his earlier films. It’s not that he’s transformed into a great actor overnight, but it seems he’s maturing within the bounds of his talents with time.

One thing Vijay really needs though, is a lesson or two in dancing. His feeble attempts in “Yem Mela Kai Vechcha Gaali” are laughably awkward, and completely ruin the effect of what is supposed to be the power song in the film. In general, the music falls slightly flat in a film that otherwise gets most of its elements right.

Aiding Vijay is a competent cast of actors, including Thiagarajan as the master manipulator who finally overreaches with one scheme too many, and Charlie as a helpless underling caught up in schemes he wants little to do with. Miya George as an actor who turns to Tamilarasan for support from a predatory MLA’s son, and eventually marries him, is engaging enough to mesh in seamlessly with the action of the film.

As entertaining as Yaman is, however, it’s a straightforward masala thriller. So you can’t go in expecting anything like an intelligent commentary on politics in Tamil Nadu. Within the film’s universe, politicians are nothing but greedy manipulators, only ever concerned with grabbing power and lining their own pockets.

The film is so convinced of this view of politicians that it has a councillor spells out the deal in almost as many words in one scene. Lost in the balance is any nuance of how corruption and nepotism play out in our political world. If our politicians are really as straightforwardly corrupt and greedy for power as Yaman would have it, one would be surprised if they could win a single vote at election time.

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